Museum  November 20, 2018  Colleen Smith

“Dior: From Paris to the World” Unveiled at Denver Art Museum

Photograph by James Florio; courtesy Denver Art Museum.

Installation view of Dior: From Paris to the World at the Denver Art Museum

The seams of high fashion, fine art and edgy architecture overlap at Denver Art Museum’s (DAM) recently unveiled exclusive exhibition: Dior: From Paris to the World. The first major House of Dior retrospective in the U.S. runs through March 3, spotlighting 70 years of Dior with more than 200 haute couture dresses, glamorous accessories, legendary fashion photography and coordinated paintings. 

Photograph by James Florio; courtesy Denver Art Museum.

Installation view of Dior: From Paris to the World at the Denver Art Museum

The installation’s stylish architecture paired with confectionary fashions delivers an intoxicatingly lovely experience. Exhibition designer and a partner in the international architecture firm OMA, Shohei Shigematsu transformed the quirky angles of the DAM’s Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building. In homage to its titanium-clad exterior, Shigematsu opted for raw aluminum backdrops and armature. 

“I was influenced by the femininity of the dresses. It was always about the garments first and supporting the narrative as an immersive—not didactic—experience,” Shigematsu said. “Aluminum is a masculine, industrial material, but the corrugated curves and the undulating panels soften the metal and subtly reflect the shapes and colors of the dresses. It lets people focus on these amazing creations.” 

As a nod to Christian Dior’s obsession with gardening, the architect designed meandering walkways to evoke organic garden paths or a river winding through galleries. For the grand finale gallery, he created platforms reminiscent of flower petals.

Photograph by James Florio; courtesy Denver Art Museum.

Installation view of Dior: From Paris to the World at the Denver Art Museum

Like a painstakingly organized closet, the exhibit fits in a lot of attire and trappings, categorized both chronologically and thematically. The show presents the fashion house’s six subsequent artistic directors who attached themselves to Dior’s coattails. DAM curator of textiles and fashion, Florence Müller said, “I think the reason they were so successful is that they adhered to Dior’s vision.”  

Dior (1905 to 1957) pored over seed catalogs as a child and helped his mother tend flowerbeds at the family’s seaside home in Granville, France. He went on to study political science. From 1928 to 1934, Dior directed two Parisian art galleries exhibiting Picasso, Miro, Matisse, Calder, Dali and other prominent artists. 

When the Great Depression depleted his family’s fortune, he turned to fashion illustration. His primary inspirations: 18th century France, flowers, art and antiques. Following World War II, Dior launched a fashion revolution in Paris
with his New Look collection. He championed the return of femininity, veering from masculine silhouettes in vogue in favor of female curves: nipped waists and round shoulders, generous hips and busts.
 

John Galliano for Christian Dior, Embroidered mohair bouclette coat.
©Laziz Hamani

John Galliano for Christian Dior, Embroidered mohair bouclette coat. Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2009. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

 

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Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Chiffon evening dress embroidered with beads and strass, worn by María Félix
©Laziz Hamani

Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Chiffon evening dress embroidered with beads and strass, worn by María Félix. Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1967. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

John Galliano for Christian Dior, Gold embroidered triple organza jacket and skirt.
©Laziz Hamani

John Galliano for Christian Dior, Gold embroidered triple organza jacket and skirt. Haute couture Spring-Summer 2004. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior, Bal Masqué.
©Laziz Hamani

Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior, Bal Masqué. Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1958, Trapèze line. Short evening dress in point d’esprit tulle embroidered with jet beads and embellished with satin bows. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

Raf Simons for Christian Dior, Embroidered tulle and silk evening gown
©Laziz Hamani

Raf Simons for Christian Dior, Embroidered tulle and silk evening gown. Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

Dior labeled his studio The Office of Dreams, and the DAM’s exhibit includes a gallery with the same name.  The exhibit sets forth fashion design’s complex process, from sketch to muslin to prototype. As much a global institution as a fashion house, Dior revolutionized the apparel industry by globalizing operations, taking his designs to five continents.

Dior also pioneered the “total look”—ensembles with garments, shoes, jewelry, purses, hats and even lipstick colors to match. One wall of the exhibition showcases an array of color-coordinated accouterments arranged in vertical stripes of pink, green, silver, yellow, blue and red froufrou. Framed silk twill scarves line a corridor between galleries.

Exhibition curator Müller noted that 12 people worked one month to drape crimp, gather and pleat the ruffled, ruched and flouncy Dior dresses on mannequins. 
 

Photograph by James Florio; courtesy Denver Art Museum.

Installation view of Dior: From Paris to the World at the Denver Art Museum

Dior: From Paris to the World is at the Denver Art Museum through March 3, 2019.

About the Author

Colleen Smith

Colleen Smith is a longtime arts writer based in Denver.