• Jane Gonin

Dior; An exhibition to lift our spirits.

January Blog 2019.

January is not a good month after the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.

What I think is important is to look for ‘bright and shiny’ occasions that will give us something to look forward to and distract us from the chaos, confusion and cold.

As a lover of all things costume and clothing, I always love to get to an exhibition that will educate me and provide an opportunity to get closer to garments that are usually seen in books.

It is a delight that at the beginning of February 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition of the fantastic French designer, Christian Dior. He designed the most stunning outfits for Queen’s, Princess’s, actresses and many stylish women from 1947 until his death in 1957. At the time when Europe was recovering from the devastation of World War 2, Dior designed a collection with the ‘New Look’ theme at its centre.

It was a complete contrast to the garments of the war years where rationing had restricted fabric usage to narrow shirt dresses, skirts and boxy jackets. Dior’s New Look skirts were very full, often with full net skirts underneath and were a much longer length. The waists became tinier with corsets and emphasised by hip padding. The shoulders were softer without the shoulder pads that had been fashionable since the late 1930’s.

Women became curvy and feminine again.

Daytime suits were exquisitely tailored and shaped in wools, while his evening dresses were beautifully embellished with embroidery and beading so the drabness of the war time fashions could be forgotten. For some of the population at least. Some women mounted protests about the creations due to the quantity of fabrics that the French designer used in these gowns, and because he was covering up their legs.

However, this did not quash his creativity and the couturier went on to set new standards in dress production, inventing shapes and styles that were original then, but that have become classics today.

To celebrate the exhibition, I have put up a photograph of an example of one of his gowns on the website portfolio page, (and below) which we copied for a show. The ball dress was part of a collection made for the show ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ that was put on first in Sheffield and then last summer in Chichester.

The play is about a housewife in post war Britain who loves haute couture and dreams of crossing the channel to find her own unique beautiful gown which has of course been designed by Dior.

My gown, somewhat simplified from the original version due to time, was still wonderfully exciting to create knowing that so many women had loved to feel so sophisticated and stunning. As I fitted my model and listened to her exclaim at how different she felt enveloped in boning, frothy nets and beaded petals, one immediately understood how the original gowns had transformed those women’s spirits in post war Europe.

In the dark days of this winter it is wonderful that the V&A has put on this exhibition and brought Dior to this side of the channel to give us a shiny, bright taste of glamour and sophistication, from a past era.

'Flowers for Mrs Harris'. Chichester Festival Theatre

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