From November 18 to March 3, 2019, the exhibition “Dior: From Paris to the World” at the Denver Art Museum will celebrate more than 70 years of haute couture, with a journey through time and the many countries explored by the visionary couturier and his successors.
“As a Parisian couturier, I needed to be aware of not only the needs of French women, but also those of elegant women around the world.” Christian Dior
In March 1957, Christian Dior was the first French couturier to appear on the cover of the prestigious Time magazine. In his hands he holds a giant pair of scissors, as if he were about to cut out and shape the world from his visionary gaze. Not far from the truth, this image might even be said to be an exact reflection of his reality.
Ten years earlier, on February 12, 1947, the couturier had already been deified by the famous editor Carmel Snow in another major American title, Harper’s Bazaar, immediately becoming the ambassador of French elegance across the Atlantic, before traveling the world.
His mother Madeleine, who had hoped her son would become a diplomat, would have been dumbstruck at the way his life turned out! “Dior: From Paris to the World”, the title of this new exhibition perfectly distills the extraordinary destiny of the Paris couturier adored by Hollywood and the biggest stars on the planet. Unveiling over 180 haute couture designs and 25 of the toiles that gave life to the collections, as well as precious photographs, videos and films, original sketches, nearly 200 accessories and objects related to Dior perfumes and makeup, and a number of rare archival pieces – some previously unseen, recently acquired by the House – the Denver Art Museum (DAM) makes a sublime tribute to Christian Dior’s extremely contemporary international ambition and the creative vision of his successors.
Early on, the founding couturier had grasped the importance of being open to the desires of women around the world. On September 1, 1947, just months after the triumph of the New Look, he embarked for America – “I decided to do things thoroughly and make a complete tour of the United States,” he wrote in his memoirs. And as early as 1948, he donated a dress called Chérie, drawn from his first collection, to one of the most important museums in the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
This trip and this gift both underline his clear and intentional desire to write the story of his Paris house with a perspective that was international, long-term and artistic.
He achieved it in just ten intense years: the couturier of the Avenue Montaigne conquered the world by repeatedly opening boutiques abroad and pioneering new retail concepts. “He was the first to understand that from a very exclusive couture house, one catering to women of the highest elegance, he could conquer the planet,” explains Florence Müller, curator of the exhibition.
“Thanks to the New Look, he could boast a name that was more famous even than that of General de Gaulle! Capitalizing on his, he invented a visionary system: first the branches in New York, London and Caracas, then the famous licensing agreements with the best manufacturers to offer the best quality products, including scarves, lingerie, bags, shoes, and jewelry.
He has inked a wide variety of agreements from Canada to Japan.” Celebrating this amazing odyssey, the exhibition unfolds in a scenography designed by the architect Shohei Shigematsu* as an haute couture breadcrumb trail, a curving labyrinth. Those same curves which, for Christian Dior, were the symbol of femininity.
Fifteen thematic spaces pay tribute to icons (the Bar jacket, the manifesto piece of the New Look, opens the revolutionary ball), to a love of art and to foreign cultures. Without forgetting the Ladies in Dior, loyal muses or passionate clients, perfect unknowns or famous stars (from Marilyn Monroe to Natalie Portman). In doing so, these fifteen spaces cross time and continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas – and the many countries explored by the couturier and his six successors. Bold creations by Yves Saint Laurent – leather jackets that nod to Brando in The Wild One – alongside Marc Bohan’s soft lines, Gianfranco Ferré’s flamboyance, John Galliano’s Mexican or Egyptian-influenced extravagance, Raf Simons’ inspiration from Japan or the artist Sterling Ruby, and finally the feminist focus of Maria Grazia Chiuri. Punctuated with works of art, from Claude Monet to Marc Quinn, Jackson Pollock and eighteenth-century pieces, the exhibition traces a saga of over 70 years of creativity and luxury made possible thanks to the savoir-faire contained at 30 Avenue Montaigne, the “Studio of Reveries” that became a “Refuge of the Wonderful”, in Christian Dior’s words.
Curating the exhibition is Florence Müller, who had also recently orchestrated “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”, which enjoyed a resounding record-breaking success at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.This exhibition, organized by the Denver Art Museum, was made possible thanks to loans provided by the Dior Héritage archives.
It has also benefited from loans from collectors such as Hamish Bowles as well as from major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit and the Chicago History Museum.
*Shohei Shigematsu is the director of New York-based architectural firm OMA founded by Rem Koolhaas, and was previously the scenographer for the exhibition Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.