(TORONTO, ON) – Walking through the Dior couture exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was reminded of my stylish mother and her sisters. When my mother was growing up in post war Europe, her clothing was designed, cut, and masterfully constructed by a master seamstress using fine natural fabrics. A similar artistic and artisanal process was applied to her shoes and perfume choices.
Having grown up at a time when women “dressed”, she maintained a highly groomed standard throughout her life. Not only did she become accustomed to being dressed, but also because wearing stylish and well-made clothes and shoes daily, or later only for special occasions, was for my mother very transformative.
This is actually the point of great design, workmanship, and fashion. It can be fundamentally transformative by enhancing poise, self-assurance and confidence, in general. Ultimately, good fashion allows the person to fit in and feel relaxed in any setting, provided of course they have made the right clothing choices for the occasion.
If there was one designer who understood the transformative power of clothing and who successfully used his talent to transform women both in body and mind it was Christian Dior.
Dior established his atelier in 1947 and quickly became very popular for “inventing” the ultra-feminine silhouette of the post war 40s and 50s, which became known as the New Look. During this time men were returning from war and forcing women to give up their jobs and return to the home.
This transition also required women to give up their boxy masculine suiting, which had served them so well when they worked in factories, hospitals, and offices. This was the perfect time for Dior to develop a look that was reflective of the changes taking place in society.
The New Look focused on feminine voluminous shaped dresses which were nipped at the waist and which made use of large amounts of fabric. Fabric was very scarce during World War II and in the post-war era the use of extravagant amounts of fabric became the epitome of luxury.
In addition to this more feminine look, the clothes had innovative construction, relying on underpinnings of modified corseting intended to create shape for both the dress and the bodies of discerning clients who favoured Dior’s designs. This approach was a far cry from the masculine cut fitted suits women wore during the war years and was, frankly, more reminiscent of 18th century clothing, which apparently Dior admired and looked to for inspiration; particularly for underpinnings and general construction.
Much like today, Dior’s clients in those early years were royals, socialites, and actresses, including Princess Grace and Gala Dali, Salvatore Dali’s wife, who looked to Dior for daily, formal, and special event dressing.
In addition to the New Look, Dior introduced the little black cocktail dress, which fit in well between the day dress and the evening gowns, which were required by socially busy socialites and others.
The Dior exhibit at the ROM is a celebration of the House of Dior’s 70th anniversary. It features approximately 40 beautifully made dresses from the late 40s and 50s, which are nothing short of spectacular works of art. The majority of the dresses were donated by Toronto socialites and form part of the ROM’s many vaulted treasures.
They range from day dresses, cocktail dresses, and elaborately embroidered formal and special event dresses.
The exhibit also includes beautifully made shoes and the introduction of the cocktail bootie through collaborations with the venerable shoe maker Roger Vivier.
To complete the look, the exhibit also tells the story of the creation of Dior’s first perfumes, which were sold in elegant hand-blown bottles.
Dior made very stunningly imaginative clothes with magical transforming powers over the women who wore them. Like many precious things, the clothes are executed to an extremely high standard. He used artful design, the best fabrics, and masterful craftsmanship, including inspired embroidery. It all came together to create what can only be described decades later as extraordinary yet wearable clothes that have absolutely withstood the test of time.
Who would not wear the little black cocktail dress or the cocktail bootie or many of Dior’s beautiful gowns to a party today?
Walking through the exhibit you are transported back to a time when clothing was not disposable, when women dressed, when beautiful things were made to order, and where the people wearing those clothes exuded elegance, poise, and most of all confidence.
This inspirational exhibit is at the ROM between November 25 and March 18, 2018.
For more information on related Dior events at the ROM, including the 100 hour red dress reproduction project conducted by George Brown College, check online.