The current Christian Dior exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) can be seen as appealing for many reasons. Obviously, showcasing a collection of haute-couture gowns and dresses from Dior’s first ten years (1947 to 1957) has a pull of its own. Yet, there’s much more to it.
Alongside the 40 sophisticated dresses showcasing Dior’s New Look, the exhibition also presents the trades that enabled Dior produce a collection of such striking elegance and refinement. Whether it’s the stunningly dyed or woven textiles, detailed embroidery, dazzling ribbons or glowing sequins, each manufacturer brought their own well-esteemed creativity and expertise to the table. Dior’s high regard for their artistry and skill was most definitely a prerequisite to establishing mutually fruitful, trusting and lasting collaborations. Christian Dior had probably developed this appreciation in earlier years as a small art gallery owner while working with artists like Pablo Picasso and creating a reputation not only for the artists, but also himself.
In fact, it’s likely that as much as it was an honour to work with Dior, it was also his privilege to work with manufacturers and artisans of such high calibre. Many of them had established their names and produced extraordinary work long before Dior. Naturally, along with his reputation, it was also their own that was on the line with every new collection. As a result, producing exceptional, high-quality work was the essence of the project for everyone involved—collection-to-collection and season-to-season.
Yet, Dior’s contribution to the fashion industry goes well beyond revolutionizing the shapeless, masculine, post-war way of dressing which many women protested against even then. It’s his contribution to the revival of the “non-essential” trades, once so eminent in the pre-war France yet hardly surviving after, that’s often overlooked.
The exhibition offers a refreshing insight into an era when garment trades were respected and recognized as a significant part of the haute-couture collections. Nowadays, the spotlight has been shifted predominantly to models, stylists and photographers instead. Regrettably, the contributing trades get barely any attention today. Perhaps placing value on these artisans, just like Dior’s immaculate and pristine dresses and gowns, has become dated or simply economically unviable. Or perhaps showcasing a mutually trusting and respectful relationship with contributing trades has gone out-of-fashion?
Christian Dior is on display at the ROM till March 18, 2018. For a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation for a recent Dior couture show, we suggest watching “Dior and I” (Netflix) either before or after your visit to see the artisans in action.