Dior exhibition at Glenbow an exquisite look at the designer’s lifetime of work

If clothes make the man, what about women? Fashion has always been an immediate way to telegraph social position, wealth, gender and sex without saying a word. Until June 2, Glenbow Museum is presenting Christian Dior, an exhibit on one of the 20th Century’s most iconic fashion designers.  The exhibit presents fashions that were created by Dior during his lifetime and are part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) permanent collection.

Dior’s first collection was presented in 1947 to nearly universal acclaim. After the hardships of the Second World War and its easier and more functional dress, Dior’s collection was a deliberate return to a corseted female form and extravagant use of cloth. Dior accomplished this with the help of Marcel Boussac, whose fortune was made manufacturing textiles and who was Dior’s financial backer. Harper’s Bazaar’s editor gushed that Dior’s inaugural collection had achieved a New Look, the phrase stuck and Dior became a fashion sensation. 

The collection also features Dior perfume, shoes, and jewels. Dior’s vision was to have a woman become totally Dior. As Glenbow’s Communications Specialist Zoltan Varadi notes, Dior’s savvy also came from his instincts for marketing. “Putting his name on perfume or jewelry meant that any woman could have a bit of Dior, not just society ladies.”

But the designer’s genius didn’t sit well with everyone. Still reeling from the shortages caused by the war, Dior’s collection was controversial for returning to corsets. Feminists denounced the move back to restrictive clothing. Other women were just as angry at his extravagant use of fabric, and ladies modelling the dresses were attacked in Paris markets. 

Dior’s silhouettes are deceptively simple. Jenny Conway-Fisher, Manager of Marketing and Communications at Glenbow, points to the a film made by the ROM to document the process of reverse engineering of one of the dresses. The lines are simple, but the seams and cross-seams point to a complex design. “I can’t help but be gobsmacked when I think about the creation of these pieces,” Conway-Fisher says.

That is also true of the work that went into putting together the exhibit. Unlike prêt-à-porter, the Dior evening gowns would have been made for a specific buyer and her figure. That meant that even though the mannequins look identical, they are not and those also had to be custom created to hold the gowns properly. Glenbow even has the living history of the pieces — photographs of the Canadian socialites wearing their gowns, who then eventually donated them to the ROM. 

The exhibit on display at Glenbow is a glimpse into the genius of Dior from the launch of his collection until his death. All the pieces in the collection were designed by Dior himself. Whether meant for day or night, they show a designer determined to bring back glamour to every aspect of fashion. 

(Photo of the Christian Dior exhibit at Glenbow courtesy Mike Tan.)

Christian Dior will be on display at Glenbow until June. 2.

Gaëlle Eizlini started her adult life with a degree in Fine Arts and got sidetracked with a career in communications and engagement. She’s an aspiring Renaissance Woman and rocks her (naturally) curly hair.