Canada's contribution to Dior's fabulous retrospective
And how haute couture changed fashion in Canada forever
Though currently celebrating its 70th anniversary, the house of Christian Dior is having a major moment in 2017. With exhibits running in Paris, Melbourne and Toronto, the prolific designer's work is set to inspire fashion fans and industry veterans alike, and open the atelier, so to speak, to those who may not know of Mr. Dior's impact on style. That the display is rich may not surprise you; that Canada's contribution to it is rich, may.
On now at the Royal Ontario Museum and until March 18, 2018, the exhibit houses dresses, coats, accessories and other pieces from the label from it's inception in 1947 until the untimely death of its creator in 1957. What coincided with Dior's rise was the end of World War II, which inspired the designer to create clothing so that women could feel like women again. What was dubbed the New Look—think rounded shoulders, padded feminine hips and long, flowing skirts—helped usher in a new era of fashion across the globe.
"Fashion changed radically," senior curator Dr. Alexandra Palmer told us about the post-war shift during the recent media preview of the exhibit before it's opening day this past weekend. "Lots of countries had restrictions. In Canada, we had the wartime crisis and trade war restrictions. For the war effort, no cloth on cloth. That meant no turn-ups for men's suits, no excessive pockets on things. Let's be conservative and all the wool goes to the war effort."
"Well, Dior suits… its cloth on cloth," Dr. Palmer continued. "It was completely over the top—two pockets on the jacket that are just display, and two pockets in the jacket for putting your hands in. There were two pockets in the skirt, which has four pleats in the back. He was all of a sudden proposing that we rethink how we dress, how we move, how clothing feels."
What also changed after the war, was how women worked and the resulting need for professional clothing, both in Europe and North America. There is the wealth of local contributions on display by Torontonians and Montrealers. Each piece is part of the ROM's textile archives, which, it may surprise you to know, is the third largest in the world, and puts on perfect display the intricacy and detail laid into each of Dior's pieces.
Palmyre, a satin gown with delicately embroidered sequins, pearls and jewels, is certainly the showstopper of the exhibit. But Dr. Palmer, when asked to choose her favourite, was taken by simple day dress called Pampelune.
"There's a very innocent, little black dress in the front case that I totally underestimated," she said. "And it's a complete design goldmine. It's technically so hard to make, it's so brilliantly done, it looks like nothing, you know. And that's what's interesting. These clothes look effortless."
"Haute couture was always imported into Canada," Dr. Palmer mentions when referring to our local sense of style, also calling the current exhibit a "rich collection" of proof that we were more interested in style than perhaps we let on. And with a plethora of such locally owned fashion substance on display, this collection is set to prove that Canadians actually do have innate style, we just tend not to brag about it.