Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Christian Dior: designer in focus exhibition

The Manchester Gallery of Costume

A couple of weeks ago I went on a very jolly jaunt with a group of friends to The Gallery of Costume in Manchester. The museum has permanent displays of historical costume and fashion history and also hosts temporary exhibitions. We wanted to catch the Dior exhibition and made it on its last day! I am so very glad that we did as it was fantastic!

The exhibition featured Paris and London couture and included day dresses and cocktail and evening wear. It wasn't large but it covered a wide range of styles. Most of the dresses were shown next to photographs of models wearing them at the time. The dresses, bar one, were not behind glass so it was possible to get close up and really see the details and skilled work that had gone into making them. It allowed you to see the fabric properly and to view the dress from several angles. There was also a video of a fashion show from Dior's heyday and some original sketches and lots of information about each outfit.

Original Dior sketches

Original Dior sketches and a roll of garment labels
Christian Dior launched his couture house in 1946 and his first collection, Ligne Corolle, in 1947 became known as the New Look.

So, enough from me, onto the dresses. This is a picture heavy post!

Cocktail dress and jacket, probably 1959
The cocktail dress is made of brown silk, brocaded with a gold floral pattern. This outfit is one of my favourites, although, it actually is not a Dior dress by the man himself. Christian Dior died in 1957 so this dress was designed by Yves Saint Laurent who was Chief Designer at Dior until 1960.

Ligne Aimant, Evening dress, 1956

Back view of evening dress

Model wearing evening dress
The print on this evening dress is so pretty, it is a floral silk taffeta and would be a very expensive fabric. The large florals are typical of those popular in the 1950s. It is very structural with the large, stiff bow at the front and the dipped hem which forms a train at the back. This was also designed by Yves Saint Laurent.

Ligne Verticale, day dress, 1950.
Details of tartan dress.
Similar dress on a model.
This tartan dress was a favourite of our group as it just looks so wearable, we could imagine it slotting straight into our wardrobes, in fact it would fill a tartan dress shaped hole in the wardrobe that we all felt we had. It has a lovely fitted bodice, three quarter length sleeves with cuffs and a fabulous full skirt.

Ligne Tulipe cocktail dress, 1953

Close up of Ligne Tulipe dress bodice
Such a lovely little black dress, I can just imagine wearing it to a glamorous bar and sipping cocktails! The bodice is silk with a very wide round neck. The skirt is silk satin with box pleats either side of the waist.

Ligne Zigzag, day dress, 1948

Another version of Ligne Zigzag
Another pretty little black dress. This one is from Dior's second major collection after the New Look. The bodice is simple and quite plain whilst the skirt spirals in tiers and is asymmetrical.

Probably Ligne H-line, cocktail dress, 1955
Close up of Ligne H-line dress
A model in the cocktail dress
I really like this silk coat dress, it was a gorgeous colour, a coppery, orangey brown. It is thought that this is from the autumn/winter collection. It is cut in a double breasted, empire line style and has no waist seam. I imagine that it is quite unforgiving to wear, with that high neck and fabric that would crease when you sat down. The model looks fabulous in it though!

It said that the dress belonged to Faith Eaton who was the Queen's doll restorer (what a job)! It is suggested that it was given to her as a gift by Princess Margaret, whom I imagine would have looked marvellous in it.

Ligne Corolle (New Look)
Cabaret bodice, 1947
Bodice modelled by actress Ruth Conklin
Ligne Corolle dress on a model
We were all quite amazed by the neckline on this bodice, it isn't what immediately comes to mind for a 1947 fashion. It said that it was called 'the lowest neckline in Paris' which I can well believe. It was brilliant to see 'in person' something from the New Look collection after reading so much about how it changed the direction of fashion.

The circle skirt that the bodice is paired with here was commissioned from Dior in 1949 by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson.

Ligne Trompe L'Oeil, cocktail dress, 1949
Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor
This cocktail dress was also commissioned by Wallis Simpson in 1949. The dress is made of black ribbed silk and the bodice can be paired with either the narrow skirt shown here or with the full skirt of the previous outfit.
Ligne Aimant, cocktail dress, 1956
Close up of the embellishment on Ligne Aimant dress.
I don't particularly like this outfit but the amazing amount of work and skill that has gone into making it has to be admired, It is made from peach silk, (I only know that as it said so), then it was printed with a Chinese style design and embroidered all over. It is embellished with black seed pearls and brass and copper thread. The dress is a column style whilst the jacket is more boxy and is lined in black silk velvet.

Back views of Dior dresses
Ligne Fuseau, dress and jacket, 1957
Close up of Ligne Fuseau jacket
Model wearing Ligne Fuseau outfit.
This outfit, known as 'Automne' was another popular one in our group, the red/orange colour really glowed. It is made of silk which is printed with what look like chrysanthemums but could be dahlias. It is from Dior's final collection.

These next dresses were in a different room and were behind a rope so it was only possible to take front view photos. The light was quite funny in the room, obviously to protect the dresses, so the quality of photos aren't my best. These dresses are all Christian Dior London labelled, the previous ones were Christian Dior Paris. The London franchise was started in 1952 and was a less prestigious label than Dior Paris.

Evening dress, 1957
None of us really liked this one, I think it didn't help that it looks too big on the mannequin and perhaps if I saw it on a real person who it fitted it might grow on me more. It is made of blue silk velvet and has 3 rhinestone buttons.

Cocktail dress, 1956
Although it looks a bit nothing in the photo this was a very nice dress. It is made of grosgrain silk and is decorated with a huge bow. I like the full skirt and the three quarter length sleeves.

Ball gown, 1954
This ball gown is very elegant and classic in style. It is made of green/silver shot silk satin and has a boned bodice and a full skirt. I can imagine it being worn to an awards ceremony today.

Evening dress, 1957
This dress shows a Greek influence with all the pleats and draping. It is made in silk chiffon and it's real colour is toffee brown. It belonged to Agnes Milne who was a senior sales assistant in a couple of Manchester department stores.

Cocktail dresses, 1950s
The black dress on the left is from 1956 and is made of silk satin. It is hard to see but it has a large bow attached to the left shoulder. The dress on the right is from 1952 and is made of blue flocked silk satin printed with black splodges. I really wasn't sure about this dress because the large bow on the front really is large and looks odd and misplaced.

Have you chosen which dresses you would add to your wardrobe?!


  1. This is amazing. I'd love to visit a Dior exhibit like this. To look at all the details in person, must have been amazing. I love this period in fashion history. Thank you for sharing all these pictures.

    1. It was a marvellous exhibition, I think you would have loved it. Glad I could show you the pictures at least!

  2. Thank you for sharing your photos, those dresses are lovely.

  3. Gawd, that must have been a great day!! Wish there were exhibits like this where I live :)

    1. It was a super day! Such a good exhibition!

  4. Oh my word, I think I just gave the cat the fright of its life, when I gasped rather audibly over these sublime Dior fashions, and she jumped about three feet in the air (poor, Stella!).

    Dior is, bar none, my favourite mid-century fashion designer and though (to the best of my memory), I've never seen any of his gorgeous vintage creations person, even just viewing them online takes my breath. I'm usually all about bargain hunting, but I tell yah, if I won the lottery, I'd definitely want to splash out on some marvelous vintage Dior piece like a suit or evening dress.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Poor Stella indeed! I hope she has forgiven you! You would have been in good company with my friends and I at the exhibition as we did a lot of gasping and exclaiming! I am with you on the good use of spending lottery winnings on Dior dresses. My fingers are crossed for you!