The National Gallery of Victoria announced today that its world premier exhibition, House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, will open in 2017.
Um, are we dreaming? Seriously, in what parallel universe does Sidney Toledano, CEO of Christian Dior Couture, sit down to plan the house’s 70th anniversary celebrations and think: what we really need to do is ship our most iconic garments to… Australia?
IN THIS ONE.
“It can seem a very long distance between here and Paris but in fact Christian Dior himself had a lively interest in Australia," says Katie Somerville, the Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles from the NGV who's been working on this project for three years. "Australia was the first place outside of France where his New Look collection was shown. Extraordinary isn't it?"
Christian Dior opened his eponymous couture house in Paris in 1946, showing his first collection in February 1947. This unleashed what came to be known as his "New Look" (named by legendary New York editor Carmel Snow) on the fashion world - setting the trend for nipped waists and full skirts that would dominate the 1950s the world over.
In 1948 the house dispatched 50 Dior pieces to Sydney to be modelled in a French Fashion Parade held at David Jones.
Although the designer did not accompany his designs here, he did share his faith in Aussie fashionistas being receptive to his bold ideas in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. "Australians have a cleaner, brighter outlook," he said. "[They] are more receptive to new ideas than the tired people of European countries."
Dior is now a household name, in the proper sense of that phrase – i.e. everyone has heard of it, even people who profess to be “not very interested in all that stuff...” And even they should find this show intriguing: whether for its sheer, grand gorgeousness (expect some serious gown action), its scale - that 70-year span includes the work of iconic creative directors John Galliano, Raf Simons and the freshly appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri - or its rare view behind the magic curtain.
"To understand what goes in the atelier is fascinating," says Somerville. "I think people will get a real buzz from seeing how these pieces were made, the number of hours' work, and the architectural aspect of these clothes."
We are blessed indeed to have the NGV. Recent exhibitions on Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor and Rolf have helped cement its international reputation as a serious fashion player in the Asia Pacific region. "Much like the Met in New York and the V&A in London, our first professional curatorial staff in fashion started in the 1970s," says Somerville. "Since then we have over 50 exhibitions."
It's been a while, she says, since fashion has been dismissed as undeserving of its place in art museums. Fashion on this level really is art.
"We are exposed to so much fashion now through the internet, but nothing beats physically breathing the same air as these pieces."
House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture is at NGV International, 27 August – 7 November 2017