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COUTURE DE FORCE

Christian Dior understood, admired, and responded to the female form in his clothing. The Denver Art Museum hosts a fashion show unlike any other that reveals his enduring legacy.

There’s a certain beauty in the juxtaposition of the Daniel Libeskind–designed Denver Art Museum (DAM), with its slicing, jagged angles and shiny, metallic materials, and the masterpieces of the fashion house Christian Dior, known for its curvaceous, feminine silhouettes and soft, flowing fabrics. The institution’s new exhibition “Dior: From Paris to the World,” which debuts November 18 and runs through March 3 of 2019, further highlights the dichotomy of subject versus setting by adding another visual master to the mix: The show is designed by Shohei Shigematsu of the architectural firm OMA, known most recently for his memorable design of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”

“Usually fashion exhibitions deal more with set designers in a decorative manner, but we have something more architectural, a real creation,” says Florence Müller, the show’s curator and DAM’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion. “Shohei has a sense of simplicity and modernism. Our exhibition is a continuum, with strong, spectacular moments and moments that are more simple, exactly in the way the collections were composed and organized by Christian Dior.”

Covering the extensive seventy-year history of the house of Dior, the exhibition, which was conceived by Müller and originates in Denver, features the work of not just Christian Dior (1905–57) but all seven of the house’s lead designers, which in itself is a venerable role call of some of fashion’s most influential creators, from Yves-Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons, to the current design head—and Dior’s first female lead—Maria Grazia Chiuri. “I like the idea of playing with all sorts of moments in history, bringing forward things that happened long ago and presenting them beside things that are very recent, showing how the meeting of things were different through time,” says Müller. “And today, having a female designer is very in tune with the moment of where we are in the world right now.”

A primary focus of the exhibition is Dior’s revolutionary idea of what we today refer to as globalism. “He was a visionary in this, in his idea of being well known throughout the entire world, and of having all sorts of products sold around the world in order to reach every woman,” says Müller. “Each one of the artistic directors has accomplished this during their tenure and through their visions.” Original sketches, photographs, runway videos, accessories, and 150 couture dresses tell a tale of international influences from the four corners of the world—Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Another aspect of the exhibition highlights the sheer lengths that designers and creators go through to create their works of haute couture art. One section of the exhibition displays the original pattern, the canvas, and the final form of a couture gown, showing the full sophistication of the structure of the garment, something never before revealed. “We would like for people to understand how difficult it is to deal with this couture thing, how it’s not simply a drawing,” says Müller. “The process of going back and forth between 2D and 3D is quite complex and technical, and we would like visitors to understand that this form of art is actually very serious.”

And, of course, it all ties back to February 12, 1947, when Dior debuted his very first collection and, in a matter of minutes, changed fashion forever with the New Look—decidedly feminine designs that celebrated, enhanced, and accommodated the female form. “Dior understood the need of the woman after the second World War, when there was nothing happening in fashion,” says Müller. “He understood there was a need for a huge change, and he created a new world there in that moment.”

WRITTEN BY ZACHARY WILSON

PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF DENVER ART MUSEUM

This story appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of MILIEU.