Spending the weekend in Paris recently with my sister (who now lives there) was just magical. Without my kids in tow, I was free to roam at will and at leisure – a luxury in itself. Sometimes, it’s simply the small things that count and bring a flush of joy to the everyday. The decision to turn left and take a new route around Montmartre, or go right and find a tiny bakery to perch in with a cafe au lait in one hand and a crisp Palmier in the other – all felt like pure indulgence to me. I answered to no one and did as I pleased and as a mother (or otherwise) – I highly recommend it! In fact I don’t mind wandering around any city alone and Paris is one of the easiest places to do this. The centre is small, bustling, villagey and because of the cafe culture, there’s plenty of others going solo too. And when you have a wealth of cultural heritage and beauty at your disposal, the opportunity to explore museums and art galleries without feeling awkward is right there for the taking.
The decision to see the Dior Exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratif on Rue du Rivoli in Paris, was a last-minute one and recommended to me by a very elegant friend (Helen you know who you are!) I was hoping to catch the new Yves Saint Laurent Museum, but realised that its scheduled opening had been pushed back to October. So I went into ‘Dior, Couturier Du Reve’ with little preconceptions, except that I might see the work of John Galliano and Raf Simons, which I love.
Standing in the queue for the exhibition was a sartorial education in itself and not unpleasant despite the 40-minute wait (in bright sunshine). In fact it gave me a chance to gawk at people from behind dark sunglasses. And OH THE CLOTHES in Paris on a Saturday morning! I spied beautiful, voluminous deconstructed trench coats (Vetements?), rich green velvet blazers with slouchy boots to match, hats galore and the simplicity of a long cream wool cardigan coat over a grey t-shirt and slim blue jeans. All styles were there in attendance. From the wealthy, uber groomed, Chanel clad, 8th Arrondissement-dwelling Parisian to left bank leather-jacketed, tousled chic girl. I very nearly got my camera phone out to try and capture some of this, but that would have been plain weird…
Anyway, I digress. The Dior exhibition was more than worth the wait. In fact if I had known before what I was going to actually encounter, I would have waited two hours. It was that good. I entered full of excitement, expectation and pure desire to look at beautiful clothes and came out in a kind of enchanted reverie. Happy, uplifted, intellectually and visually stimulated and utterly inspired.
Room by room details and explanations wouldn’t do this immersive experience justice. Plus I’m no fashion historian. The exhibition is truly extensive and no stone is left unturned when it comes to the man himself and the fashion house. It is thematic and chronological, charting CD’s upbringing in coastal Normandy and the designers who have taken on the Dior mantel since his tenure and everything in between. As such, it’s a fitting 70th Anniversary tribute to the man who put Paris firmly back on the post war fashion map. Despite the crowds, many rooms have a reverential air, emphasised by the dark lighting in some (no doubt to preserve old sketches and artefacts). Truly fascinating (and new to me) was Christian Dior’s in-depth knowledge and love of art. The documentation of this passion and his early career as an Art Gallerist (who championed up and coming artists such as Salvador Dali) is spot on. Sculptures by Dali and oil paintings by Picasso, as well as other objets d’art and furniture that inspired Dior, lead you firmly to the conclusion that he was a highly cultured and educated man.
Above: Dali sculpture
The selection of over 300 haute couture gowns, span most of the museum and are set (amongst other things) in a paper flower garden complete with sound, an 18th century inspired drawing room, an extensive curving Colorama and a replica room from the palace of Versailles to name a few. The latter was the highlight of the whole exhibition for me. I actually drew a gasp when I first set eyes on it and lingered a long time to fully experience the magical quality of it all. The whole thing was so imaginatively and perfectly curated, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been done better. I doubt it could. No wonder it’s been the hit exhibition of the summer in Paris.
Above: dresses in the ‘Flower Garden’
Dress by Raf Simons
In The Pink
Overwhelmingly, I came out of the exhibition feeling proud to be female. ‘Dior, Couturier Du Reve’ is an unabashed celebration of femininity and the joy that can come with this. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ‘girly woman (whatever that means) but lately, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that femininity in all its guises should be celebrated more and not something to be ashamed of nor curbed for fear of not being taken seriously. You can still wear saccharine pink and be a feminist (any feminist worth their salt knows this surely? 😉 ) But way beyond this, the older I get, the more strongly I feel that the whole notion of femininity is sometimes unwittingly debunked in favour of something less overt, less offensive (to some), blander and less powerful. Of course there are manifold shades of femininity and femaleness and everything in between, which is just great. But I will forever fight for Pink Power (but not in the cringeworthy patronising way sometimes used by marketers, obviously). A case in point was my dislike of Pamela Anderson as a girl in my teens and early 20s. I believed she represented all that was wrong with the Western World’s ideal of beauty and its representation of women (I know – INTENSE). I respect the passionate views of my younger self and maybe I had a point back then. Although as a slightly arrogant (in the way that the very young can be) intellectually naive, curly-haired brunette finding my way in the world, there was also most likely an element of grumpy insecurity at play here. Now I love Pammy, how she looks and how she represents glamour in a way that might not be what I aspire to, but is well… highly feminine and powerful (especially as she sees herself as something of an activist these days).
Highly feminine also, as well as delicate, innovative and luxurious, the house of Dior is synonymous with French haute couture. Haute couture should come with a positive health warning, because I’m sure looking at it floods the brain with endorphins and stimulates brain cell production. The extreme attention to detail, the highly unusual fabrics, the imagination involved and the sense of wonder you get from viewing it – should be mandatory.
I’m not sure that couture is really there to be lusted after (unless you are Miroslava Duma, a Russian oligarch or a Texan oil heiress). This particular art form is purely a spectator sport. Although I did spy some stunning simpler creations that I thought ideal to wear, looking at couture is really an affirmation that beauty and wonderment can exist in a sometimes ugly, troubling world. It lifts you out of the everyday and the mundane for a brief moment – like an adult fairytale. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
‘Christian Dior Couturier Du Reve’ runs until 7th January 2018 – jump on the Eurostar and go and see it if you can. In the meanwhile if you want to watch more about Dior, I highly recommend the wonderful documentary ‘Dior & I’ http://www.diorandimovie.com about Raf Simons’ first couture collection for the house in 2012.
(All the photos were taken on my i-Phone and due to the lack of space and sheer number of people in the exhibition space, they aren’t as ‘poised’ as I’d want them to be but hope they give a good flavour! ) x
The New Look