“Dior: From Paris to the World” debuted at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) on November 19. On view through March 3, 2019, it is the first major retrospective of the fashion house in the United Stares. It looks at over seventy years of Dior’s history, with more than two hundred haute couture gowns and accessories, complemented by photos, sketches, videos from the runway, and other documents from the archives.
The exhibition, curated and organized by the DAM’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion, Florence Müller, investigates the creative process and collections of Christian Dior himself, as well as the artistic directors that followed—Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri.
To learn more, Whitewall caught up with Müller and the show’s designer, OMA partner and director Shohei Shigematsu.
WHITEWALL: This is the first major U.S. survey of the house, and it highlights North and South American patrons’ role in establishing Dior’s global presence. Who are some of those major patrons? What was their relationship with Dior?
FLORENCE MÜLLER: Elizabeth Firestone, a figure of American royalty, was the most famous American patron in the House of Dior’s history. She ordered a full wardrobe of couture garments each season, from daywear to evening gowns. The archival material kept about her correspondence with the House of Dior is quite remarkable.
Deeda Blair, known as a leading New York socialite, is another major patron of French and American couture houses. A symbol of American elegance, she has been closely linked to the Kennedy family, and has been named to the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame List. For decades, she has been one of the House of Dior’s most notable American clients. She wore a Dior embroidered evening gown to the Kennedys’ inaugural ball.
Legendary Mexican actress María Félix was also a prominent patron of the House of Dior, most famously linked to Mexico’s Golden Age of films. She collaborated closely with the House of Dior to create complete couture looks—from dresses to hats, to scarves and shoes. Everything was made of the same fabric. She was also known for her innovative color-blocking and was able to make incredibly special requests to the House of Dior, such as reshaping an 18th-century suit to fit the style of its current collection at the time.
WW: How does the show compare to the major retrospective at Musée des Arts Décoratifs?
FM: About two-thirds of the dresses featured in “Dior: From Paris to the World” were not on view in the Paris presentation. They have essentially been “sleeping” in the Dior Héritage archival vaults or in other lenders’ storage facilities, including The Met in New York, the Chicago History Museum, The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, and the Hamish Bowles Collection in New York. The exhibition presentation will also include dresses from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s recent Spring/Summer 2018 collection and the Shanghai “Dior Red” tulle ballgown.
WW: Did Christian Dior, a former gallerist, view fashion as an art form?
FM: He never said so directly. This is because it was not a way to look at fashion at the time. Fashion as an art form is a new concept as of the 1980s, where the two are now blurring together as one. He saw fashion as a business and a form of creative expression, though we know Christian Dior took inspiration from the art world. This is especially evident based on the names of the dresses that have been designed by Dior—many have names associated with renowned artists.
WW: What kind of tone did you want to create with the setting and design of this exhibition?
SHOHEI SHIGEMATSU: For Dior’s first retrospective in the United States, we had to adapt to a contemporary setting. Objects are transposed against an unexpected backdrop of aluminum that at once provides a stark contrast to the forms of the garments and enhances them.
WW: How did you want to engage with the architecture of the Frederic C. Hamilton building?
SS: The materiality for the display armatures takes cues from the contemporary titanium cladding of the Hamilton building. Mill-finished aluminum in various colors is used as both a vertical and horizontal backdrop of the exhibition. The aluminum is used in different curved textures and profiles, echoing various signature shapes of Dior garments, such as the flower silhouette of the New Look, or the cascading petals of couture gowns. The industrial feel of the aluminum is directly juxtaposed against the soft curves into which the aluminum is shaped. The material also provides not a direct mirror, but a subtle reflection of the overall shades and colors of the garments themselves, bringing further emphasis and focus to the garments.
WW: What kind of immersive experience are you hoping visitors will have?
SS: The exhibition design aims to communicate the rich history of the House of Dior, from its multifaceted vision set by its various creative directors to its underlying principles and inspirations of founder Christian Dior. We wanted to create a diverse yet cohesive environment that would allow visitors to have a personal and intimate understanding of the brand while at once being immersed in artworks, objects, and garments that embody the source of creative inspirations, and thus the broader ethos of the collection as a whole.