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"We wanted to convey incredible magic": behind the scenes of the NGV's Dior exhibition
Written by
Alyx Gorman

High art meets high fashion in the National Gallery of Victoria’s autumn show House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture

Why would a French fashion house with outposts all over the world be celebrating its 70th anniversary at the bottom of the earth? Why would the National Gallery of Victoria give over space to a brand one can easily access on Collins Street, or Chadstone shopping centre?

The August debut of House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture may seem counter-intuitive at first, but letting the NGV’s curators loose in the immaculate archives of Christian Dior was an act of surprising symmetry for the brand, and the country. The first time Christian Dior showed outside of Paris was in 1948, when David Jones brought 50 pieces of the designer’s spring collection to Australia. “So [the exhibition will be] looking at that, but also looking at all the different connections subsequently during that period,” says the exhibition’s curator, Katie Somerville. In the postwar period, Dior’s roadshows down under came complete with flocks of French mannequins (that’s models en Anglais), and the exhibition will feature video interviews with some of the women who toured Christian Dior’s final collection for the house in 1957.

All of the designers who subsequently worked for the Maison will have their creations represented in the show. There’ll be pieces from the young Yves Saint Laurent, who took over the house after Monsieur Dior’s sudden death, right through to the brand’s current (and first female) creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Because this exhibition focuses explicitly on Dior's Haute Couture creations, craftsmanship will be at the centre of the show – literally, they’ll be creating an atelier in the middle of the exhibit. “We really wanted to convey, as dynamically as possible, an immersive sense of what it is and where it is, that this incredible magic happens within the context of a couture house.”  

NGV staff and Dior Heritage archive staff prepare garments

Photograph: Sean Fennessy

The garments made in the Christian Dior atelier often take hundreds of hours, and dozens of skilled hands to assemble. This makes their price astronomical. A piece of Haute Couture nowadays costs tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Much like a contemporary artwork, this means an exhibition is the only way your average human can cast their eyes on this rarefied craft.

Dior is a brand that has always traded in spectacle – from the lashings of fabric used to create the Maison’s quintessential ‘New Look’ silhouette, that came to define post-war fashion – to the brand’s lavish contemporary runway shows. The exhibition’s closing room will give audiences a taste of that drama. “[In] ‘Magnificent Dior’… we really allow ourselves and the audience to have that spectacular experience of seeing the great volumes of extraordinary ball gowns, extraordinary technical and decorative embellishment that can be a part of couture. [We’ll] present that in a very beautiful and theatrical environment, as a final statement.”

NGV and Dior Heritage archive staff prepare garments

Photograph: Sean Fennessy

The show’s opening will be equally theatrical. In Australia there’s little cause to don a ballgown, but the night before the exhibition opening there will be a black-tie gala where Kimbra will perform. Gala guests, in all their finery, will be the first to see the exhibition. Tickets to the party (Sat Aug 26) start at $500, and $2,000 for a ticket and formal dinner. Perhaps that night the exhibition set pieces won’t be the only mannequins wearing Christian Dior Haute Couture.

For all the gala action, follow Time Out on Instagram, where we'll be reporting live.



House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture runs at the National Gallery of Victoria from August 27-November 6.

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