Haute couture gowns worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna are now on view at the Denver Art Museum.
The museum’s new exhibition, "Dior: From Paris to the World," opened Monday and runs through early March. It is the first major Dior retrospective in the United States, and it features seven decades of decadent looks.
Christian Dior exploded onto the fashion scene in the late ‘40s.
“Christian Dior really did a big statement—a revolution with his ‘New Look,’” said Florence Müller, Avenir Foundation curator of textile art and fashion at the Denver Art Museum.
Dior’s vision of fashion was a departure from the times, when the trend was, “still about this silhouette of the war, very masculine, very boxy,” Müller said.
“He reinvented femininity through a line [that was] very curvy, very charming, very romantic,” Müller said. “It was really a rebuild of the traditional vision on femininity, but in a very contemporary manner and the spirit of the ‘50s ... linked with this idea of a world that was rebuilding after the second World War.”
Müller put together a Dior exhibition in Paris last year. But her vision for the Denver show was different, focusing instead on Dior's expansion into the Americas and dresses worn by his North and South American clients. There are just over 200 dresses in the Denver show, many that have never been exhibited before.
The American fashion press went crazy over Dior's first collection, Müller said, particularly the Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow.
"She designate[d] his first collection, ‘The New Look,’” Müller said.
Snow called American buyers and told them, “there is something happening in Paris. It’s crazy. You have to buy Christian Dior,” Müller said.
“And suddenly, within minutes, he became famous.”
Christian Dior died at age 52 in 1957, leaving him as the head of his own fashion house for only a decade.
For the Denver retrospective, Müller constructed a story of the brand over time—how Dior's vision endured, and evolved, as subsequent directors took over. There are pieces designed by Yves Saint Laurent, the first to run the label after Dior's death.
Müller organized a retrospective of Laurent as well at the Denver Art Museum in 2012. Laurent “invented a new way of shaping the feminine body,” she said.
French fashion designer Marc Bohan succeeded Laurent. Bohan’s well-received first Dior collection was deemed the “Slim Line” for its trim silhouette. Gianfranco Ferré brought a postmodernist flair to the House of Dior in the late ‘80s through the mid ‘90s. The exhibition also showcases looks from contemporary Dior leaders John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Chiuri, appointed in 2016, is the current and first female director of Dior.
"Maria Grazia Chiuri is really speaking about the powerful woman,” Müller said of Chiuri’s collection. “[It’s] this idea that woman can be powerful and also very beautiful and very feminine.”
For Müller, this isn't just about seeing pretty clothes. She said fashion, with its intense artistry, belongs in major art museums. The exhibition is full of videos and documents, which show the extensive research and process that goes into making a single dress.
"This is also one of the goal of the exhibition to show that it's a serious work," Müller said.
"Dior: From Paris to the World" is at the Denver Art Museum Nov. 19, 2018 - March 3, 2019.