Wizards of Oz: a new exhibition traces Dior’s Antipodean influences

Wizards of Oz: a new exhibition traces Dior’s Antipodean influences

Drawing together prized pieces from the collections of the Met, the V&A, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Kyoto Costume Institute – not to mention the personal collections of Dior devotees like Hamish Bowles – comes the National Gallery of Victoria’s latest fashion exhibition in Melbourne.

‘The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture’ is not the first exhibition to span the entire history of the brand from the esteemed designer’s debut in spring/summer 1947, through its subsequent directors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and Raf Simons, right up to today’s Maria Grazia Chiuri. It is however, the first to explore the extraordinary relationship between Australia and the storied house.

‘The House of Dior has a long and deep history with Australia that a lot of people may not know about,’ explains Katie Somerville, NGV’s Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles. ‘Within a week of Dior’s dramatic New Look collection of February 1947, headlines celebrating his talent appeared in local Australian newspapers encouraging department stores to quickly add the house to their Paris itineraries.’

Department stores responded obediently and sales on the continent quickly soared. So much so that in 1948, when Christian Dior had become the biggest name in fashion, Sydney’s David Jones department store announced that it would host the first Dior collection to be seen outside of Paris. And so, on the the 31 July that year, David Jones presented ‘On Parade’, Christian Dior’s spring/summer 1948 Haute Couture collection, in its Elizabeth Street store.

The expansive Dior exhibition features garments by Raf Simons, who served as creative director of the brand from 2012-2015

To enormous fanfare, 12 models paraded a 50-strong collection of day, cocktail and evening looks, each embodying the new codes of femininity with which Dior had reinvigorated the industry after the Second World War. Many of these looks can be observed in the upcoming exhibition, from the nipped in tailcoat-like ‘Caprice’ dress (which sold particularly well in the country), to photographs taken that very day; one of Australian model June Dally-Watkins wearing the impressive lace and organdie gown, ‘Dolly’, being one of Somerville’s favourites. Pristine paraphernalia abounds too, from resplendent announcement posters to gilt invites and photographs of the beautifully packaged clothes themselves, disembarking from their lengthy migrations.

‘On Parade’ established M Dior on the world stage but it was only the beginning of his love affair with his Australian clientele. Before the show he’d explained to the Sydney Morning Herald’s European correspondent that his clothing was perfect for Australia. ‘Living in the sunshine of a comparatively new country, unscathed by war, Australians have a cleaner, brighter outlook and are more receptive to new ideas than the tired people of European countries,’ Dior said of Australia’s cosmopolite.

And he continued to champion his customers on the Southern Hemisphere: ‘Christian Dior couture garments titled “Australie” appeared in no less than six collections between 1947 and 1957,’ Somerville explains. ‘And ensembles called “Sydney”, “Melbourne”, “Canberra” and “Wattle” appeared in Dior’s final collection of 1957c (his second to show in Australia, the same year of his death).

As will be apparent when walking through the exhibition, each of Dior’s creative directors has reverentially pooled inspiration from the iconic house archive and as such, the legacy of his Australian fascination continues to influence to this day. 

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