Denver could soon trade in its tired reputation as a cowtown for a new identity as a fashion capital, thanks to the Denver Art Museum and its new exhibit, Dior: From Paris to the World.
This is the first retrospective exhibition in the United States to focus on the work of Christian Dior and the House of Dior, spanning over seven decades. The showstopping display includes 200 haute couture dresses, costume jewelry, photographs, runway videos, art objects, original sketches and other archival materials that trace the history of the iconic French fashion house, which Dior started in 1947.
The exhibition fills fifteen rooms and presents eight overarching themes that capture the history of the fashion house. These include "The Splendors of the 18th Century"; "Ladies in Dior," which shows everyone from Hollywood starlets on the red carpet to royalty wearing Dior; "The Impressionist Gardening Room," which focuses on flowers; and "Office of Dreams," which is what Dior called his studio. it's represented here as an all-white room with all-white ensembles: fashion heaven!
Each of the brand's seven artistic directors also have rooms, from founder Christian Dior (1947 to 1957) to Yves Saint Laurent (1958 to 1960), who was already the subject of a Denver Art Museum show; Marc Bohan (1961 to 1989); Gianfranco Ferré (1989 to 1996); John Galliano (1997 to 2011); Raf Simons (2012 to 2015); and Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016 to present). "Through the seven designers, you can see how they all brought their own sensibilities and their own vision to the house," says Florence Müller, Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion at the DAM and curator of Dior: From Paris to the World. "Really, they brought their own way of reinventing fashion, style and trends. However, all of them were paying homage to the founder, Christian Dior. I think this is the key to the success of Dior, because it's one of the rare couture fashion houses in France that went through all of these decades without a disappearance. This house was always at the top of the global fashion game."
"The Total Look" segment of the exhibition shows how Dior envisioned design in its entirety. He wanted women to be able to leave the House of Dior dressed from head to toe in Dior, with everything from shoes, handbags and dresses to perfume and makeup. "He was a pioneer in this field, and was one of the first to explore this concept in the world. Today, every fashion house is very much into branding," says Müller, who's been curating the DAM's fashion-as-art exhibits since 2012, starting with Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective, followed by Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design From the 1980s to 1990s and now Dior: From Paris to the World.
"Through the exhibition, you understand that couture is a serious work," she continues. "It is not art, it doesn't mimic art, but it is a form of art, a form of artistic expression that is truly important and inspired by all sorts of things, from paintings to movies to landscapes to ancient cultures. The designers are really people who have their minds full of images and references, and they are translated to these beautiful dresses. I hope guests will enjoy discovering this haute couture as an art piece."
The exhibition ends with the theatrical "From Paris to the World," a room filled with grandiose couture that shows just how much Dior considered the world his playground.
Shohei Shigematsu, the exhibition designer, took visual cues from the metal and angular exterior of the Hamilton Building to create the Dior display. "There is a chance for architecture to engage the viewer in the exhibition because it is something new and experimental," he says. "Clothing can be commercial or a work of art. This exhibition allows us to be experimental in architectural design."
"It was a very important and ambitious project," Müller adds. "It took over two years of preparation. It was conceived for Denver, and is the first retrospective of Dior in the United States, but it is not the first Dior show I have curated. I have done fifteen exhibitions on Dior in the past. It was such a pleasure to work with the Dior Hermitage Team, who are great partners and very generous lenders."
"It is so much more than placing a dress on a mannequin," explains Christoph Heinrich, director of the DAM. "There is a lot of work behind this to make it look so easy and glamorous. The show is organized by the Denver Art Museum; it is not a traveling show. So far, we only know that it is going to be here until March. It may go to other locations after that. It was organized from scratch by Müller. Ever since Florence joined us, this Dior show was on the radar and we were trying to figure out how to get it. This is a different show than the retrospective in Paris. This is how Dior reached out into the world, and that is the theme of this show."
"We've done another exhibition that explores the boundaries of art and encourages the visitor to think about what working with textiles can mean," Heinrich adds. "The craftsmanship alone is absolutely breathtaking, from the textures to the fabrics to the cuts to the little details. ... It is artwork, and the degree of creativity is absolutely mind-blowing. We hope this will bring a lot of people to Denver in terms of tourism. Denver is one of the most interesting and one of the hottest cities right now. A lot of things are happening here. There is a great appreciation of art here."
And after seeing Dior: From Paris to the World, you'll come away with a great appreciation not just of Dior, but of the Denver Art Museum for creating this world-class exhibition.
Dior: From Paris to the World runs through March 3, 2019, at the Denver Art Museum. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.