When I think of couture I think of Dior, as the house has been synonymous with creating the glitz and glamour that we now associate with film award ceremonies, and the fabulous ball gowns of the past. Dior has been a key player in the world as one of the leading suppliers of high fashion ever since the revolution of the ‘New Look’ in the 1950’s. It has stayed as one of the most prestigious French fashion houses since the war times. Christian Dior’s vision stays alive in Tokyo with the incredible work at the Esprit collection. The exposition is a chronicle of the past, with old sketches from the studio’s showing the classic cinched waists and a-line skirts of the New Look. With the takeover by Raf Simons, Dior has fused the old with the new- ball gowns are worn with veil headpieces, and the shapes are more modern and simple.
The exposition presents the relationship that Dior has had with Japan, since many of the house’s collections have been inspired by the country. Japan has been a key source of inspiration for the fashion house, where the clean lines of kimono and the Japanese aesthetics have given rise to more than one collection, especially visible in the Dior Spring 2007 collection where ball gowns fused with origami, bird cages and dramatic make-up to show the world of the East.
The French lifestyle and fashion are key to understanding how the Japanese have such a strong bond with Dior. Japan, as a country that values elegance and simplicity has viewed Parisian fashion as the only counterpart in the western world that rivals the Japanese approach to the art of creating. Attention to detail, finesse and use of the finest fabrics are shared in both the high fashion houses of Paris and by the kimono makers from Kyoto and Tokyo (old Edo where the kimono art originated). Japan is the only country where the traditional attire of the 1600 has remained unchanged in form for the last 400 years. The patterns of the kimono have changed, however the defining rectangular pieces of cloth have remained the same throughout. The value that Dior puts on fine craftsmanship and classic shapes is parallel, and placing the Esprit Dior collection in Tokyo just enhances the relationship. The above dress (photo 2), inspired by The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai is a key link to Japanese art by the fashion house.
The above pieces are more french than Japanese- although the line is angular, the pattern of houndstooth and tweed with the large collar and bow are definitely more European. Dior first showed in Japan as early as 1953- straight after the war, the Japanese who had become more accustomed to seeing foreigner soldiers began to take an interest in western style fashions. It was no doubt that Dior wanted to hit the market where each woman competes for quality and exceptional pieces, just as with the elaborate kimono’s. Maybe the realisation that each company could be faced with the similar onset of the changing times, partnership made brands stronger and more authentic.
As well as creating their own fragrance (with the spokeswoman Charlize Theron’s dress to prove it, above), Dior also catered for the rich and glamorous on the red carpet and at other formal occasions. Creating many red carpet gowns may not have come close to the challenge of clothing the royal monarchy for a wedding in Japan in 1959. The crown princess, Michiko Shoda wore no less than three gowns, fusing traditional Japanese fashion with the latest trends from Paris. Many designers see dressing royalty as the highest honour (who could forget Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen on Kate Middleton)- not only serving a country, but also gaining the trust of the people for the brand.
Dior relies on the Japanese aesthetic all the way through the exposition and through its collections- you can see clearly symmetrical kimono jackets as a key piece featured again and again. One of the exhibits showcases this in the best way- no extra frills or unnecessary decoration, just pure white jacket prototypes (toiles), from the fingers of the petits-mains (or seamstresses) who make them.
As Japan is known for its remarkable customer service and exceptional quality, Dior had to include the wonderful women who make the spectacular pieces come alive. No one would question that these women knew what they were doing- throughout the whole time I was there, they were busy sewing new pieces and tying perfect ribbons on the Miss Dior perfumes in front of them. Miss Dior, although not a favourite of mine (unlike J’Adore) has one of the most playful and light commercials that bring in Spring every year. The exposition also catalogued the intensive research that went into the commercial and the spectacular petal dress worn by Natalie Portman.
For a fun climb right to the top of the building in Ginza, there was an array of Dior-related tomes, offering hours of browsing to the attendees on the silver and white sofas set around the floor. Not only that, but some key Dior proteges also created Dior bags inspired by their image of the brand. Here are just a few!
And for a final touch, one last photograph which I thought really summed up how magical a gown can be! I was very lucky to catch this exhibition right at the beginning, and I would highly recommend it for those who think they already know everything on couture and Parisian fashion. An opportunity to see the inside workings of a fashion house is rare indeed. I will be covering the “Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty” exhibition as part of my ‘Fashion History’ series.