November 25, 2017 to March 18, 2018
The end of a war. The start of a fashion revolution.
Explore the brilliance behind Christian Dior’s dramatic creations that revived the Paris haute couture industry after the devastation of the Second World War in ROM’s original exhibition, Christian Dior, presented by Holt Renfrew. Senior Curator, Dr. Alexandra Palmer, draws from the ROM’s extensive collection from the first ten years of Christian Dior haute couture, 1947 to 1957, to offer captivating insights into the creative process and mechanics of the fashion industry in Paris during a pivotal time.
Celebrating the House of Christian Dior’s 70th anniversary, Christian Dior features a selection of breathtaking designs from daytime to evening wear for grand occasions, and explores how and why Christian Dior’s iconic lines, luxury textiles, and romantic embroideries laid the foundation for the global success of the fashion house.
Free for ROM Members
“The world is wonderfully full of beautiful women whose shapes and tastes offer an inexhaustible diversity. My collection must cater to each one of them.”
- Christian Dior, 1956
Go beyond the exhibition with this engaging series of lectures and events that explore the ground-breaking work of one of fashion’s greatest couture houses.
seasonal collections per year designed by Christian Dior, Paris
collections designed by Christian Dior in 10 years
new designs included in each Christian Dior haute couture collection
approximate hours of work in each Christian Dior haute couture collection
Behind the Scenes
Over the past year, Senior Curator Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Assistant Curator Dr. Monique Johnson and the team of conservators, technicians, and preparators have been preparing for the Royal Ontario Museum’s original exhibition Christian Dior.
The ROM’s significant collection of textiles and fashions is the largest in Canada, and ranks amongst the top three collections in the world. Comprising over 55,000 pieces, the collection is global and cross-cultural, ranging from BCE to the present, with spectacular examples from across the continents. For the past 100 years, this encyclopaedic collection has been recognized as one of the world’s finest, a reputation strengthened by pioneering ROM research, exhibitions, and publications.
“All around us, life was beginning anew; it was time for a new trend for fashion.”
- Christian Dior, 1956
About Christian Dior
Christian Dior sketching one of the designs for his next collection. La Ligne Ciseaux. Film by Henri Lavorel. All rights reserved.
Born in 1905 in Granville, France, Christian Dior began his career in Paris as a freelance designer and sketch artist selling fashion illustrations to magazines in 1935. His first job in an haute couture house was in 1938 when Robert Piguet hired him as modéliste.
In 1941, Christian Dior joined the house of Lucien Lelong as assistant designer. In 1946, he set up his own couture house with backing from Marcel Boussac. On February 12, 1947, he presented his first collection showcasing his designs that became the “New Look.” The soft shoulders, cinched-in waist, accentuated hips and long, full fluid skirts of Christian Dior’s masterful cuts swept away the wartime masculine silhouette and launched a fashion revolution.
“To see a collection of Dior’s dresses…gives one the pleasure of watching a romantic and spectacular pageant…Dior creates a brilliant nostalgia.“
- Cecil Beaton, fashion photographer
Christian Dior presents his Ligne Ciseaux, an Autumn-Winter 1949 Milieu du siècle collection. La Ligne Ciseaux. Film by Henri Lavorel. All Rights Reserved.
A Timeline of the House of Christian Dior, 1947 - 1957
The House of Christian Dior, underwritten by French textile industrialist Marcel Boussac, presents its first collection on February 12, 1947.
Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, famously describes it as the “New Look.”
La Ligne Ciseaux. Film by Henri Lavorel. All rights reserved.
The House of Christian Dior employs 85 people in three ateliers
Image of Atelier from the film La Ligne Ciseaux. Film by Henri Lavorel. All Rights Reserved.
Christian Dior studied forgotten historical dressmaking to create a contemporary construction vocabulary. The new, but historically-based, techniques developed in the Christian Dior ateliers were key to his success.
Haute couture ateliers are organized around the methods and skills needed to transform fashion sketches into three-dimensional garments. Each sketch was assigned to a première/premier (lead hand) in either a flou (dressmaking) or tailleur (tailoring) atelier. Christian Dior called them “…the magic hand which transforms my ideas into gowns.”
Christian Dior receives Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest national award.
Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd. signs licence for Canada, including rights to sell Paris and New York collections and all House of Christian Dior products, as well as rights to make reproductions in Montreal workrooms.
Name: A; Line: A Spring-Summer 1955; Occasion: Three-piece day ensemble; Atelier flou: Berthe; Atelier tailleur: Frédéric; Mannequin: Renée; Textile: Silk and wool tabby by Staron called Aléoulaine; Accession #: ROM2013.68.1.1-3; Donor: Gift from the Estate of Molly Roebuck; Photograph by Laziz Hamani
The House of Christian Dior innovated licensing agreements that gave them control over all the conditions of worldwide production, marketing, and distribution.
Only six years after opening, the House of Christian Dior is worth $15 million and accounts for 5% of French exports.
The expansion and financial success of the House of Christian Dior in France, Europe and overseas were unprecedented for an haute couture enterprise and blazed the way for other Paris couturiers.
The House of Christian Dior expands to five buildings and 28 ateliers, or workrooms, with over 1000 employees.
Illustration showing the different departments of the House of Christian Dior. © Christian Dior
The fournisseurs, the craftspeople and manufacturers in the ancillary trades played an essential part in the creation of an haute couture garment. They supplied imaginative, whimsical, historical, and modern textiles, laces, ribbons, embroideries, beads, sequins, coloured and metal threads, pleating, artificial flowers, and buttons. Christian Dior worked with many of them for each collection to realize his unique designs.
Soirée Romantique, a cocktail dress from the Autumn Winter 1955 collection, is an example of this craftsmanship with tulle, sequins, metal thread embroidery by Jean Roy-Poulet and velvet ribbon trim by Nattier.
Name: Soirée Romantique; Line: Y Autumn-Winter 1955; Occasion: Cocktail dress; Atelier flou: Suzanne; Mannequin: Renée; Textiles: Rayon tulle; sequins, and metal thread embroidery by Jean Roy-Poulet, velvet ribbon trim by Nattier; Accession #: 2016.40.1; Donor: This acquisition was made possible with the generous support of the Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust; © Royal Ontario Museum
Christian Dior has a fatal heart attack at Montecatini, Italy on October 24, 1957.
Yves Saint Laurent is named artistic director and the House of Christian Dior legacy continues today.
Learn more about the history of the House of Christian Dior.
“The dress was dream-like and it made me think, and maybe even feel, like a princess.”
- Elaine Roebuck, Toronto socialite
Wearing a House of Christian Dior Piece
Senior Curator, Dr. Alexandra Palmer
“The Christian Dior garments were donated to the Royal Ontario Museum by Toronto socialites. They are fragile records of the lives and aspirations of those who made, sold, and wore them. I have interviewed many of these women and men to capture their stories and the transformative power of fashion.”
- Dr. Alexandra Palmer
Elaine Roebuck Reminisces on Wearing a Christian Dior Dress as a Young Girl
Elaine Roebuck recounts the story of wearing a House of Christian Dior custom made dress at the age of 12 for her Bat Mitzvah in Toronto in 1957. The simple and youthful dress has four layers of petticoats and is sweetly embroidered with spring narcissi.
Upcoming New Publication on Christian Dior
Coming Spring 2018
In this new publication by ROM Press, Dr. Palmer breaks new ground as she explains key Christian Dior design signatures, based on the use of innovative and historical dressmaking techniques, to highlight what made the New Look so successful and why his designs were worn and emulated by women around the world in the 1950s.
Alongside the ROM's renowned collection, the exhibition also features original pieces on loan from Christian Dior Héritage, Paris and several other lenders.
Photos, from top to bottom:
1) © William Klein.
2) Name: Auteuil, Line: Spring-Summer 1949; Occasion: Two-piece day suit; Textiles: Linen tabby, rayon velvet; Accession #: ROM2014.62.54.1-2 ; Donor: Gift of Katherine Cleaver from the Cleaver-Suddon Collection. Photograph by Laziz Hamani.
3) Name: Caracas; Line: Libre Spring-Summer 1957; Occasion: Late afternoon dress; Atelier flou: Christiane; Mannequin: Lucky; Textile: Aléoutienne silk (silk warp, dupion silk weft) by Staron; Accession #: 2013.73.13; Donor: Gift of David Lepofsky from the Joan Lepofsky Collection. Photograph by Laziz Hamani.
4) Name: Palmyre; Line: Profilée Autumn-Winter 1952; Occasion: Evening gown. Atelier flou: Simone; Mannequin: Alla; Textiles: Celanese acetate satin by Robert Perrier, 35 various materials—3 silver threads, beads, Swarovski crystals, embroidery by Ginisty et Quénolle; Accession #: 970.286.3; Donor: Gift of Mrs. M. James Boylen. Photograph by Laziz Hamani.
5) Name: Delphine; Line: Aimant Autumn-Winter 1956; Occasion: Cocktail Dress; Atelier Flou: Hélène; Mannequin: Lia; Textiles: Silk gros de tours, silk faille; Accession #: 961.87.3; Donor: Gift of Mrs. Harry Davidson. Photograph by Laziz Hamani.
6) Name: Young girl’s formal dress; Line: Christian Dior Original in Canada, Exclusive to Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd., Spring 1957; Textiles: Silk organdy, cotton embroidery; Accession #: ROM 2013.68.14.1-2; Donor: Gift from the Estate of Molly Roebuck; Photograph by Laziz Hamani.
7) Name: Isabelle; Line: Envol Spring-Summer 1948; Occasion: Formal evening dress; Atelier flou: Monique; Mannequin: Patricia; Textiles: Silk pékin by Flachard, silk satin sash; Accession #: 961.136.1; Donor: Gift of Mrs. David Meltzer. © Royal Ontario Museum.
The Royal Ontario Museum would like to thank the following lenders: Dior Heritage Collection, Paris; Christian Dior Parfums, Paris; Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto; Maison Hurel, Paris; Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint-Etienne (France); Musée du Pays rabastinois, Rabastens (France); Langlois-Martin, Paris; Private Collection of Carole Tanenbaum; Ms. Gisela Wiegert; Peter David Levitt; and Holt Renfrew & Co. Limited.