On February 12, 1947, a Frenchman named Christian Dior launched a fashion collection that immediately took the style world by storm. Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, upon viewing the wasp-waisted dresses and coats, the full flounced skirts, the wide petticoats, and the ample decolletage, was moved to exclaim, "It's such a new look!" The name stuck, and Christian Dior's "New Look" entered the fashion history books.
Why was this so revolutionary? Europe and North America were just recovering from the devastating Second World War, a period in which women - fighting on the homefront as well as the battlefields - were less preoccupied with dressing in a "ladylike" manner. Fabric rations also meant that clothes were simpler, more austere, and much more focused on comfort and practicality than haute couture.
By 1947, the time was ripe for change, and Dior was the man of the hour. His ultra-feminine dresses and coats - he once memorably said, "I have designed flower-women" - ushered in a new era of femininity and grace, an era in which women proudly expressed their desires to "feel pretty" again after a long period of wartime asceticism.
Last month, a new exhibit exploring Dior and the infuences he drew upon opened at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts here in Moscow. To say it has been wildly successful would be an understatement. Muscovites have been FLOCKING to see the exhibit, and buzz has been generating that the exhibit may show in New York, Milan and Paris at some point. As a fashion and history lover, I was very curious to check out the exhibit for myself, so today my friend Katya and I took the metro to Kropotkinskaya station, got off in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and came face-to-face with...a long, snaking queue to get into the museum!
Apparently the lines have been out the door since the exhibit opened, regardless of the day or time. We waited outside for about an hour, which wasn't that bad, and luckily it was a beautiful, sunny day! The Pushkin Museum is a gorgeous building dating from 1912, and the grounds around it are just beautiful - lots of fresh tulips and lilacs!
Once we got inside, we paid the fee (400 roubles for me, 200 roubles for Katya as she is still in university and got a discount with her student card - lucky! I miss my student days!) and checked our coats. No cameras were allowed, unfortunately, so you'll just have to take my word when I say that the exhibit was stunningly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. Everything was arranged so creatively and with a deep knowledge and appreciation of aesthetics. One room, for example, had massive Ionic columns marching down the centre, with mirrors EVERYWHERE (including on the ceiling) so you felt like you were floating through the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Tchaikovsky was playing in the background, the room was lightly scented with Dior perfume...it was incredible!
Not only were more than 100 dresses on display (ranging from his first ones in 1947 to just-off-the-runway Spring/Summer 2011!), but there were also paintings by Picasso, Malevich, and the Impressionists, all of whom were sources of inspiration for Dior. There was an Egyptian mummy with mannequins grouped around it, all robed in Egyptian-inspired Dior gowns. Russia and Asia were also strong influences on Dior, as well as the Belle Epoque period, the 18th century (think Marie Antoinette!) and of course...flowers. Dior LOVED his flowers!
Another room was all about the "Stars of Dior" - the celebrities throughout the years who have been clad in Dior. This was probably my and Katya's favourite part, although we'd be hardpressed to choose. The room was dark, with flickering lights, flashbulbs, and video on the walls showing famous people in Dior couture. And then there were the dresses...
They had dresses displayed that had been worn by Princess Diana, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Grace Kelly, Olivia de Havilland, Elizabeth Taylor's dress she wore to the Oscars one year, Penelope Cruz, Charlize Theron...it was incredible! Katya and I just kept clutching at each other as we passed gorgeous dress after gorgeous dress, each one imbued with its own history and story. These were dresses we've lusted after in magazine pages, now all come alive in front of us - so incredible!
This exact dress was one of the gowns
on display at the exhibit, worn by Princess
Diana at the 50th anniversary of the
House of Dior in 1997.
This coat, worn by French first lady Carla
Bruni-Sarkozy in 2008 on a state visit to England.
I stood next to this coat today, and the Queen stood
next to it back in 2008, so by proxy does that mean
I've stood next to the Queen? :)
The entire exhibit was just breath-taking and if you are in Moscow or planning to be here up until July, I strongly recommend visiting it. Of course, plan to spend several hours in total here, not only because of the queue but because you will not be able to stop gaping at all the clothes, objects, sketches and paintings on display!
Now I'm off to daydream wistfully about ballgowns, gloves, and red wool traveling coats. Why couldn't I have been alive in the Fifties?!