Dior Divertissement: Haute Couture as Therapy

Searching out the upbeat. Choosing what we can control as a diversion from a world run amok with negative news. These are recommended strategies in the age of Trump. If you are feeling anything like me these days, then the Christian Dior exhibit now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum is for you. It’s wonderful.

The haute couture house of Christian Dior opened in Paris in February 1947. The exhibition uses the ROM’S collection of Dior fashions to illustrate the first decade (1947-1957) of designs created for a “clientele of habitually well-dressed women.” Holt Renfrew, the sponsor of the exhibition, obtained the first license to sell and make Christian Dior designs in Canada. These are the actual day dresses, afternoon dresses, and evening dresses worn by Canada’s elite and donated to the museum. They are spectacularly beautiful.

Curator Alexandra Palmer has created a remarkably interesting show. It describes how the house of Dior functioned and how it achieved its international influence in a short ten years. We learn about “The New Look” and how it reflected (and added to) the aspirations of the post-war period. We learn how the house resurrected skills from the 18th and 19th centuries and adapted them to modern designs and materials. We visit the dressmaking atelier, see how the dresses were actually constructed, and what it took in both skill and materials to make “the look.” We see the difference between the original design concepts and the end product. We meet the tradespeople and suppliers of exquisite textiles, sequins, ribbons, and hand embroidery. We learn how their businesses operated and how they flourished with the success of Dior. We come to appreciate the relationship between the designer, the artisans, the models, the suppliers and ultimately between the design house, the merchants, and the clients. We see how the house stimulated other businesses to produce shoes, stockings, handbags, gloves, costume jewellery, and perfumes which promoted Dior’s design principles and added to the lustre of the label.

For a small exhibit with what seems like a modest footprint, it packs a wallop. It’s a fascinating insight into an amazing world.

To get full benefit from the show, make sure to read the electronic placards which describe all the dress designs on display. Klutz that I am with new technology, it took me awhile to figure out how to manipulate the touch screens. Once I did, I was enchanted. The placards describe the name of each design, the collection, the primary dress-maker, the model for whom the design was created, the significance of the design, the choice of the textiles and embellishments, and some of the clients who purchased the dresses. Here you will find copies of the original design drawings which are intriguing and beautiful works of art in themselves. There are also samples  of textiles from which the dresses could be made.

Also, sit down and watch the film. Apart from resting your feet, to see the real images of Dior working with the dressmaker and the model to perfect the dress in its last stage is to understand the relationship between them. Join the world’s major fashion buyers and their exclusive clients as they watch the models presenting a new collection of designs on a 1947-1957 runway. Some of the designs we saw on the original runway are on display in the exhibition.

Everyone I heard talking at this show had opinions on what they liked and what they didn’t. All were awestruck by the care put into the creation of the designs and the exquisite workmanship on display.

I took in the exhibit with ease in about ninety minutes. I left with impressions and questions which diverted me for hours. I consider that good therapy. The show runs on the fourth floor of the ROM (using the new elevators to the left of the entrance foyer) until mid-March. See rom.on.ca/whatson for talks and workshops on the subject.




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  1. Marlene K.

    Love those dresses! Remember especially the pleats, waistbands and collars . These designers had such an impact on more ordinary and less formal clothing in the 50s. Thanks for the photos and commentary, as I don’t imagine I’ll get to this exhibit.

  2. Anne Marie P.

    Hi Marion,
    This sounds like a fabulous exhibit. I took a dressmaking course at Central Technical Night school years ago.
    I sewed very simple clothes for my pre teen daughter and myself. I came away from the course really appreciating the very fine art of dressmaking and haute couture. It takes determined talent, ingenious creativity and pain staking skill. I learned to respect the exquisite detail and creativity of these master designers.These dresses are amazing. What really entices me is the way these dresses reflect that specific snap shot in social history. A joy to look at. I’m sure to attend the ROM with my daughter .
    Thanks Marion
    Anne Marie P.


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