This piece was published for Our Community Now Colorado on March 14, 2019
“What are you wearing tonight?” a museum staffer jokes with the already humming crowd outside the Denver Art Museum’s ‘Dior from Paris to the World’ exhibition. I wait alongside the morning’s small battalion of visitors armed with an audio guide and a small exhibition booklet. There is a feeling one is about the enter an inner fashion sanctum. And indeed it is.
Since opening last November, the massively successful ‘Dior from Paris to the World’ exhibition curated by DAM’s Florence Müller, a Parisian with over a dozen Dior exhibitions to her credit, has reached the equivalent of a Michelin three-star restaurant (exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey). Those that have made the special trip from across town or across the country have been rewarded with rare access to a collection of decadent, mouthwatering, and craving-worthy fashion by each of the fashion house’s creative designers, founder Christian Dior and his predecessors, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and their current designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Fashion houses and their designers have become a new breed of masters within art museum’s blockbuster-like exhibitions pulling in impressive numbers of visitors most traditional art exhibitions would envy.
In a 2015 Artnet interview, which looked at the popularity of fashion exhibitions and our fascination of them, curator Dr. Valarie Steele suggested, “I think the basic reason why the public really loves fashion exhibitions is that they are much easier than an art exhibition. Everybody feels capable of having an opinion about fashion.”
But the lines that we try to neatly draw around what is fashion, art, craft, performance, etc. do us a disservice in our appreciation when they brilliantly intersect. The Dior show weaves art, video, objects, and photography to tell a rich story that celebrates its influences as much as its fashion.
In learning Christian Dior’s passion for flowers and gardening and his background as a gallerist with artists friends such as Salvador Dali, one can see these foundational influences of the fashion house thread throughout the exhibition. Artworks are exhibited along the fashion in almost every exhibit space. Most recognizable is the Renoir and Monet works, which flank a field of dresses all in clear influences by the Impressionist works. Designer Raf Simons takes it a step further with a collaboration with the artist, Sterling Ruby, turning Ruby’s painting into fabric for his Fall-Winter 2012 collection.
The show highlights the role of other art disciplines in more subtle ways. There is a floating exhibit of toiles, muslin design patterns, in a well deserving nod to the painstaking process each garment undertakes and the many skilled hands of the haute couture ateliers. A striking display follows in pink, green, silver, yellow, red, and blue color stories of Dior’s accessories and his “total look” branding concept. Videos loop fashion shows throughout the exhibition which activate the designs and play interviews with the more recent designers. The photo gallery is particularly noteworthy with a collection of well-curated photographs that spans the Dior’s seven decades and pays homage to the role of photography in telling its history.
There is breathless visual poetry to the flow of the show. It starts the moment you enter its sanctum with low lit black mannequin muses in head to toe black designs to the inception of the House of Dior to a look at each designer and major landmarks of inspiration punctuated by art, photography, and video. The show ends like a firework finale with an explosion of elaborate designs inspired by international cultures that verge on costume.
After two hours of visual fashion feasting, I found myself in a daze and completely satisfied. Big name fashion may be what draws the crowds, but one leaves with much more. This exhibition exposes the intention and extensive creative process couture designers undertake and gives greater appreciation for the impact art and art movements have on fashion. Like art, fashion makes and breaks its own rules for the better reflecting back to us our desires, our fears and our own moment in history.