National Gallery Victoria: DIOR Seventy Years of Haute Couture…

National Gallery Victoria (NGV), St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Christian Dior (1905 – 1957)

“The well-dressed woman will possess an outfit for every occasion; by the word ‘outfit’ I mean everything that goes to make up perfection, planned and thought through to the last detail from the fur coat to the shoes.”  Christian Dior, 1951

Australian women were among the first outside of Paris to witness, model and purchase original Dior designs. Less than a week after Dior’s dramatic debut of February 1947, articles celebrating his talent appeared in local newspapers. By March, buyers from major department stores had added the House to their Paris itineraries, returning with the latest New Look garments for that year’s spring parades.

During the 1950s house mannequins were integral to the running of a couture house, assisting in the development and sale of each garment. Every design in a collection was fitted on the girl chosen to model it in a process that took up to six weeks.

Dior recognised the critical role mannequins played in successfully conveying his designs and played an active role in their selection, stating, ‘they are the life of my dresses and I want my dresses to be happy’. He also aimed for a variety of ages, personalities and figures so that clients could envisage themselves in the dress.

Each season, his house mannequins presented upwards of 150 dresses in salon shows of close to two hours’ duration that were repeated multiple times over successive days for the press, buyers and clients. They also modelled the collection during private appointments for individual clients.

In the early years, many accessories were designed by Christian Dior himself and created in collaboration with technical specialists, such as milliners, shoemakers and perfumers. Many of these items have become as important to the house’s identity as the couture collections they adorned. Over its seventy year history the House of Dior has collaborated with leading creatives in specialist fields, such as perfumer Paul Vacher, shoe designer Roger Vivier and milliner Stephen Jones.”

“I think it is as important for a woman to have beautiful perfume as it is for her to have beautiful clothes.”  Christian Dior, 1954

“The most important creative relationship for Dior in relation to footwear was with French designer Roger Vivier, whom he first met socially in 1949. Their working relationship began in January 1953 and lasted for ten years…Roger Vivier was the only person to enjoy the privilege of being a Dior co-signatory in this way. Vivier’s shoes for Dior are widely acknowledged as being as luxurious and influential as the clothing. His exquisite embroideries and opulent fabrics as well as his iconic heel silhouettes, such as the curving comma and towering stiletto, still resonate today.”

As children growing up in the bush in west Queensland my sister and I never knew television, what we did know was the myriad magasines and newspapers our Mother regularly bought to fill the cultural gap which existed in our middle-of-nowhere location.  It was in these we became acquainted with the latest in home interiors and haute couture; as such the name Christian Dior was one giant of the fashion world that acquired fairytale status in our nascent imaginations.  We never lost the attachment, it remained in our imaginations – a thread linked from that time to this ensuring a love of the creative arts that will remain in place forever.


“In July 1953 Dior had raised hemlines by a bare two inches (50mm)…Here is the wonderfully dramatic tale that the London correspondent of Paris Match unfolded then.”

“…the message was datelined Paris.  It was as brief as a military communique ‘Christian Dior today showed his Winter Collection.  Dresses stop just below the knee.’  “Throughout Fleet St every Editor-in-Chief picked up his telephone and called Paris. “Cable” they ordered their correspondents, “Cable the whole story.  Length unlimited.”  At dawn all England read the incredible news on the newspaper front pages across two, three and even four columns…” Dior in Vogue, 1981, Brigid Keenan, Octopus Books Limited, London

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