Dior’s Tally Haute
Published January 26, 2010
For the past few seasons John Galliano has chosen to show the Christian Dior Couture collection in the house’s dove grey salons above the shop on avenue Montaigne. That’s where Carmel Snow, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, said in 1947: “It’s quite a revelation dear Christian, your dresses have such a new look,” inaugurating one of the classic catchphrases of style. Even now, over 60 years after the fact, fashion is longing for a New Look, a design so seductive and opulent at the time that everything in the post-war closet became instantly obsolete in favor of a wasp-waist silhouette which lavishly took up to 10 yards of fabric.
Looking back at the “New Look,” Galliano cited painter Sir Francis Cyril Rose, who himself once explained explained: “Christian Dior told me that Charley James always inspired him and that the New Look was born from one of his remarks.” The nearly forgotten Sir Rose illustrated the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and was a good friend of her lover, Gertrude Stein, so one imagines he had his fare share of Alice B. Toklas brownies. Those were the days!
The wide satin skirts and cinched waists at Dior do recall Charles James, the iconic American fashion designer, who loved haute femininity from the 1890s Gibson girl to Amazones, the French term for horsewomen riding sidesaddle in full skirts.
Galliano’s Dior collection went from elegant equestrian tailoring to curvy Bar jackets over long bias skirts held in check at the side, to full-skirted, off-the-shoulder ball gowns in bi-colored Duchess satin recalling James’ extravagant femininity. The color combinations for these were as dramatic and lush as a Cecil Beaton photograph: sapphire and chocolate, claret and pale pink, moss and plum. In between Galliano spliced in a selection of frothy pastel confections covered with crystal and raffia embroidery.
For Galliano, the muse for this collection is a woman like Millicent Rogers, one of James’s most faithful clients, dubbed, “the most wacky heiress of the 30s.” The granddaughter of H.H. Rogers, the standard oil investor, she had an affair with Clark Gable, briefly married Roald Dahl, had herself driven around in her own yellow cab and ended up designing jewelry in Taos, New Mexico. The overall effect at Dior was like a classic hunting engraving come to life, or one of Richard Avedon’s romantic evening photos in the flesh.
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