Visiting Toronto in Style – The Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM

By Debbie Wells

“To see a collection of Dior’s dresses…gives one the pleasure of watching a romantic and spectacular pageant…Dior creates a brilliant nostalgia“ – Cecil Beaton, fashion photographer

For over a century, the Royal Ontario Museum (affectionately referred to as the ROM) in Toronto is Canada’s largest museum. Its collections cover a diversity of cultural topics, including ancient civilizations, biodiversity, natural sciences on earth and in space, international art and culture, textiles and, of course, Canadian history and contemporary culture. The ROM is among the leading museums in North America, containing over six million objects from fossils to fashion.

Being a fashionista, I knew their Dior exhibition was going to be a treat. I have been going to fashion exhibition and runway shows in New York City for years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and the annual student fashion shows at Parsons School of Design (inspiration for the TV hit show Project Runway). My expectations were high and I was not disappointed!

This year, I had the pleasure of attending a special event with the Toronto Newcomers Club. My dear friend, Mindy Levinson, moved there recently with her husband. She joined the club to make new friends and enjoy all the city has to offer. She invited me to join the TNC on their private tour of the Christian Dior exhibit. On view until March 2018, this was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a day of fashion appreciation with her.

The Toronto Newcomers Club was very welcoming and it was clear to me that this was a popular event since there were over 50 women there to meet and greet before the presentation. TNC member Amy Basseches organized the event for the group and introduced her husband, Josh Basseches, ROM’s Director & CEO.

L-R: Amy Bassaches, Josh Basseches, Dr. Alexandra Palmer

Josh Basseches and Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Senior Curator for Textiles at the ROM and the lead curator for the Dior exhibit, explained the creative process of curating an exhibition that focuses on the first ten years of Christian Dior’s career. Focusing on this short span of time makes this show unique from other museums. The ROM was able to amass enough items for a museum-scale exhibition because they had many pieces from their own prestigious textile and fashion collection, the largest in Canada, and ranks as one of the top of its kind in the world. The Dior exhibit explores the stories behind the dresses with scrapbooks of fabrics and other records by garment workers, as well as the socialites who donated their personal outfits.

They talked about how this exhibition celebrates the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior. Presented by Holt Renfrew, a leading Canadian luxury department store chain founded in 1837, every vignette of the exhibition clearly portrays Dior’s creative journey. Dior was determined to bring Paris back to the forefront of international couture fashion after World War II. On February 12, 1947, he originated his “New Look” with delicate shoulders, cinched-in waist, and full flowing skirts. This fresh and ladylike style was a welcome antidote to post-war gloom. He then skillfully perfected and promoted these feminine ideals in fashion to successfully revive the haute couture industry in France leading to global success.

Various items in the Dior exhibition

Once they finished their lectures, the group was taken on docent-led tours of the exhibition. Our docent enhanced the experience with great enthusiasm. Through elegant displays combining special lightening, multi-media and mannequins, one can get feel for the glamour of this early era of Dior fashion through the textiles, accessories, perfumes, jewelry and more.

They showed us how Dior used age old dressmaking techniques to develop a contemporary version of garment construction. For example, using a round pattern with a hole in the middle for the head to peak through resulted in a soft shoulder, which Dior found to fit his idea of beauty. His sketches expressed his design concepts and the atelier used draping techniques, embroidery and luxurious materials to flatter the female form. These magical beauties stand on platforms in the gallery, from sharply tailored smart black suits to frothy pink ballgowns. Dior’s style epitomized the 1950’s woman and her sense of chic sophistication. As the House of Dior continues the vision of its founder, the modern woman of today still treasures the past and present of this iconic designer.

ROM curated a world class exhibition that honors the House of Dior in a most stylish way proving that Toronto offers their own unique viewpoint in the world of fashion. I look forward to returning and seeing more exhibitions at this leading cultural institution.

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