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Old 12th July 2005   #1
Join Date: July 2005
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Default Christian Dior: Runway . . . history

Since as long as anyone can remember, haute couture has been at odds with timeless beauty, both because of the couturiers' suppression of the Classically-proportioned female figure, and because of their penchant for creating minimalist, angular, urban designs that were inherently hostile to curvaceous bodies.

But, as we have noted here before, fashion has lately been changing for the better--at least in terms of its designs, if not (yet) in its choice of ideal body type.

And of all of the "top" design houses, none has been more progressive in introducing elements of the aesthetic restoration than Christian Dior, under the helm of John Galliano.

Mr. Galliano earned considerable respect from all of us for submitting such astonishingly wonderful designs for Nick Knight's "Outside?" project--designs which suggested that this couturier could create beautiful plus-size fashion, if he wished to do so. Just as significantly, his runway shows have departed from modernism quite dramatically, and with growing confidence of purpose.

And last week, during haute couture's "Fashion Week" in Paris, the Dior show was once again the one to watch.

* * *

First of all, Dior did away with the stark, cold, plank-like runway that is the centrepiece of runway shows the world over. In its place he created a fabulous opera set that looked like a scene out of a Victorian Gothic novel. A coach-and-six pulled up in front of a ivy-clad, wrought-iron gate, and a model emerged, dressed for all the world like Lillian Russell, or like an English damsel of a bygone era.

She stepped out onto the mist-shrouded stage, and paraded her apparel before the public, along a path lined on both sides with Classical statuary,

and even with a fallen chandelier, which reminded many viewers of the centrepiece in the Phantom of the Opera story.

The early designs in the show had a ghostlike look about them, as did the models (and not just because of their size). And the garments on display absolutely begged to be exhibited on fuller-figured models, cut as they were for bodies with more womanly contours.

But the funeral pieces were only the beginning. They were followed by a succession of lovely gowns that had a look of vintage elegance, and--for a couture show--appeared to be surprisingly wearable.

Indeed, the vintage aspect of these gowns was so carefully studied that their vivid colours trailed off into deliberately yellowed and aged-looking ends, as if these were centuries-old dresses that has been discovered in a secret closet within a forsaken castle, and had only been partially protected from the ravages of time by abbreviated slipcovers.

The classical garden-like setting (to which some even ascribed cemetery qualities) enhanced the presentation immeasurably, endowing these dreamlike gowns with an almost otherworldly aspect.

And even in the rare moments when more vibrantly-coloured pieces appeared on stage (perhaps to represent the colonial influence in England, in keeping with the British theme of the show), the setting helped give the collection unity.

But the real magic of the show consisted in the extensive offerings that were fabricated out of a white, gauzy, chiffon/tulle-like bridal material--the kind that has adorned goddesses in Old Master paintings for centuries:

Pierre-August Cot, ''The Storm'' 1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Indeed, the entire collection could be considered an expression of "bridal chic"--from the setting (so similar to the locations featured in bridal magazines), to the emphasis on gowns of every variety, and especially, to the prevalence of this white, mist-like material.

This fabric was used for a variety of unlikely constructions, from a sort of overcoat,

to an aristocratic hunting design:

But the creme de la creme of the show was the final parade of aristocratic designs, which looked like the ballgowns of every woman's dreams:

And the most stunning creation of all was this magical design--lighter than air, and embellished with pink floral elements.

The show's final piece--its crowning touch--was also its boldest expression of an aesthetic restoration. It blended the "bridal chic" that pervaded this show with the "aristocratic chic" of past Dior presentations.

This design drew on the iconography associated with England's most revered monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, who was often presented with a crown such as this model wore, and even with wings affixed to her dress--emblematic of her status as Britain's blessed "Faerie Queene," as immortalized in Spenser's eponymous masterpiece.

It was a creation of pure fantasy--but a highly symbolic and significant fantasy.

* * *

This show is relevant to the topic of this forum in two ways.

1. It provides a vivid answer to the question, "What kinds of runway shows would suit plus-size models best?"

Plus-size fashion need not slavishly imitate the modernist aesthetic of the twentieth century, but can undertake a complete rethink of the very aesthetic nature of a runway show--as Mr. Galliano did in this event--and create a historically-inspired environment to showcase timeless designs on plus-size models who themselves embody the aesthetic ideal that was dominant in every age prior to our own.

2. Now that Mr. Galliano has featured a strong historical component in several successive couture shows, and has largely rejected the shopworn modernism of the past, it is reasonable to infer a purpose in his efforts.

He could well be attempting to forge links between the art of fashion, as it exists today, and the Western aesthetic tradition, to enable the public to view fashion not as an expression of alien weirdness that is relevant only to a small cadre of like-minded ideologues--like modern "abstract art," or deconsructionist architecture--but as something human and organic, a legitimate art form with roots that go deep into European history.

And if haute couture is--as is often claimed--the engine that drives the rest of the fashion world, the polestar that gives it direction, then Mr. Galliano's efforts can only benefit our own, because it means that fashion will continue to embrace designs inspired by timeless principles, and such designs--like the romantic, bohemian, peasant, and associated trends--are tailor-made for womanly figures.

Now, if only Mr. Galliano would take the next logical stop and stop using underweight models built up by padding, but feature his designs on models who embody the very beauty ideal that he is reviving, and whose figures would harmonize with his historically-inspired designs, then the aesthetic restoration would be complete.

Last edited by HSG : 27th July 2005 at 21:24.
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Old 12th July 2005   #2
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Default Re: Christian Dior: Runway . . . history

When the Lane Bryant spring campaign was in full swing, with the models photographed in a gorgeous setting like this, a lot of people said that if Lane Bryant ever did another runway show, it should try to use that kind of classical setting. This amazing event actually lets you see what a show like that could look like. Gorgeous.

I see this as a combination of the Lane Bryant spring setting and the first "Gothic" Torrid cover with Nadia.

Too bad about the models though. Plussize models would have really shown off the clothes much better. You can see how the pink dress is shaped for a figure with more cleavage.

I wonder how else you could use that misty white fabric in everyday clothing? Its so pretty.
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Old 13th July 2005   #3
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Default Re: Christian Dior: Runway . . . history

Fabrics like chiffon and tulle are regularly used in prom and bridal wear, but, as this show indicates, they can be used to construct almost anything.

A few seasons ago, Dolce and Gabbana staged a show that was punctuated by a parade of models gliding down the runway in white gauzy tunics, which were a kind of update of the "wet drapery" that appears in the Cot painting, above.

And Torrid currently features a camisole that captures the misty look of Galliano's material--and also shows how much more attractive it appears on a model with a shapely figure (in this case, everyone's favourite Torrid cutie):

The product description reads: "Pretty sophistication is yours in this ivory cami. Gauze with lace trim at the V-neck bust and sequin detail."

It's a simple fashion basic, but the dreamy fabric and trim make it infinitely more feminine and attractive than, say, a t-shirt.

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Old 17th July 2005   #4
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Default Re: Christian Dior: Runway . . . history

Originally Posted by HSG
the vintage aspect of these gowns was so carefully studied that their vivid colours trailed off into deliberately yellowed and aged-looking ends, as if these were centuries-old dresses that has been discovered in a secret closet within a forsaken castle, and had only been partially protected from the ravages of time by abbreviated slipcovers.

That is such an interesting idea. I wonder if the designer had this intention? It reminds me of the way composer Howard Shore described his soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings movies. He said of his score:

"I wanted it to have a feeling of antiquity. I wanted it to have a historical feel. I wanted it to have a feeling that it was maybe you discovered the score somewhere, in some old locker somewhere, at the bottom of...a sunken ship, or something"

I think the vision behind this fashion show was incredibly original. It's like an attempt to envision how a runway show would have been staged in the late 19th century. It is so refreshing. Now, if only the size of the models had fit with the rest of the aesthetic!
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