Decoding Dior

by Dale Peers
In February the Royal Ontario Museum was invaded by Seneca College’s School of Fashion. Thanks to the support of Seneca College’s Alumni, Annual Giving and Advancement department the Fashion Business/Fashion Business Management and the Fashion Arts students were able to visit the Dior exhibit curated by Dr. Alexandra Palmer where they came to have a better understanding of the art and science behind couture. Later this term the Fashion Arts students will also use this exhibit as inspiration for an assignment in which they will base a 21st century collection on the work of the House of Dior.

While it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of the garments in the displays, Dr. Alexandra Palmer and her team have created a learning experience for students of fashion as well as all guests to the ROM, regardless of their knowledge of Dior.

The exhibit begins with an explanation of the House of Dior’s phenomenal records for each couture garment. Called “Decoding Dior”, it describes how each garment is identified by its name, season and year, the line it was a part of, the occasion it would have been worn, the Atelier Flou or Tailleur (the person in the atelier responsible for the dressmaking of that garment) the mannequin who wore it in fashion shows and the textiles used.

Fashion Business student Jennet Moon closely examines one of the iPads positioned throughout the exhibit.

The incredible detailed information about each garment, as well as original design sketches and the history of the wearer is on ipads making the information accessible in English as well as French. For example: the Palmyre gown was worn by Toronto socialite Mrs. Dorothy Boylen for the photo published in the Toronto Telegram in 1953 on the occasion of her being on the list of the 10 best dressed women of Toronto.  Mrs. Boylen was in very good company wearing the Palmyre gown! It was also owned by two other famous women, Oona O’Neil (wife of Charlie Chaplin) and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

Pieces of incredible embroidery created for the House of Dior gowns are also on display including this piece which became part of the Palmyre gown.


Mavis Powell’s parents purchased the Venus gown in 1949 for her debut which she recalls “was an afternoon tea.” And, that event  “was the only time the gown was ever worn.” The frothy confection of pink silk tulle, sequins, and paillette embroidery was a favourite of many of the students. And reminded at least one guest of Glinda’s gown from the Wizard of Oz.

The Cocotte wool houndstooth twill afternoon dress was worn by Mrs. Joan Lepofsky. It is a wonderful example of one of the patterns that became a Dior signature. An interesting choice for women’s wear as it had historically been used in menswear and informal sportswear. Perhaps the practice during the second world war of remaking men’s suits for women (early fashion sustainability!) was a way to transition from the war to the new look which becomes his signature style.

The pattern is also found in the glass and the boxes that housed his fragrances.


While Miss Dior was his first fragrance his favourite would have been Diorissimo which was the scent of lily of the valley. We learn in the exhibit that this flower was his good luck charm and was to be found embroidered or on textile prints for some of his garments. Dior also wore this flower and tucked a sprig of it in the hemline of his couture gowns. A fan with the scent was also given to guests at one of his fashion shows and this example shows how beautiful it was when used as inspiration for this necklace, earring and brooch set.

The exhibit is sponsored by Holt Renfrew and details the relationship with the Canadian retailer and details how Canadian customers came to be dressed in Dior.


From garden party to cocktail hour, from debutants to socialites the exhibit provides us with Dior all day. And, evidence that one could be dressed from head to toe with hats, handbags, jewellery, fragrance, stockings and shoes.


The opportunity to see this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit continues just until March 18th.

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