I have previously written about this year being the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior and on November 25th the Royal Ontario Museum opened a special Dior exhibit that runs until March 2018. Earlier this year my colleague, Jennifer Dares wrote a research paper on one of the exceptional Dior ensembles in our Fashion Resource Centre collection.
Jennifer has given us permission to publish her research here. Happy reading about this Dior Masterpiece.
Research Report: Dior, “Rubis”
This women’s ensemble, named “Rubis” consists of two garments, a sheath dress and a co-ordinate coat, from the Spring / Summer 1957 collection. The theme was “Freedom”, and was translated through the idea of freedom of movement. Christian Dior passed on October 23, 1957, making this his last collection. The textile is a solid red silk surah shantung in Mr. Dior’s favourite colour, hence the namesake “Dior Red”.
The below hip, double-breasted box-fit coat has sloped shoulders with three- quarter length kimono sleeves that are slightly flared at the hem. The side panel becomes a gusset as it extends from under the arm to more than halfway down the undersleeve. The built up neckline crosses in the front to create a wide V-shape, framing the face. There is a centre back seam and tuck darts to provide shaping for the collar. The buttonholes are bound with 1” four-hole plastic buttons. There are inseam front pockets. Side back vents allow for ease of movement. This garment is fully lined with silk, therefore the seams are not visible, but it is most likely that there is not selvedge.
The sleeveless sheath dress has wide straps that create a square neckline. At first glance, the structured and tailored bow with self-fringed edges draws you in, as it gives the illusion that the it has twisted the left front of the dress, from there the tucks radiate to shape the left side of the garment. The entire garment is underlined in organdy, providing the structure that appears from the outside. Upon further inspection, other details indicate the special attention that has been given to the design of this garment. The right front princess seam diverts and separates below the waist like a fork in the road or a broken wishbone. The interior of the garment continues to impress, with a boned foundation made of silk lining. The foundation is hip length and has metal boning inserted into exposed casings, which have been stitched over the seam allowance. The closure consists of silver coloured metal hooks and eyes. The exterior of the dress has a gold coloured metal zipper, centred on the back seam, with a single hook and eye at the top to secure. The back vent has a self panel hanging from behind, to give the effect of a second layer. The disc shaped weights in the hem allow these garments to hang perfectly. There is no visible selvedge on any of the seams in the sheath.
A size label is not found inside the garments, but the dress measurements indicate the garments were a size 4 or 6 by today’s standards. The bust is 34 inches (86.36 cm), the waist is 25 inches (63.5 cm) and the hip is 37 inches (93.98 cm). The built in foundation may have allowed the wearer to be slightly larger, as it would act as a girdle or a spanks of modern day. The silhouette and bow detail focus, give the waist a flattering cinched effect. The foundation would have provided bust support and held the waist in, depending on the wearer’s size.
The garments are machine stitched with with some hand finishing. The labels are all sewn in by hand. The majority of the coat is machine stitched, with the snap and buttons being sewn by hand in matching thread. The sheath from the exterior looks to be mostly machine stitched. The trim to finish the interior neckline of the dress has been applied by hand, all of the tucks and shaping to create the twist effect from the outside have been stitched by hand, as well the inside panel for the back vent and the hem.
The coat and dress are made of a solid red silk surah shantung. This textile has a diagonal weave and slubbed yarns. The textile has been manipulated at the edges of the bow using a fraying technique to create a self fringe. The coat and the sheath’s foundation are constructed with silk lining. The sheath is underlined with organdy to give it structure.
The coat has one label, just below the back neckline. The information woven into this label is “MADE IN FRANCE, Printemps-Ete 1957, Christian Dior, PARIS”. The sheath dress has two labels. The “Holt Renfrew & COMPANY LIMITED” label is on the inside of the back left foundation and the “MADE IN FRANCE, Printemps-Ete 1957,
Christian Dior, PARIS” label is on the inside of the back right foundation. There are no content or care labels.
This ensemble is mostly in good condition. The coat has some fraying at the back neckline, the buttons may have faded, and the thread holding the snap for the inside closure is only remaining in one of the four holes. The sheath is fraying along the neckline and straps in the area of the arm. There is tearing at the top edge of the foundation. Some of the metal boning is poking through the ends of the casings. There are four tiny stains on the right sleeve elbow of the coat. The sheath has a subtle stain on the left front hip. These stains are only visible when held at specific angle as the textile has an iridescent quality.
The styling and silhouette of the coat and sheath are in line with those of this period. This ensemble belonged to Mrs. Mona Campbell, a Toronto socialite, who had an affinity for Christian Dior. The garments were considered too elegant for daytime, so she wore them to late afternoon teas, bridal showers or special occasions (Palmer, 2001). Mona Campbell owned another sheath and coat ensemble, both with a similar silhouette, from the same period, by Guggenheim of Rome, 1955. She referred to this as her caviar dress because of its tiny jet bead embellishment. This dress was worn to the Royal Alexandra Theatre for the opening night in 1958.
Dior’s 1955 collection had similar garments. A sheath dress with a bodice that self-tied at centre front with the same self-fringe as the “Rubis” sheath. This dress has a co-ordinate jacket with ¾ length sleeves and was sold on the auction site, 1stdibs.com. The “Escarlate cocktail dress” features a skirt overlay that extends into the same self- fringe tie detail. This dress is in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. The wool dinner ensemble with a sheath that features a black bodice is in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.
Tied-front sheath (co-ordinate coat not shown), the “Escarlate” cocktail dress, the wool dinner ensemble, all Christian Dior, 1955.
Yves Saint Laurent took over when Dior passed in 1957 and he used the bow tied self-fringe detail as part of his “Trapeze” collection in 1958.
In 1947, following the “Corolle” collection, Dior said “I created flower women with gentle shoulders and generous bosoms, with tiny waists like stems and skirts belling out like petals”. The “Rubis” ensemble of 1957, follows this ethos with exception of the skirt, although as the years passed, perhaps it signifies a narrow petal. The coat has sloped shoulders, the sheath has a boned foundation to lift and hold the bust, the waist is nipped in and accentuated with the self bow detail. The luxurious silk surah shantung is lightweight on its own, but underlined with organdy, it has structure. When wearing and moving in this garment, one would expect to hear a rustling sound, in addition to the
bright red colour, bringing more attention to the wearer. This garment does not have an odour, indicating it was well taken care of. This ensemble is timeless and could still be worn today.
I was drawn to the ensemble for a number of reasons. Initially, the iridescent finish and red colour, although I don’t normally wear red. I found the silhouette of the sheath appealing and was thrilled upon doing the object research, to find a corset foundation inside. I have many corsets in my wardrobe. This garment would fit me, at my regular weight. It would be tight right now. Once the boning is secured, I believe this dress would be comfortable.
The sheath’s hourglass fit is created with original design details utilizing draping techniques on the dress form. The coat has pockets, whether used for “attitude” or function. It seems that Dior’s intent was to create a feminine, sexy and sophisticated garment. One would think the wearer must have felt all of these.
Seneca College Fashion Resource Centre has a Black Dior cocktail dress dated 1959. This sheath has a similar silhouette, a straight cut neckline with straps, made of chiffon and velvet. The Royal Ontario Museum has a number of Christian Dior garments archived.
Christian Dior has been about in countless books and articles. In Couture and Commerce, Mona Campbell is mentioned for wearing Dior. The brand is recognized globally through its use of advertising and now social media. Dior is everywhere, in books, magazines, museums and online. The autobiography, Dior by Dior was written by him. The house of Dior curates travelling exhibitions.
Christian Dior stayed true to his design philosophy through to his last collection, creating feminine and flattering garments. February 12, 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the first collection, shown in 1947. In celebration, on November 25th, Christian Dior, an exhibit presented by The Royal Ontario Museum will open. “Diormania” is sure to ensue!
Seneca: Fashion Resource Centre. Toronto: Seneca College Press, 2016. Print
Steele, Valerie. The Collection of the Museum of FIT, Fashion Designers. Koln: Taschen, 2012. Print.
Palmer, Alexandra. Couture and COMMERCE, The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950’s. Toronto: UBC Press, 2001. Print
“Christian Dior Dinner Suit., 1955.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed June 7, 2016.
“Christian Dior Escarlate cocktail dress, 1955”. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed June 7, 2016.
Buttolph, Angela. The Fashion Book. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1998. Print