By Nadine Kam
At 23, Christian Dior opened two art galleries, and some of his later fashion was inspired by his artist friends, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, and Salvador Dalí. — Nadine Kam photos
Museum of Contemporary Art of Shanghai, 7 People’s Park, Nanjing Xilu, Huangpu District
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through 10 November 2013
Cost: $30 RMB (about USD$5 per person)
SHANGHAI, CHINA — I was lucky enough to be in Shanghai to see the grandeur of MoCa, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Shanghai's fall exhibition, "Esprit Dior," honoring the work of legendary designer Christian Dior.
The exhibit, open through November 10, explores the world of Dior, with more than 100 iconic dresses and gowns from the 1940s through the present, jewelry, illustrations, photography by Patrick Demarchelier, and contemporary works by such major contemporary Chinese artists as Liu Jianhua, Lin Tian Miao, Qiu Zhijie, Yan Pei Ming, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Huan and Zheng Guogu, who present their interpretation of the Dior spirit. The exhibition evolved from a 2008 exhibition in Beijing, "Christian Dior and Chinese Artists," the start of a dialog between haute couture and Chinese Contemporary Art, which continued with a Dior haute couture exhibition at the Chinese National Museum in Beijing last year.
The exhibition opened with a walk up a ramp, like a mini Guggenheim setup, the walls lined with Dior sketches dating to the start of "The New Look" in 1947. From there, we entered the exhibition rooms showing the range of designs from the House of Dior, from its original designer to the opulent John Galliano years, to today, with a few designs by current designer Raf Simons.
Christian Dior unveiled his first collection in February 1947, with a silhouette that idealized women's curves, accentuating bust and hips with a nipped in waist. The celebration of femininity was dubbed "The New Look" by Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, ushering in a new era of contemporary design for the post World War II era, sweeping away the utilitarian, frugal styles that had been dominant.
Dior's New Look in 1947 highlighted women's curves, with an idealized waistline, and long full skirt that bid adieu to the era of World War II rations and scarcity. At right is Dior's Aventure outfit, with black-and-white houndstooth jacket and wool pencil skirt, from 1948.
From current Dior designer Raf Simons' Fall-Winter 2012-13 haute couture fashion show.
In his day, the designer dressed Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and Marlene Dietrich. That relationship continues today, with many an ingenue gracing red carpets in Dior. Among them are Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman, Emma Watson and Jennifer Lawrence.
Also at the heart of his work was an admiration for artists of his day, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Paul Klee and Salvador Dalí, whose work inspired designs. He also celebrated the art of 18th century living and the beauty of the royal chateau Versailles, in sumptuous ballgowns, perfume bottles and Trianon Gray that came to be known as Dior Gray.
It is a mark of Chinese society that whatever must be done, they will do, and the museum's restaurant, MoCa on the Park, has been redone in Dior Gray and renamed Dior Cafe for the exhibition. A glass patio area is accented with topiary in the shape of the Lady Dior handbag and J'adore and Miss Dior Cherie perfume bottles.
They are less ambitious in merchandising the event. Whereas American museum gift shops are full of note cards, posters, scarves, key rings and tchotchkes, here there are only a handful of books! Just goes to show you the Chinese, ever so practical, are more interested in education than wasteful souvenirs.
Today, the Dior legacy continues with Raf Simons creating elegant ensembles that harken to founder Christian Dior's love of gardens and art. His Fall 2013 collection incorporates Andy Warhol's early drawings as a recurring graphic.
More art-inspired garments.
Raf Simons' Fall 2013 collection for Dior continues the house's celebration of art, incorporating illustrations by Andy Warhol.
This was the golden hall, celebrating Dior's more extravagant looks like John Galliano's Egypt-inspired tut design from his Spring 2004 haute couture collection, below:
Posters for the exhibition filled People’s Park outside the museum, and it was also one of the first things I saw when I got off the airplane.
Inside MoCa's Dior Cafe were topiary in the shape of the Lady Dior handbag and J'adore and Miss Dior Cherie perfume bottles.
A John Galliano ensemble photographed by Patrick Demarchelier.
Reds and pinks that Christian Dior associated with the garden of his childhood home, the Villa Les Rhumbs, are still a signature at the House of Dior. In 1949, the designer launched the classic Dior Red that in 1954 became a line of lipsticks.
Dior Red in an illustration by René Gruau.
This dress was from 1956 or 1958.
The centerpiece of a garden exhibition.
More garden-inspired creations.
Photographs by Patrick Demarchelier were a big part of the exhibition.
This photo shows the amount of work that goes into an haute couture garment. Many of the dresses have built-in corsets that perfect the body.
Different craftsmen from Paris come in each week to demonstrate their work. This gentleman is creating fit samples from muslin. The samples are so beautiful, I would be perfectly willing to wear the ones off the manikin.
This woman finishes tying on the metallic thread on a perfume bottle.
Nicole Kidman's chartreuse dress in 1997, at left, was the moment everyone became aware of couture on the runway. Before then, people were aware of the dress, but not necessarily the designer, who was not supposed to outshine the star. When she was wearing it, I just noticed the embroidery and lattice-work in the back. I did not notice the fur trim until seeing it up close in the museum! The other chartreuse gown was worn by Julianne Moore.
When I saw Jennifer Lawrence's gown, the first thing I thought was, "That's Jennifer Lawrence's gown," then, "She fell down in it." That was at the Academy Awards in February this year when she went up to claim her best actress award for "Silver Linings Playbook."
More Dior red.
More garden looks.
A garden-inspired jewelry illustration.
Dior fans take in illustrations and video from the exhibition.
More Dior fans in Shanghai, China.
A sketch circa 1947-48.
Unlike at American museums, we could take all the photos we wanted. I don't think security guards could stop 24 million Chinese from doing what they want anyway.
A touch table allowed people to manipulate images to pull up information, like on "Hawaii Five-0" or "Minority Report."
Below, after the show yummy scallops and salmon in the museum cafe, about $31 for two courses.