Off To The V&A For A Little Dior, Part I

We’ve arrived in London and we’re ready to roll! Today, it’s off we go to the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the V&A Museum. Opening in January, this exhibit has been especially popular and has been extended from May to September 2019 and currently is sold out (we were lucky to have bought our tickets online back in January). The exhibit is a retrospective of Dior’s work along with his successors who designed under the House of Dior name following Dior’s death in 1958.

It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!

– Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief, Harper’s Bazaar, February 12, 1947

So where to start? The volume of garments on display, along with other supporting items,  is simply staggering…well, let’s start at the beginning. 🙂 First up is the quintessential “Bar Suit” or “New Look” dress from Dior’s 1947 collection that put Dior on the map:

While it may seem pretty ho-hum by today’s mega-event standards, the New Look marked the beginning of a new era of fashion and a major departure of the war-influenced styles that had dominated most of 1940s fashion. It also marked the re-emergence of France as the fashion capital of the world, free from the deprivations of the war years (at least in theory). Officially named La Ligne Corolle by Dior, it was more often referred as the “New Look Dress” and that’s how it’s known today. Also, Dior referred to this outfit as the “Bar Suit” because it was intended to be worn in elegant public places such as bars (at least, that’s the best definition that we’ve been able to find). Just for some context, here’s a picture of the Bar Suit in action:

Live Model

Also, here’s some “official” photos of the suit itself:

Christian Dior, Skirt Suit, 1955 (V&A Museum; T.376&A-1960); Interestingly enough, this particular example was made in 1955.

As can be seen from the above, this suit was based on extreme curves characterized by  a wasp waist created by a waist cincher combined with a skirt supported by a large petticoat. In this design, one can see several elements that were part of 1880s and 90s styles and all share the common characteristic that they were sculpted over rigid underpinnings. OK, admittedly we’ve gone a tad overboard with the Dior Bar Suit so we’ll pause at this point…but stay tuned for more!

Painted Silk…

One of the more interesting methods of embellishing skirts during the late 19th Century was the use of hand-painting floral decorate motifs primarily on silk. Although not as common as other methods such as taking on silk flowers or using fabrics with various types of woven-in patterns and motifs, painted silk did offer a somewhat easier, more inexpensive method of of creating decorative embellishment. Below is nice example from  the Fashion History Museum of Ontario of a mid to late 1880s day dress (it’s hard to tell from the staging):

Day Dress, c. 1880s; Fashion History Museum Ontario

It’s difficult to tell an exact date for the dress since there was no information on the museum website but judging from the silhouette, such as it us, it appears to be mid to late 1880s . The bodice and skirts are constructed from a pale blue silk satin which provides the perfect “canvas” for the detailed floral motifs which we see on both the bodice and the overskirt. The floral motifs provide an interesting range of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds all set against a cool blue background that’s reminiscent of water. Definitely just the thing for Spring. 🙂

Somewhat more restrained, here’s a wedding dress, from 1888:

Wedding/Day Dress, 1888; Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection (HCT.1999.19.1a-d)

This dress bodice and skirts are constructed from an ivory wool with silk side panels and lace covers the front underskirt. Visually, the eye is first attracted to the two panels with the painted floral motifs and then drawn upward to the silk plastron on the bodice. Here are some close-ups of the painted floral motifs:

The use of painted flower motifs on silk is an interesting, subset of decorative effects that were used on fashions of the late 19th Century and it bears further study and hopefully we’ll unearth some more examples for your consideration in the near future.



Costume College 2019

It’s official! I’m pleased to announce that I will be once again teaching at Costume College for 2019. Held annually in late July, Costume College is an event devoted to costuming in its many forms, whether historical, fantasy, or somewhere in between. Classes and presentations consist of both lecture and hands-on workshop formats and are all taught by volunteers. For the past several years, I’ve been giving presentations on various aspects of costume to include American Army uniforms of the WWI Era, Paul Poiret, and Couture of the 19th and early 20th Century.

This year I will be reprising my Paul Poiret presentation (revised and expanded) as well as presentations on designers Charles Frederick Worth and Elsa Schiaparelli. When I presented the class on Schiaparelli last year, it was definitely outside our comfort zone but in it was well received and one of the attendees had even recreated Schiaparelli’s iconic Lobster Dress 🙂 :

One of the fundamentals of our design philosophy is that here at Lily Absinthe, we are interested in all eras of fashion and as such, we draw inspiration for all eras when it fits the particular design objective we may have in mind and especially when it comes to designers who came after the Belle Epoch.

Image result for dali schiaparelli

Schiaparelli in particular has always been a source of fascination for both Karin and I in that she combined the shocking and outrageous with the practical and down-to-earth ranging from surrealist-inspired shoe-hats and immaculately tailored suits and elegant evening dresses. Moreover, we’re fans of her widespread use of pink- she even has a distinct shade of pink she named “shocking pink.” 🙂

Image result for shocking pink schiaparelli

July is a ways away but I’ll be busily preparing my presentations and it promises to be an exciting time. More to follow! 🙂