4 December 2017




“The Christian Dior fashions in this exhibition are beautiful,” reads the first sentence of the curatorial statement in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s very own Christian Dior exhibition, which draws from the museum’s permanent collection. First, it is refreshing to read a curatorial statement when first walking into an exhibition space. Dr. Alexandra Palmer, the Senior Curator of Textiles & Costumes at the ROM, tells us the story of what led to this exhibition and the research and collaboration necessary for it to come to fruition.

Curatorial Statement by Alexandra Palmer. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
This is the first time that the ROM’s Christian Dior collection from the postwar decade (1947 to 1957) will be on display, featuring over 100 objects. The ROM's Youtube channel features incredible footage of all of the hard work that went into conserving and preparing these objects for display. Here is a video of behind the scenes footage with the ROM team, courtesy of the ROM: 


The exhibition, presented by Holt Renfrew, examines the first decade of designs by Christian Dior. This decade of design is marked by the construction of the successful “New Look:” the “New Look” introduced cuts and designs such as soft shoulders and cinched waists - a challenge to the wartime masculine silhouette. As a result, the exhibition also pays particular attention to the meticulous work that went into these pieces by designers, as seen in the video below, courtesy of the ROM.


Panel explaining the success of the "New Look." Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.

The organization of this exhibition is one of the reasons why it is so successful and enjoyable. I was first presented with two display cases opposite each other: one briefly explaining the fashion of the 19th century, and the other, the inspiration Dior took from 19th century fashion, as well as changes he made. This is a really useful introduction to not only understand what Dior was thinking in the post-WWII period, but also (however brief) to appreciate a timeline of major fashion trends over that century. Additionally, before viewing any pieces, visitors are presented with a legend of what each fashion term that will be used throughout the exhibition means - which was really useful for someone like myself.

"Decoding Dior" legend, particularly useful for someone who is not well versed in fashion vocabulary. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
The pieces are arranged thematically by Day, late Afternoon to early Evening, and Evening wears. The pieces are contextualized and interpreted in a very creative and user-friendly manner. For example, one of my absolute favourite features of this exhibition is the use of at least two iPads in every theme. The iPads allow visitors to view original sketches and swatches, detailed photos, stories and photos of models and women who wore and owned the pieces, original advertisements, and much more – and they were all related to the pieces actually on display! This is such a clever way to avoid writing too much text but also to contextualize these pieces that merit a closer examination (very fashion-forward, I must say – pun intended). I also had an incredible urge to touch all of the pieces (or why else would I be in this field)?! Having the iPads provide detailed photos settled this urge and curiosity (although I’m still hoping the ROM will one day let me touch one of the dresses).

The above three photos exemplify how the iPads work and what type of information they reveal.
Options are available to zoom in and out of photos and are directly related to pieces on display.
Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

The iPads were also complemented by archival videos, displayed throughout the space, of women wearing Dior’s pieces and of Christian Dior and designers creating these textiles that are featured in the exhibition (as seen in the video below). These digital applications help the pieces, worn by mannequins in the space, come to life.


Another example of where videos play throughout the space. The videos contain footage of the textiles on display either being worn and/or created. Photo and video courtesy of Julia Zungri.

These three photos (above and below) further illustrate how the digital applications used in the space help humanize and tell a story of the pieces. Note that the dress in the photo on the bottom left is being worn by the woman in the photograph on the bottom right. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

I had the pleasure to visit the exhibition with fellow Musings writer, Kelly Manikoth. I feel I have no choice but to feature her absolute favourite piece from this exhibition, because it is breathtaking:

Give me a moment while I try on my prom dress and just pretend. Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

My personal favourite! Note the great amount of detail that the iPads provide (right)! Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.

The exhibition also highlights textile industries that flourished alongside Dior, featuring embroidery, fabric, and ribbon samples used in Dior’s pieces.

This in particular is a Staron printed textile register from 1955. This is a page with three Bambou samples. I can just imagine the process of archiving all of this material at the time! Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
The garments are not the only pieces on display: the exhibition also features perfume, shoes, accessories, and original advertisements by and about Dior.

Now that's what I call a statement necklace. Photo courtesy of Julia Zungri.
The display of the perfumes is also quite clever! Positioned in a display case behind frosted glass designed to replicate a shop window, visitors are subconsciously slightly bending to look through the "shop window."

Photo of Kelly Manikoth 'shopping' for Dior perfume!
Photos courtesy of Julia Zungri.
It was extremely interesting to witness Dior’s world and what he wanted for women through fashion in the post-WWII period. This truly is an exhibition that needs to be seen: the fine details of the pieces, the array of textile samples, and most especially, the enjoyment of using the iPads and watching the videos in this space cannot be sufficiently described in words. I hope my photos and words, though, have done it enough justice and I encourage you to visit.

Until 2018, a more fashionable Julia bids you adieu.


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