Before I planned my my early 2019 trip to Paris (which was already going to include a jaunt to Paris), the V&A Museum in London had already sold out of its tickets for its special Dior exhibition. But then I realized something… See, despite the museum being free to enter with special tickets only for some things, I’m a paying member. As I see it, it helps keep the museum running. (If you can swing it, please consider a membership for the V&A. It’ll help with ongoing expenses that the museum has. Even when closed, there is maintenance for textiles and various artworks. Even if you have no intention of going to London, there are perks, like their print magazine, and they do ship it internationally for no extra cost.) And at the V&A, members not only get into those exhibits for free, but also don’t need to get tickets. So, despite the tickets being sold, my membership let me get in anyway. 😀 I was so excited when I realized this! That meant I would get to see one of my favorite-ever designer gowns, Dior’s Junon gown!
If you saw the photo and immediately thought of Glinda’s Bubble gown from Wicked, you’re forgiven. Wicked’s costume designer Susan Hilferty acknowledged that this gown is the inspiration for Glinda. Yes, the bodice is different, but let’s face it. The thing that catches the eye right away is all those overlapping petals on the skirt.
Christian Dior was born into wealth, and despite his parents’ hopes that he’d become a diplomat, he was more attracted to art, and wanted to go into that industry. He sold fashion sketches and, using money gifted by his father, had an art gallery for a short time until the Great Depression did what the Great Depression did best and ended the gallery. When he was 32, he was hired by the designer Robert Piguet. After a tour of duty in the military, something that wasn’t voluntary, he was hired by Lucien Delong.
While designing for Delong, he, as well as almost every other designer, designed gowns for wives of Nazis to remain in business. Dior was far from a supporter of the Nazi movement. His beloved sister, Catherine, was even a French resistance fighter who was captured by the Gestapo, tortured, then sent to Ravensbrüke, an all-women concentration camp. His eldest brother’s daughter, Françoise, becoming dedicated to Nazis and financing them was a horror to the family (in 1963, that disgusting subhuman married a nazi, they cut their ring fingers to have “unity drops” on a copy of Mein Kampf, the Nazi anthem played, guests gave he Hitler salute, and she said “All I want is little Nazi children”…again, in 1963, almost 20 years after the end of WWII). So don’t think that Dior designed for those wives out of support. You did as told or you died.
It wasn’t until 1947, two years after the end of the war, when he was 42, that he debuted his first collection on his own name, a collection he called the Corolle (or “circe of flower petals”), which was dubbed the New Look by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow. This look was, at first, shunned by women who had grown accustomed to more of their legs being shown due to fabric rationing.
So used to going without were they that designs they otherwise loved, designs that harkened back to pre-war times when women were dressed more feminine, that they weren’t comfortable with so much fabric, something that would have felt wasteful to those used to rationing so much. But quickly, Dior’s ultra feminine designs, easily identifiable by their nipped waists and just dripping in elegance, gained massive popularity. Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, icons of the day, and still icons to this day, were among his fans.
In 1955, Dior hired 19-year-old Yves St. Laurent, and in 1957, Dior chose St. Laurent to be this successor when he eventually left the company. Unfortunately, just ten years after debuting his first collection, just ten years after the start of his company, at the age of 52, Dior died. In such a short time, he left such a huge impact on the fashion world.
(Highlight the following it you want to read about what could have happened when he died: How he died is remains undisclosed. He was reported to have had a heart attack after chocking on a fish bone as well as a heart attack while playing cards as well as a heart attack while doing some sort of particularly strenuous sexual encounter. The truth of the matter is still not publicly available.)
When his company was still pretty new, as part of his fall/winter 1949/1950 line, he designed a set of sister gowns to be promotional items for the I. Magnin & Company department store in San Francisco. In the heyday of department stores, I. Magnin in San Francisco reigned supreme, and what Magnin said is what went. Truly this store’s forgotten place in history should be a retail crime, but I digress.
The Junon (French for Juno) gown was named for the Roman goddess of marriage and fertility (Hera, in Greek), and her sister gown, the Venus, after the goddess of love, desire, beauty, and prosperity. Junon’s petals are meant to invoke peacock feathers, and the Venus shells after Venus rising from the ocean. As soon as Grover Magnin saw them, they were declared “museum pieces, not for sale.” The Junon gowns is now so fragile that it has to be shipped pre-mounted on a mannequin. The thread is failing, and taking it on and off loses sequins, making it exceptionally difficult to maintain and care for. As far as I’m aware, the Venus hasn’t gone on exhibition anywhere in ages. Both gowns are now part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Since his death, the design house bearing his name has continued to design gowns that are the utmost in romance and femininity.
And now, before I go farther and share some of my photos, I’d like to let you know that the exhibit had changing lighting that looked like fireworks starting from the center of the room in the main room that shot outward. So that’s why some photos are darker than others.
This was such an awe-inspiring moment for me.
Four pleats of organza line the top of the rather simple bodice. Waist darts in the front, and a lapped back. White silk covered in white sequins, the same sort as used on the skirt. And then a simple ribbon waistband.
I love the oil-slick iridescence of the colors edging the petals.
The center of each of the petals at the edges have an orange floral motif. They are a nod to the eyes of a peacock feather.
Here you can see beneath one of the petals and can easily tell that the petals are only netting. The sequins would be sewn to a couple layers, and then lined with another layer of netting to protect the threads on the backside. The edges are supported with horsehair.
I have photos of more gowns at this exhibit, but none of them have detail photos. I try to get shots that don’t have people in them, and when there are mirrors all over and the exhibit is sold out and only available otherwise by having a membership, it can take quite a while to have a split second to take a single photo, and even when closer up, when there are so many others, I don’t like to try to hog the best views. So there was a ton of waiting for clear views and tons of waiting for others to have a chance to see before going back to being as close as possible.
After loving this gown for so many years, leaving it was very hard.