Seventy years after Dior became the first haute couture house to show in the Land of the Rising Sun, a comprehensive exhibit opens with a focus on the House and its Japanese connection.
A new look! Little did we know that this post-show declaration of Christian Dior’s collection in 1947 would become a viral fashion catchphrase that would play a seminal role in fashion history. Inferred from the term New Look, was the acceptance of a changing standard of dress, an idea of femininity as power, and a departure from wartime fashion’s practical masculine silhouette. The Bar suit, resonant with the femme-fleur, led the New Look banner: sloping shoulders, a nipped-in waist, and a flowering bloom of a skirt. It was the definitive touchpoint for rebirth, renewal, and a pivot for Christian Dior as the new fashion revolutionist.
The exhibition Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo includes more than 300 haute couture pieces from Dior Héritage, the couture archives, and diverse works from collections and organizations in Japan. Curated by Florence Müller with new scenography honoring Japanese culture by architect Shohei Shigematsu, the retrospective not only looks at reinventions and creative continuity from the start to the present day, but also puts into conversation the storied relationship between Christian Dior and Japan.
Dior’s sentimentality toward Japanese culture lies in his nostalgia, growing up in a villa semi-elaborated with Japanese-style paintings. Dior recalls in Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior: “Large panels painted in imitation of Japanese prints adorned the whole staircase. These versions of Utamaro and Hokusai made up my Sistine Chapel.” It would be easy to imagine how this exotic world fascinated Dior. In the autumn of 1953, six years after opening at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Dior became the first haute couture house to show in Japan. About a hundred outfits from his Paris collection were shown in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka.
“Christian Dior admired the Japanese for their capacity to ‘combine modernism and tradition’.” A mutual and profound tale of admiration that went on to link Japan—the land of tradition and innovation—with the House, whose retro style revolutionized post-war fashion,” explains Florence Müller, curator of the exhibition. In the same year, Dior would go on to partner with two Japanese brands, Kanebo Textile Company and Daimaru Department Store, with the former securing the privilege to reproduce patterns and showing them in its “Dior Salons” and Daimaru, with its long-standing textile tradition was given the authority to develop clothes based off the patterns from Christian Dior and done in fabrics either by Daimaru or imported from France. Previously unseen archival documents, photos, letters, sketches, fabric swatches, and archival pieces from this era are conserved and shared for the first time–adding a new layer and allowing the exhibit to tell a more nuanced story of Dior’s fashion history.
The Japanese conception of beauty, according to Akiki Fukai, honorary curator from The Kyoto Costume Insitute, is that “Art was not a rarified entity to be admired at arm’s length, but rather naturally incorporated into the rhythms of everyday life. The Japanese aesthetic blurred the divide between the decorative arts and the fine arts.” This cognizance was something that Dior and the succeeding creative directors codified as standard, reconstructing fashion into new art. From Dior’s successor Yves Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri. All six great fashion talents treasure the exhibition with their archival, exceptional artistry on display. Historically significant pieces are shown in vignettes taking you through time and pivotal points in fashion all the while staying true to Christian Dior’s ethos: that haute couture is not only for Parisiennes and French women but all women around the world.
The Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo will run until May 2023.