"You Are Somebody Special With a Dior Dress": Florence Muller on "Stars in Dior"
"You Are Somebody Special With a Dior Dress": Florence Muller on "Stars in Dior"
Movie stars and fashion houses have a symbiotic relationship, depending on one another for success. Dior is no exception. The label’s namesake, Christian Dior, had a strong connection to film and worked as costume designer years before he founded his couture business. The recently-published tome “Stars in Dior” (Rizzoli) follows the summer exhibition of the same name at the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, France. The coffee table book features a number of images of celebrities in Dior, including a shot of the legendary designer doing a fitting on Ava Gardener in 1957, Elizabeth Taylor wearing the 1961 Soirée à Rio couture gown by Marc Bohan when she accepted the Best Actress Oscar for “Butterfield 8” that same year, and red carpet appearances of actresses like Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, and Marion Cotillard.
ARTINFO spoke to Florence Müller, curator of the “Stars in Dior” exhibition and contributor to the book, about the relationship between designers and actresses, Dior’s favorite star, and which of the ensembles she likes best.
How was it curating the “Stars in Dior” exhibition?
It was really great because it was a new way on looking at the story of Dior, and it was a field to be explored, and of course when you have a new subject, it’s very nice because you have the opportunity of doing many researches on this story. We have worked a lot in the French Cinémathèque and German Cinémathèque. In Paris we found many documents and elements. It was the opportunity of writing the complete list of movies that were dressed up with Dior’s costumes and it was very interesting to see that the house was very involved in this form of expression. It was great moment. Let’s say that this connection between Dior and the cinema and Hollywood, it’s rather natural because Christian Dior was a costume maker before being a couturier, and this was very important. He costumed seven movies before opening his house in 1947. He made these costumes for many movies. He had a strong taste for shows and the idea of being on the stage, the connection between a character and the costume. It was really one of his first loves to design costumes. He himself would be in different costumes during parties, and he really he had a strong taste about this. You can feel it when you look at different examples from these movies. We know that through some archives and testimony that he was designing these costumes with many details and involvement — very strong, very serious. He was taking this as a real subject.
Where did you source the ensembles?
From the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, France. They have a collection of dresses, accessories, and documents, and also there is a loan from the Christian Dior archives, but there were also many loans from this exhibition, from the French Cinémathèque Française in Paris. We had also very important loans from Deutsche Kinemathek and for this famous wardrobe of Marlene Dietrich. Marlene Dietrich kept her wardrobe and donated it to Deutsche Kinemathek. In this collection, we had the chance of asking many loans of many dresses, but also many elements like accessories and her suitcases. We also had some elements of lingerie belonging to Marlene that wasn’t usually exhibited, and we had also some documents, like bills from the House of Dior, where you see she has ordered perfume or accessories. There was one very interesting thing in all these elements, with the label of Dior, there were also stockings and bras, but among these things there were masculine pajamas that were made for men, and she was using them for [herself]. It was interesting for the story, because we know that she liked very much to be dressed up as a man with costumes. We also have telegrams with conversations between her and Christian Dior and you could see that they were close friends.
Which movie star was closest to Christian Dior?
Certainly her. She had a special position because she was considered a close friend. We know this for sure because she was part of the close friends who were invited to his house outside of Paris, in Milly-la-Forêt, where he had this very nice farm house, where he spent the weekends, and it was very private. He met Marlene through Jean Cocteau.
How did his costume design experience enhance his ability to dress movie stars?
He was rather prepared to do this by the fact that he had this natural taste towards the idea of inventing costumes for theater and cinema. He had a taste for magnificent dresses…. The dress must be extravagant, but not too much because the women inside is more important than the dress. But together it helps, you have drapery, you have movements, you have effects, many things that help them to behave like stars. We can say perhaps all his collections are built like this. You are somebody special with a Dior dress. You have a woman who is like a princess, who is like a flower. All these things are connected with the idea of a star in Hollywood.
Who is the brand’s modern-day star?
Marion Cotillard. I think she is very typical of the idea of Dior young woman. The choice of dresses she has for her different appearances at Cannes, or somewhere else. I think she really is somebody who is very connected with the whole story of Dior. This woman who is beautiful but who has character. She’s not a doll. She’s a strong character, as Charlize Theron, and Sharon Stone — this type of woman — strong. She’s not just pretty, she has a character.
How important are celebrity clients to the success of a designer?
Certainly today it is important, you can see it’s one of the main subjects everywhere in the media, in magazines, everywhere. It’s a great interest for many readers, but during the time of Dior, it was different, [but] of course it was important. The stars were really stars, they were treated like this, but let’s say for a haute couture house, it was not a main point. Mr. Dior was interested by this, but we know that he was asked to do many movies and very often he said no. He said yes when he liked the movie director, the actress, or the subject. For him the most important [thing] was the life of the house and the clients. He had so much to do it was difficult to answer the demands of the movie industry.
How has the designer-celebrity relationship evolved from Christian Dior’s time?
I think in the ’40s and ’50s it was not organized as today. Now the career [of] the actress is organized on the same level as which film she will do and where she will appear, and which events with which dress. The actresses have advisors, stylists who are working with them. Everything is much more organized, conceived, produced – in those days it was not like this, not at all. You see by some documents from Dior that they organized some things, but it’s not as today. It’s not like an orchestra where everything is planned in advance. Of course there are some examples where we know the fact that a movie was used to create a subject for the press, but there are not so many examples from the ’30s and ’40s.
Which dress is your favorite?
Two dresses, on a totally different scale. They are two directions, very interesting in the way you can build the image of a star. One direction would be simplicity. An example is the suit – a jacket and a skirt – called “Pom Pom,” ordered by Rita Hayworth. It belonged to the first collection of Christian Dior in the summer of 1947. It was one of the two main silhouettes of the collection. The silhouette is very narrow on the body, very thin. It’s black, it’s very pure. It was ordered by Rita Hayworth, who was seated at the front row of the very first fashion show. You can wear it today. It’s very simple without any decoration, just the line and the purity of the line. On the other hand, there is the custom dress that Charlize Theron is wearing in the 2011 advertising for the perfume J’Adore. Everybody likes it because it’s a dress of gold. It’s like a rain of gold on the body. It’s a dress of light, of sun, and it’s very light. The technique is incredible because it’s made of tulle with this embroidery made as a rain on the body. It’s the idea of a nude body just dressed up with a rain of gold sequins.
“Stars in Dior,” $65 at rizzoliusa.com.
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