Bringing in and mounting a travelling exhibition always makes for an exciting time here at Glenbow. We always look forward to the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world as they come to Calgary to work with our team during the installation process. We thought you might enjoy meeting a few of the people who are currently working hard to make the magic of Christian Dior come alive on opening day.
Chris Paulocik, Royal Ontario Museum
Chris Paulocik’s favourite textiles to work with are those of, shall we say, a certain vintage. Having served as head of the conservation lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute for 22 years, and as a senior textile conservator at the Royal Ontario Museum for the past six, she says she really enjoys running tests and analysis on things like 3000 year old mummy wrappings. Which isn’t to say she isn’t duly impressed by the quality and construction of the Dior garments that currently have her occupied at Glenbow with everything from condition reporting to steaming gowns.
“What I think is interesting is that they are all composite – a lot of them have kind of an inner corset, so then you have corseting material, and then you have lining and then an outer structure,” she says. “So you’re working with three dimensional, multi-composite pieces, which can be very complicated.”
Paulocik also marvels at the hand stitching of the Dior pieces, a practice she says is an increasingly becoming a lost art. “For me, this is kind of a masterpiece,” she says gesturing towards Pamplune, an exquisitely-detailed afternoon gown from Autumn-Winter 1948 – 1949 season. ”The level of craftsmanship is amazing. A lot of them of are masterpieces.”
Vincent Leret, Christian Dior Parfums
Having flown in from Paris, Vincent Leret, Patrimony Project Manager for Christian Dior Parfums, is at Glenbow recreating historical Dior perfumes from 1947 – 57, mixing ingredients to achieve precise hues and tints that he has committed to memory by studying archived samples back in France.
However, Leret isn’t at liberty to divulge the secrets behind the process.
“The details are not very interesting,” he says politely, allowing that, “The difficulty always is to travel with this kind of perfume. We have to find the right shade and the best way to present it.”
What Leret is willing and more-than-able to discuss is Christian Dior himself. Before coming to work for the Dior label, Leret spent 13 years at the Musée Christian Dior in Granville, the designer’s birthplace. He describes his current role as one of “[following] Christian Dior exhibitions all over the world, but also learning and writing Christian Dior’s story.”
Learn it he has. Leret offers an impromptu history lesson on Christian Dior’s personal backstory as a fine art gallerist in the 1920s before he became a fashion designer. Then he indulges us with insightful tour of the ornately-designed bottles and display cases on exhibit. These include the “Temple of Love” display case of Miss Dior, inspired by Marie Antoinette, and the opulent Diorissmo, featuring a clear cut crystal flacon and a stopper adorned with bronze lily-of-the-valleys (Dior’s favourite flower). At one time it was once the most expensive perfume in the word.
“It’s a part of French history,” Leret says of Dior’s legacy. “It gives a vision of femininity, a vision of luxury… a vision of accessories. Obviously not all women can buy an haute couture dress, so through the accessories, the perfume, it’s a good way to touch part of the mystery.”
Karla Livingston, Royal Ontario Museum
Given the notoriously complex construction of a Dior garment, one can’t help but wonder if the technicians tasked with the care and installation of the pieces in Christian Dior are inclined to be admirers of the designer, or have just come to regard him with utter frustration.
“A little bit of A) and little bit of B),” laughs Karla Livingston, Senior Technician, Textile & Fashion at the ROM. “The cutting and everything is absolutely whacky. [Dior] re-thought a lot of the way that traditional clothing had been cut. It’s been quite the trip seeing how this stuff gets put together… We had a pattern maker come in a make drawings of a lot of these pieces, which you can see in [curator Alexandra Palmer’s] book, and after actually seeing the flat patterns, you’re like, ‘woah, that’s weird.’”
Beyond the cuts, Livingston says that a major challenge of exhibiting the pieces was in constructing the forms on which the garments are displayed. Because all the pieces were tailored to the specifications of their original owners, and because no body is perfectly symmetrical, those asymmetries were built into the garments. ROM technicians like Karla then needed to customize their forms accordingly to ensure the fit and shape of the couture is displayed properly.
“You start to know the bodies of the people that were in these,” says Livingston. “What I like about it is that these things were worn and worn and worn through seasons and through years, so some of the pieces that we’re handling may have been let out three or four times, and then eventually a panel was added or the hem has been shortened – everything has been messed with to continue its life a little bit longer.”