I was going to be longwinded about recapping my brief trip to Tokyo for Dior and do it all in one big hella long post. Despite having only spent two days in the city, it warrants more. We experienced Dior’s history and Japan’s tradition by day and then Raf Simons’s vision of the future for the house and a look at Tokyo’s in-flux present by night. I therefore want to be extra careful to separate the “experience” from the “show. The former ran the course of how these “far-flung” maison shows normally operate – the experience was about giving us a flavour of the locale we’re in – in other words, Japanese culture of our collective imagining. The latter though ran far, far away from cultural cliche. For the show, officially called “Esprit Dior Tokyo”, Raf Simons presented a collection filled with nuanced observations and layers (literal ones too) connected with his own personal experiences of Tokyo.
That had nothing to do with irresistible details like Dior grey taxi seat covers inside specially branded Japanese taxis or the beautifully decorated restaurant where we had a lengthy kaiseki lunch complete with New Look printed lanterns and origami table pieces. The collection also throttled away from the gowns and occasion wear that made up the majority of the Esprit Dior Tokyo exhibition in Ginza that is open to the public (for free!) until 4th January. It felt like a familiar book, immersing oneself into Dior’s history. The facts and the images and many of the silhouettes felt textbook.
What was newly emphasised in this particular exhibition was Monsieur Dior and the house’s specific connection with Japan. He was enamoured with Japanese culture and art, and once likened Japonaiserie heroes Hokusai and Utamaru to his Sistine Chapel, hence why he’d give dresses name like “Jardin Japonais” and feature cherry tree motifs. The Dior-Japan connotations don’t stop there as we’re treated to photos of Margot Fonteyn in a Dior costume for Madame Butterfly and Princess Michiko wearing Dior for her wedding in 1959. In Dior’s successors of course Japan came alive most notably in John Galliano’s stupendously lavish spring summer 2007 haute couture collection as well as in Raf Simons’ autumn winter 2013 haute couture collection. The contrast couldn’t be more stark when you see the silhouettes in situ as Hokusai waves flourish over voluminous opera coat with pleated bodice and collar by Galliano next to Simons’ pared back interpretation of kimono and obi folds and shibori techniques.
The rest of the exhibition ran the gamut of Dior 101. The bar jacket and its architecture was exposed with digital skeletal analysis. A showcase of the petites mains that work behind the scenes in Dior’s atelier demonstrating pattern cutting. From a commercial perspective of course, Miss Dior and J’Adore Dior took centre stage too to add a more tangible aspect to the exhibition. Cue Dior workers busy tying up ribbons and gold thread around perfume bottles.
Running throughout the entire exhibition were new and unseen photographs by Patrick Demarchelier, who has created a second volume of portraits of iconic Dior haute couture looks from Christian Dior to Raf Simons, out now on Rizzoli. They breathed life into the space when used as the backdrops to mannequins and display cases but also much credence to Raf Simons’ tenure at Dior. His work for the house isn’t so much a straightforward continuation on from his predecessors but a fresh chapter that returns to the qualities, which underlined Dior right from the start – the new and the modern. That’s what I’ll be talking about when I get on to part two of this Tokyo sojourn.