If we’re calling fashion exhibitions at museums “blockbusters”, a term coined when Met’s 2011 Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty broke all visitor records at the time, then trailers must be warranted.  Consider this to be a bumper trailer for a bumper exhibition.   Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the  Museé Arts Décoratifs is big.  3,000 square metres big.  The biggest fashion exhibition Paris has ever staged and of course the biggest retrospective Dior has ever seen, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the house.  It’s not quite enough just to scroll through the pictures because the scale of the exhibition is such that requires in-depth and multiple viewing to really grasp everything you’re seeing.  Co-curators Florence Muller and Olivier Gabet have succeeded in amassing a vast amount of artefacts – the clothes of course taking centre stage with  over 300 haute couture frocks on show, in addition to sketches, photographs, hats, shoes, bags, jewellery that complete the Dior megabrand universe that was put in motion very soon after Christian Dior debuted his New Look in 1947.   And add to that, the paintings, furniture and objets d’art, the Dior archives are given an enriched contextual background.

We begin with a room that charts the making of Christian Dior as a young man, through letters, photographs, video clips and trinkets, all compiling a a visual digest of a man who grew up in Granville, and immersed himself in the world of avant garde art in the roaring twenties in Paris.  In fact, that’s the main starting point of the exhibition, where a Salvador Dali bust confronts you alongside a photographic recreation of the progressive art gallery, Christian Dior ran in Paris with his friend Jacques Bonjean, exhibiting works by the likes of Calder, Man Ray and Giacometti.  In turn those artists also attended Christian Dior’s fashion debut in 1947, eager to see what this man of eclectic and on-point artistic taste would do for what was then a down-and-out fashion industry.  The point of colliding Dior with Dali is that whilst they both pushed boundaries in their respective fields, they would also share tastes for something as out-moded as art nouveau.  The onus of being a “revolutionary” is a bit of a misnomer.  In the introduction to the accompanying catalogue, Dior is described as seeing himself as a reactionary, and by bringing his romantic and dreamer influences from his youth to his work as a fashion designer, it was a reaction to wartime frugality that was incidentally innovative.

One of the oldest pieces on show in the exhibition – the Diablesse dress from the fall/winter 1947 collection, the second after Dior’s debut

In the next room, the iconic imagery of Dior is brought to life with images such as Richard Avedon’s 1955 Harper’s Bazaar photograph of Dovima and an elephant, fading in and out on a screen, to reveal the original black velvet dress adorned with a white sash.  This is where Nathalie Crinièr’s scenography design really comes into play.  Rarities such as a sumptuous dress, constructed with seven layers of silk, net and organza, created for Princess Margaret in 1951 are also on display, loaned from the Museum of London, representative of the significant and slightly controversial relationship between a French couturier and a British royal (it was an unwritten rule that royal women should patronise British fashion houses).

Dior’s affinity with artists – both contemporary and historical – are further underlined in the work of successors, who picked up on those inspirations of Christian Dior, when he died in 1957 of a heart attack.  Whilst Monsieur Dior might have ventured to a retrospective exhibition on the Ballets Russes at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1939, decades later, John Galliano would create his outfit for Shéhérazade in his Opera Garnier collection in 1998.  It is here that you discover that the works of all of Christian Dior’s successors are given equal billing, which is a real strongpoint of the retrospective.  You have Gianfranco Ferré’s 1995 couture interpretation of Cézanne’s harlequin character as well as Marc Bohan’s 1984 take on Jackson Pollock’s paint splatterings.  And of course more recently, Raf Simons’ collaboration with Sterling Ruby on a series of couture dresses that pitted shadowy paintings with printed satin.

The impressive visual onslaught begins to build, as we enter a winding room dubbed, “Colorama” – a rainbow gradiated arrangement of dresses, shoes, hats, bags, perfume bottles and sketches.  It’s a technicolour representation of the world that Christian Dior set into motion quite rapidly, with his agreement to begin licensing out the Dior name around the world and the creation of Miss Dior perfume as early as 1947.  Dior was arguably the first mega fashion maison that became a globally recognised household name through these enterprises.

All roads lead back to Paris, as two fur ensembles created by Frédéric Castet as a tribute to Paris monuments in 1988 are on display alongside a vitrine of robe noir.  Not long after Dior showed his New Look, the House of Dior accounted for half of France’s haute couture exports and it revived Paris as the beating centre of fashion.

Just outside of Paris, Versailles comes calling as 18th century rococo is evident throughout Dior’s output.  Christian Dior’s own Trianon gowns recalled the pannier dresses of the eighteenth century as did Raf Simons’ fall 2014 couture collection.  Those colours dubbed by Monsieur Dior as “Marie Antoinette blue”, “dauphin green” and “Bertin pink” (named after the milliner to Marie Antoinette) crop up, time and time again.  John Galliano’s fall/winter 2004 moiré bustier gown with gold embroidery is another standout piece with its exacting corset contrasted with a rebellious draped bustle of gold embroidery.   A portrait of the Duchesse de Polignac anchors this Petit Trianon passage, where decadence and opulence are indulged upon.

The thematic catalogue of inspirations continues into a global journey where you can quibble with the modern day catcalls of cultural appropriation.  This is where “impressions” of China, Japan, Spain and Africa are formed by extreme abstraction.  From Christian Dior’s 1955 silk brocade tunic and skirt made for the Duchess of Windsor to John Galliano’s epic spring summer 2003 haute couture collection to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s sakura embroidered dresses for a special haute couture redux show in Tokyo in April – chinoiserie and japanaiserie are on display in abundance.  Travelling in the mind spans from Ancient Egypt artefacts to Goya’s depiction of flamenco to Masai tribe masks, eliciting interpretations of these cultures, and what strikes you is how different the interpretations are, depending on the creative director at helm.

Dior’s love of flowers is of course well-documented.  “After woman, flowers are the most lovely things god has given the world,” said the couturier, who would go on to create his flower women with corolla-shaped skirts and calyx-esque bodies.  An intricate paper flower installation created by Barcelona-based paper artists Wanda forms the backdrop to the keen gardeners of Dior, who have all taken Christian Dior’s original love of nature and created their own creations in bloom.  A beautiful Monet hangs on the wall as a reminder of the impressionistic approach Christian Dior and his successors took towards interpreting flowers as seen in a Yves Saint Laurent dip dyed tulip dress, in Raf Simons’ haute couture pieces for Dior that focused on abstracted floral embroidery and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s enchanted garden gowns of embroidered tulle.

On the opposite side of the museum (all of the above was only half of the exhibition…), this is where the physical height of the museum is used to superb effect.  A vast display of iterations of Dior’s New Look – specifically, the Bar jacket – that towers over you like a monument of iconoclastic fashion with its rigorous wasp-wasited cut, often paired with a skirt that celebrated an excess of fabric.  The “Bars” of every decade don’t waver too far from this undulating silhouette and it’s that continuity, which is the main takeaway from the exhibition.

Galleries dedicated to the creative directors that helmed the house after Christian Dior’s death – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and presently, Maria Grazia Chiuri – also seek to emphasise the way Dior has moved through the decades and through stylistic time epochs, as well as being reactions to each predecessor.  Saint Laurent’s youthquake-fuelled radicalism (well, radical in the context of haute couture) was followed up by a more polite and steady offering from Bohan.  Ferré’s Italian flamboyance came to shake things up at the house, quickly followed by the theatrics of British enfant terrible Galliano.  And then Raf Simons came to offer his clean break from the past, wiping the slate with his purist vision.  And finally, Grazia Chiuri – the first female to steer the Dior ship – into an ever fractured fashion landscape where it’s not quite enough to just simply make pretty clothes.  You need to stand for something too, and her “women for women” messaging does just that.

Yves Saint Laurent for Dior

Marc Bohan for Dior

Gianfranco Ferré for Dior

John Galliano for Dior

Raf Simons for Dior

Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior

A hall of toiles (where artisans from the Dior atelier will be demonstrating their skills throughout the exhibition) and an illuminated linear display of the Dior “Allure” all seek to impress upon you that above any one creative director’s vision, the spirit of the house must always be present and codes adhered to.  The changes to the fundamental silhouette from decade to decade, illustrated in a neon-tubed line-up of tailored ensembles, appear to be subtle.

By the time you hit the incredible room of the Dior Ball, dedicated to the gowns that have graced many a star over the years and Christian Dior’s own love of a lavish soirée, you give up looking at captions.  Most of the dresses are so recognisable and iconic in their own right that they stand twenty metres above you, defying the need for labels.  Like John Galliano’s sphinx line dress from his Egyptian collection in 2004, which sits on top of yet another height-driven display.  Other instant stand-outs include Christian Dior’s 1949 Junon gown with its skirt of sequinned ombréed petals and then Maria Grazia Chiuri’s re-interpretion of that gown in diaphanous tulle.

This is the room where I was lucky enough to witness at a press preview without a single person in it.  Maybe a late-night opening of the museum at an unsociable hour might yield the same thing.  I stood there for at least half an hour, taking in the looped video projection, that takes this illuminated nave from day to night, basking these gowns in sunrise, dusk and midnight hues.  The experience was, and I’m going to cheese it up here, moving.  Some might accuse the exhibition of employing Disney-fication tactics but for the non-fashion onlooker, this sort of atmospheric razz-ma-tazz is what is required, to well and truly animate these dresses and make them seem tantalising to the uninitiated.  This room is the culmination point of an exhibition that will surely encourage future fashion enthusiasts, as it dazzles the young to sketch, sew and yes, dream.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams open at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris until 7th January 2018

>> It could be the fact that I’ve spent more time at home, camped out on the sofa with Nico permanently attached to my chest and a roster of distractions on Apple TV.  I’ve somehow found myself reliving the decade of the Space Race by rewatching Mad Men (I like to shuffle play the episodes in non chronological order just to prove to myself that the writing of that show reigns supreme), binging on the documentary series The Kennedy Files, along with its declarations of “We choose to go to the Moon” and also catching the brilliant film Hidden Figures, about the role of African-American mathematicians at NASA, when I was flying to Los Angeles.  It’s not so much the intricate science of space but more the idea of getting there and unravelling the mystery of the skies beyond that makes that 1960s journey of reaching this new frontier so compelling.     Type “space collage” into Google Image and you’ll find a whole raft of Photoshopped imaginations of space that are also tinged with the era Kennedy vs. Khrushchev with a litany of dreamscapes, depicting galaxies colliding with retro pool scenes and cadillacs.  Irish artist Steven Quinn is a primary instigator of these weird but wonderful images that draw your eye into a world where outer space feels that bit more tangible.

It’s no wonder then that Americana dreamer Stuart Vevers chose to blast off into space for Coach, with a comprehensive collection of jackets, sweatshirts, tees, bags and trinkets that have been embellished with space age nostalgia.  Coach’s stable of shearling, varsity and leather jackets and Dinky and Saddle bags have been patched up with space motifs that might have lured the wide-eyed wannabe astronauts, watching the Moon landing in 1969.  “There’s something about the time of the Space Program that just gives this feeling of possibility,” says Vevers about the collection.  “The space references, rockets and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”  Two things that seem woefully lacking right now, which is probably why the gung-ho patriotism and enthusiasm of those space missions feel somewhat comforting to watch.  And even more of a trip to wear.

 Coach Space sweatshirt and Gotham Tote worn with ShuShu Tong poloneck and Serena Bute tracksuit bottoms 

Coach Space varsity jacket and bad worn with Miu Miu skirt

Coach Space trucker jacket worn with ASOS shirt, SomewherexNowhere dress and Christopher Kane sunglasses

Coach Space sweatshirt and purse worn with Blue Roses by Ed Meadham sleeves and Jonathan Saunders slip 

Coach Space shearling jacket and Dylan bag worn with Balenciaga vest and MYOB trousers

All collages by Steven Quinn

This post is part of an on-going partnership with Coach

The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of surplus fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.

>> Here’s one accessory that I’ve not had the opportunity to touch upon in all of Style Bubble’s ten year history.  The fan.  There are many an instance where it’s required but so often, forgotten as a handbag essential.  In the un-airconditioned environment of London, primarily on the tube for instance.  Or at fashion show venues in the hotter months of July and September where guests end up collectively fanning themselves furiously with folded up press releases.  Or lately in any crowded situation because of my pregnancy.   And yet, despite the practicalities of a fan, the very act of fanning oneself especially with a traditional fan shape can recall frothy characters in period dramas.  Therefore are they FANciful or functional?  It’s a bit of both according to fashion PR Daisy Hoppen, who has paired up with Danish textile designer Amanda Borberg to create Fern Fans.  “I have always loved fans and have bought them whenever I have been on holiday – you can get ones with the most amazing prints and also they are excellent if you are constantly fidgeting like me” explains Hoppen.  “I felt for sometime there was a real gap in the market – finding fans that didn’t feel gimmicky but elegant, well priced and chic. The historical history of them has also been really important- it’s a personal area of interest and there are few fashion items today that have existed for as long as the simple fan.”

And so Fern’s first collection doesn’t stray too far from tradition.  In that recognisable pleated concertina construction made out of traditional birch wood and textured cotton, Borberg and Hoppen found a classic framework that suited Fern’s subtly contemporary designs.  “As a designer I find it interesting to work with a very set frame – a fan is a fan, and even though they come in many shapes and sizes, they all have the same purpose,” says Borberg.  “It’s the color, print and material that can make a fan unique. So we chose to work with those factors and go with the classic fan construction, which I find to be both beautiful and genius as it folds.  I hope that everyone can find a fan from our collection that feels appealing to them. It should be a joyful, but elegant accessory – its not a costume, but an everyday friend.”

Whether it’s in a beautifully dyed gradient, solid coloured cotton or adorned with hand painted florals, Fern pays homage to both the perceived tradition and the enduring practicality of a fan.  Fern’s first look book is accompanied by a set “fan language” – to hold it opened, covering the mouth denotes one’s singleton status, to hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face is to invite onlookers to follow them.  And of course, to physically throw the fan is a petulant declaration of hate.  Whimsical historics aside, Hoppen also acknowledges simple pleasures of carrying a fan such as the sound it makes when they snap shut.  Or when you thrust it open in dramatic fashion.  Whatever your fanning etiquette, there’s no doubt that with Fern, Borberg and Hoppen are fulfilling a niche.  Their first collection will be in-stores from spring 2017 onwards in time for the summer months.