It has been bubbling up to a boil in industry circles for a while now.  When will a Weinstein-gate equivalent for the fashion industry burst forward, implicating photography greats Bruce Weber and Mario Testino in allegations of sexual abuse on shoots towards male models.   It was in the pipeline for so long that at one point, Steve, (my partner who works at i-D) and I would ask each other casually at dinnertime, when this NY Times story was going to break, along with when the council tax bill was going to arrive.  It’s finally out there and the darker underbelly of this in-depth exposé is, I’m afraid to say, a discernible lack of surprise within the industry over what they’re reading.  More robes, more hotel rooms, more awkward and harrowing exchanges.  And what?

The story broke earlier today and Condé Nast responded with a pre-prepped release of their editorial Code of Conduct to defend the tidal waves of a would-be backlash.  Except maybe not.  A quick search on Twitter and the response is thus far, no where near as incensed or inflamed as when the Weinstein story broke.  The consensus on my WhatsApp group convos with friends in the industry is a “Meh” or an apologetic defence of the accused (the allegations against Weber and Testino have been fiercely denied).

But let’s not kid ourselves.  We – and I use a collective “we” here – may not have known the particulars and specifics of how Weber or Testino supposedly treated their photographic subjects but the rumours and gossip of this sort of behaviour does the rounds regularly, and often gets treated with a lack of gravity.  And despite the persistent (and consistent) accusations against Terry Richardson and the combative voices of industry greats like Caryn Franklin and the outpourings of abused models, spurred by Cameron Russell, the attitude towards sexual abuse in fashion hasn’t engulfed the industry in the same way that Weinstein and his merry band of bathrobed men has in Hollywood.  Yet like Hollywood’s casting couch culture, there are too many that are involved in the complicity of guilty parties, tied to a career ladder power struggle, where people lower down on the fashion food chain are pressurised into keeping it all hush-hush, lest they lose a gig in a highly competitive environment.

Mario Testino’s ad campaign for Gucci S/S 2003 under the direction of Tom Ford

There is a machination of keeping the status quo that goes deeper than what’s in the story.  The “sex sells” operating benchmark is so ingrained within fashion that it ties itself into all kinds of knots with the general modus operandi of the industry.  For want of a better word, it pays to be “on” in this business.  By “on”, I mean out there, on the scene, having a jolly.  Can you down a bottle of champagne at a party and still have the ability to make it to a 6am shoot call-time the next day or a 9am show at fashion week, looking nonchalantly fabulous?  As I have spent the year making a half-assed return to life B.B. (before baby), I’ve felt that pressure to switch back “on”.  Going out, getting shit faced, filing copy early next morning and taking a Nurofen/Berocca cocktail at an early show as proof.  Of course, I’m a consenting adult in these decisions.  As ridiculous as it sounds, being “on” subtly gives people the impression that you’re free spirited and most importantly, FUN!  And fun along with sex, are important cogs in fashion.   They’re the aspects that the fashion world has sold through imagery and branding in the last century to fuel this multi-billion dollar industry.

To be clear, I’m obviously not conflating going hard on the champers and partying hard at Le Bain with the sort of abuse that is being alleged in this report, but I do think it can be difficult to compartmentalise and separate the blurred lines that occur on a “fun” shoot littered with drinks and recreational drugs, producing images that reflect far-fetched fantasies, that then leads on to the specific point where someone is having their penis touched against their will.  There’s a vague link somewhere along that very VERY broad spectrum of what’s considered to be “a bit of fun”, all in the name of “fashion”.  Somewhere along that creative process of image creation, subjects will find it difficult to differentiate between what’s above board bordering on the unorthodox and what is clearly past the acceptable line.  When David Hemmings’ fashion photographer character (inspired by David Bailey and the like) commands the model Verushka to “Give it up!” and “Make it come!” in a shoot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, we chortle at the supposed stereotype.  But if you were realistically in Verushka’s position, feeling scared and a pressure to be “on” and go along with the wishes of a powerful person who can make or break your career, is it really a laughing matter?

We laud and consume provocative subject matter that have become standard fashion fodder – bared breasts under a submerged wet gown, performing fellatio on a handbag or a shoe, accessories artfully placed on genitalia –  but mostly ignore what may or may not have gone on behind the scenes in the making of these images.    There’s almost a so-what shoulder shrug tone in Tom Ford’s comments in the NY Times article: “We sell sex” he says, and in defence of Testino, purportedly locking a male model inside a hotel room on a shoot and climbing on top of him, he says there are only a few ways you can get the right shot of a model’s face on a bed.  Well DUH!  That’s FASH-UN!

So, should we just shrug, accept this “sex sells” standard, and carry on as before?  There will be murmurings for sure, coursing through the industry that mirror Catherine Deneuve’s open letter defence of flirtation and sexual advances in Le Monde – those that decry a “puritanism” washing over our woke-on-the-surface industry.  This NY Times story may not be a watershed moment.  We may not even raise our eyebrows enough to try and out other offenders (suffice to say, Weber and Testino AREN’T exceptions).  And of course, it’s not a case of erasing a culture that has given us so many potent moments of creative artistry in fashion and provocateurs, whose images aren’t tainted with wrongdoing.  Guy Bourdin.  Helmut Newton.  Corrine Day.  You could go on…

Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein

Just as the film industry needs a significant amount of time to enact real concerted change, so too does the fashion world.   Change also depends on legions of editors, photographers, stylists, designers and those in charge of brand image and marketing collectively changing attitudes that don’t treat these sorts of allegations and rumours as light fodder.  The question is, is it the sort of change that might be asking too much of an industry predicated on provocation and boundary pushing?  Isn’t it all too seductive, deliciously decadent and yes, just a bit of fun?  Furthermore, it’s still difficult to untie all those knots of a hierarchical industry, where getting ahead is ranked ahead of acknowledgement of any possibility of foul play.  And even if the industry adopts Condé Nast’s Code of Conduct as standard working practise, how will it realistically be enforced in a transparent manner?  Are all parties involved willing enough to play by the rules and whistle blow where necessary?  It’s been less than a day and these are just some thoughts that have been percolating in a mind reacting to a story that was sadly so inevitable, it became part of day-to-day chitter chatter in our house.

N.B. I know the blog has been so dormant, it’s hard to remember the last time I even posted.  I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to take my mind off mopping up baby vom/phlegm/food to sit down and properly write.  But…in other news, I’m relaunching/redesigning the blog so that I don’t just pop up once in a blue blue moon to bang out 1,000 words.  New year, new me, new yadda yadda… I’m just sorry I had to begin 2018 with thoughts as muddied and murky as these.

Fashion month has been and gone and I have plenty to say on the collections (skip to end if you want an explanation on the scant blogging) but first up, a time-sensitive call to go and discover, admire and enthuse in a gathering of fashion talent that is collectively standing for SOMETHING other than just more “stuff”.

Sarah Mower needs no introduction as an inimitable fashion writer as well but her work as a tireless champion of young fashion designers, and particularly for British talent is something that perhaps goes unnoticed in the public sphere.  Her nurturing of talent through one-to-one mentoring, studio visits and business and media introductions in addition to her work as a journalist has seen countless designers rise through the ranks to LFW’s headlining fashion fore.

Through Instagram though, Mower has found a new outlet for her passion for talent-spotting. Her hashtag #SarahsList was born out of a positive fightback against the post-Trump, post-Brexit political climate.  At a time when you might think creativity could be stifled or impeded, Mower’s discoveries demonstrate a young fashion designer landscape that has all the motivation to find alternative ways of doing things.  “I got really down about the political situation and so I thought, what could I do.  Perhaps the one thing I can personally do is to shine a light on fashion talent that are being threatened by Brexit and by Trump and to hopefully get them hired and commissioned by bigger companies.”  To captivate her audience, the accompanying captions for her #SarahsList discoveries on Instagram are lengthy, opinionated and tell a compelling story.

So much so that they caught the attention of Liberty, who then offered to make #SarahsList a shoppable reality, bringing the wares of these fashion fledglings to the 1st floor of the department store.  They’re names that I incidentally have a lot of love for too and ones that I’ve either written about myself or look forward to discovering more of.  And so in a challenging retail environment, where stores aren’t necessarily going all out to take risks and where budgets for young designers have seen shrinkages, Liberty continues its founder’s tradition of seeking out the idiosyncratic and the beautiful to present a new generation of arts and craftivists in fashion.

Looking beyond the immediate razz-ma-tazz the pieces for sale and cannily, Mower has chosen a group of designers that represent not just a an exuberant and celebratory aesthetic but something conscious (without the weight of labelling oneself as “sustainable”), something that contributes in their own little ways a ray of positivity in and industry dogged by cynical ambitions.  Richard Quinn made his LFW debut in the central atrium of Liberty with a continuation of his magnified floral prints blown up to smother the body and so appropriately a collation of special pieces are available as part of the #SarahsList pop-up.  In addition to running his label, Quinn has also just opened his RQ open-access print studio in Peckham that has already become a valuable resource for students and young designers looking to get garments printed.  It’s an ambitious venture to run on top of his own label and I’ll hopefully be checking it out soon to see the print studio at work first hand.  Craft is also apparent in the work of the Georgian jewellery designer Sopho Gongliashvili – the one non-London exception to this group who uses traditional Georgian artisans to create beautiful enamelled accessories.

Kitty Garrett at #SarahsList

Sopho Gongliashvili at #SarahsList

Marta Jakubowski at #SarahsList

Designers such as the young American Conner Ives, who is still studying for his BA at Central Saint Martins makes his retail debut with a collection of special edition shirts made up of vintage scarves and donated Liberty fabrics.. Similarly newly graduated Kitty Garratt, also from Central Saint Martins, took second hand shoes (peer into the painted shoes and you’ll find high street relics like Faith!) and painted them with Charleston-esque freehand brushstrokes.. Upcyling is nothing new of course but in the hands of Ives and Garratt, the proposition is less about a pragmatic approach towards tackling waste but more of a celebratory repurposing of the old.

#SarahsList also hosts designers that have consciousness of sourcing.  Look at Richard Malone’s beautiful AW17-8 collection that features naturally dyed fabrics woven by a community-supporting organization of women weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India, with the proceeds earned enabling their children to go to school.  Malone’s work doesn’t need that explanatory tag to entice the eye though.  Likewise, there’s an honesty in Sam McCoach’s Le Kilt, which I’ve long been a fan of, with her collection of kilts and knitwear made by small family-run enterprises in the UK.  Fellow N15 resident, Marta Jakubowski also gets the Mower seal of approval with her leftfield approach towards deconstructed tailoring and clubwear-inspired formalwear.

Richard Malone at #SarahsList

All this bigging up of young designers though made me think of a conversation strand brought up at a panel I was a part of recently, chaired by Jefferson Hack as part of Dazed and Huawei’s Secret Lectures.  Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Granary 1 talked about the responsibility we had as media professionals, who actively promote young talent.  In an increasingly difficult fashion system that can be unforgiving for young fashion designers, how do we balance promoting and writing about their work, whilst being mindful of the precariousness of operating as a start-up business.  To that, Mower has the final say that few could argue with and also gives indication on how #SarahsList could possibly spur the fashion system in new directions.

“Does everything have to be large-scale, and everywhere to be valid? I think the opposite values – small-scale, hand-made, consciously produced and NOT everywhere are exactly the ones which people are instinctively drawn to now.  The system at large is dysfunctional, as is widely admitted. I agree it is irresponsible to stand by and wave on more and more people to face exactly the same problems – and the education system is a fault too, in not arming their students with the facts.  The people I mentally put on #SarahsList are the ones I see who have the seeds of new ways of doing things. I think they have a hell of a lot to teach the corporate world – not the other way around. That’s why I have this vision that#SarahsList could become a vehicle for discussing and magnifying the strengths which are already there – and for spreading information and exchanges which are both idealistic and concrete.”

Word.  Preach.  Hurrah.

#SarahsList on the 1st floor of Liberty in London for the forthcoming month

Obviously I couldn’t help but get in on the #SarahsList action…

Richard Quinn “toe” velvet socks from #SarahsList worn with old Jil Sander shirt and H&M’s Design Award Richard Quinn dress (the collection launched last week and pleasingly sold out immediately!)

Conner Ives shirt from #SarahsList worn with Ambush jeans and Nike trainers

On a side note, I too have to spur myself on in an announcement about the blog…

I realise blogging frequency has slowed to a trickle here because I’m in the process of a relaunch (she says with a booming voice).  Actually that word sounds too offish.  It’s more of a rejig – one which means I’ll hopefully still be rambling on about fash-un in that long super-forever-scrollin’ way I favour.  I’m loathe hauling Nico out as an excuse but if truth be told, juggling baby, with jobs that pay the bills and writing for the luff luff luff of it here has been nigh on impossible.  There’s light in sight though.  Nico will be starting nursery soon.  That’s precisely thirty hours extra in the week not spent Dettol wiping after Nico.  Here’s hoping they will be spent productively.

It’s always oddly fascinating watching NYFW through the filter of E! Channel and taxi cab updates.  “What’s been exciting you?” asks the presenter on Daily Pop.  “Well… Jared Leto!” replies the chirpy correspondent, ensconced inside a glass box at NYFW’s main Washington Street show space.   Designers move over.  Jared Leto is THE happening.  That sounds like jest but as pointed out by Vanessa Friedman, New York Fashion Week was in danger of becoming overtaken by celebrity and razz-ma-tazz – namely Rihanna with her Fenty  domination of fashion week, in lieu of the departure of key designers to show in Paris.  “From fashion to fashertainment,” is how Friedman summed it up.

But hasn’t it always been thus?  The aforementioned taxi cab ads that drop the words “fashion week” like it’s Super Bowl Sunday (in contrast, if you wandered around Central London during LFW, you’d be hard pressed to know it’s going on).  The celebrity appearances that top the tabloids.  The after parties that invariably seem to overshadow what’s going on at the shows themselves.  The absence of NYFW’s noughties gen bright young things (Rodarte, Proenza, Altuzarra etc)  what did transpire this season was a Battle of the Nights.  Night shows have always been extra buzzy in New York.  The paps are out en force, the hordes of people itching to sneak their way in or grab a celebrity snap and the security guards bark near-expletive-filled orders at you should you anger them.

And so my week began in midtown, moments away from Times Square, which I haven’t physically been to in years.  The lights seemed brighter – probably because I had just stepped off of a flight from London.  And just outside Calvin Klein’s headquarters, where their show took place, an American marching band was pounding away.   They weren’t planted there by Raf Simons and CK, even though it would have been fitting as a tribute to Simons’ debut collection for the American house.  With the din of snare drums outside, Sterling Ruby’s installation Sophomore, hanging from the ceiling – a forest of massacred pom poms dripping in murky collegiate colours with axes hanging off them – seemed all the more compelling.

The press notes got me excited and the reality more than lived up to the words.  The interplay between the American dream and its horrors – both real and imagined by cinema’s auteurs – is such a rich contrast to mine.   Lesser designers would fall too deep into the clichés.  Give Simons and his partner in crime Pieter Mulier cheerleaders and cowboys, proms and the prairie and they deftly avoid the pitfalls.  I didn’t get to see their debut at Calvin Klein last season but I’ve been thinking about the way an outsider like Simons – as in an non-American – is able to explore and articulate their feelings around the country’s identity.  And particularly at this point in time, a divided America is for better or for worse, fertile ground for Simons to base his first epoch of shows for Calvin Klein upon.

 

His vision riffed off of likely culprits – Stephen King, David Lynch, the Coen brothers as well as utilising more direct tie-ups with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.  Hence the screen prints of Warhol photographs of Sandra Brant and Dennis Hopper as well as knives stabbing their way onto plaid suiting.  The deliberately slicked textures of tar-streaked leather, rain mac nylon and fetishistic rubber (stamped with made in Ohio) romped their way into Hitchock heroine sihouettes.  Carrie’s blood red dominated, as did murky shades of orange, green and tan.  And those pom poms – so representative of quintessential American perkiness and perfection – are rendered limp in their deconstruction into hip charms and sculptural dresses.  As though they’ve been trampled on by a less-than-perfect protagonist.  “Fashion tries to hide the horror and embrace only beauty,” says Simons in the press notes.  “But they’re both a part of life.  This collection is a celebration of American life.”  Simons’ exploration of American life will apparently carry on under Calvin Klein 205W39NYC – the runway component of the much larger empire, and as an opener to NYFW, becomes its crucial lynchpin, getting under the skin of mere surface.  Even the hilarity of Melania Trump trussed up in Simons’ debut collection (presumably bought) can’t diminish the pertinent probing that he and Mulier are doing at this very American brand.


From a superpower’s soul-searching to something far more personal, Opening Ceremony’s dance play Changers, directed by Spike Jonze and choreographed by Ryan Heffington (of Sia’s Chandelier fame) was also memorable.  Mia Wasakowski’s and Lakeith Stanfield danced their way through a young love that was always going to end up with one party outgrowing the other.  You don’t often think get to think about the clothes that you sob and slob in when you’ve had heartbreak, or when you’re wearing something smarter to put on a brave front.  Changers was genuinely touching in that respect and something that oddly stayed with me through the week.  Probably because of a build up of sentiment over leaving Nico behind for a whole week.


From Vogue.com

As a result of Opening Ceremony’s dance-off, I didn’t make it to Fenty.  Which brings me onto a curious competition between the high-octane shows that set out to create bombast and hype.  On the previous night, Philipp Plein was clashing it out with Alexander Wang.  You had to choose one or the other.  I chose the latter.  Plein’s extravaganza boasted performances from Nicki Minaj and Dita von Teese at the Hammerstein Ballroom.  But instead I chose to stand behind a barrier in Bushwick and pump myself up for Alexander Wang’s #WangFest.  I felt distinctly old waiting for the show to roll in, thinking back to the days when many a Erin Wasson-clones would stalk his shows and how “rad” everything he did was.  When the clothes finally did appear, falling from the #WangFest bus, it felt like Wang was also trying to hark back to those heady times.

The problem is that the “downtown cool” choices have multiplied since he made his mark and was crowned New York’s fashion darling. The dilemma then is, do the clothes grow up along with that girl or does he pander to the gen Z girls of today.  It’s a conundrum that you wondered about especially when the following evening, Rihanna revved up Fenty.  Literally.  Like I said, I didn’t actually get to physically see it.  After Opening Ceremony’s young love dream, the trek uptown proved difficult.  If Tinashe was being turned away, I sure as hell wasn’t getting in.  But judging by social media reactions and reviews, Rihanna had won the buzz crown.  Double whammying it with the launch of Fenty Beauty helped.  Wang’s Harley gang versus motocross bikers jumping in the air over big pink sand dunes?  Party gal neutrals versus surf and biker spliced into neon?  Ironically, surf and motocross are territories that Wang has waded into before.  But Rihanna rolling in on a motorcycle, spawning many a regram/GIF, is hard to beat.


On Monday night, outside the former Pearl River Mart store, a queue stretched along Broadway around the block.  A whiff of weed permeated the show space.  This was a “fashun” throng as opposed to a “celeb” throng.  They were here to witness the return of Helmut Lang in a special Seen by Shayne Oliver show.  There have of course been Helmut Lang shows under previous creative directors since the label came under Andrew Rosen’s ownership but this one actually felt like something of a true revival, coming from a knowing place.  Archives reissued under re-edition.  Campaign imagery once again created by contemporary artists.  And a deft acknowledgement that since everyone references/rips off Helmut Lang, why not invite different designers every season or so, to pay homage to the man that created the cornerstones of urban uniforms.  That’s down to Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of Dazed and now editor-in-residence at Helmut Lang.  It’s an interesting title and thus a fascinating way to reinvigorate a brand.  She’s not designing but orchestrating every aspect of Helmut Lang’s turnaround.  Oliver’s visceral take on Lang’s kinky bent will only be one part of a much bigger picture.  But what a potent beginning!  Deconstructed bras barely covering the chest tempered with sashaying tailoring and then a dose of slink in sheeny shiny eveningwear playing out to Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing.  Some grumbled about the lack of subtlety in comparison to what Lang did.  We live in unsubtle times, which calls for a forthright vision and that’s what we got at this revival.  It filled an energy vacuum that has been hanging over NYFW this week .


And to end the week?  Silence.  No soundtrack at all until an opera-backed finale walk accompanying a 56-strong flock, decked out in the most luridly patterned and coloured of turbaned, layered, glam-sports ensembles.  No set either.  And even Jacobs.  Some people will read that as lazy.  But those archives are exceedingly rich.  And they don’t bend to current ubiquitous vogue for those Insta-girl trends – off-the-shoulder shirting, strategically placed ruffles and masked minimalism.  And that’s a glorious thing to behold.. How can garish florals, pseudo-Pucci prints on parkas and bum bags appeal to the masses?  It can’t.  And that’s a good thing.  At the very least, Jacobs’ owns his own taste.  Personally speaking, the vibe of Verushka in late sixties Diana Vreeland-edited Vogues mixed with Millets’ camping gear is absolutely fine by me.  It also goes without saying that I’m first to sign up for Stephen Jones’s part Little Edie Beale, part Carmen Miranda and part North African head wraps.

There were different battles played out across NYFW but as predicted before I even landed in New York, those that bookended the week owned the week, not with strategically articulated theatrics or excessively loud volume (like I said, that American marching band was purely incidental) but with what they had to say in the clothes.  Not surprising then that Simons was present at Marc Jacobs’ show as a mark of mutual appreciation.  They hugged each other and then Jacobs left without saying anything.  Nuff’ said.

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