Dior and TV: A ‘New Look’ All Around

 

(Photo:long evening dresses)For Dior, it is a revolution: a woman leading its creative side for the first time in the house’s 69-year history. On Friday, Maria Grazia Chiuri will unveil her first collection for the house to an audience (and clients) on the edge of their seats with anticipation. So it is fortuitous that this turning point coincides with the release of a glossy, eight-part television drama calculated to remind us how it all began.

“The Collection,” Amazon Prime’s first original British series, which debuted in Britain this month and will be aired in France starting in November, tells the story of two brothers — one a businessman, the other a designer — and their mission to build a great couture house that would reinstate Paris as the center of the fashion world after the end of the Nazi occupation.

The series is gorgeously shot, contrasting the gritty, wounded reality of postwar Paris with the bright lights, opulence and excess of the world of haute couture. Alas, the accents of its mostly British cast tend to undermine the feeling of authenticity — a problem alleviated by the addition of Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter, as an American heiress, and the French actress Jenna Thiam as the working-class daughter of Sabine’s chief seamstress who unexpectedly becomes the face of the fashion house.

On one level, the story line is a tangled mass of mystery; a slow, painful revelation of the secrets its characters hold tight: collaboration with the Nazis, moral recriminations, forbidden love, even murder.

On another, however, “The Collection” works as a thinly fictionalized version of the Dior success story, and a reminder of what it was like when men were running the show. The series’s creators say they drew inspiration for the House of Sabine, as the fictional fashion house is named, from a number of Paris designers, including Balenciaga, Fath and Lelong. But the parallels between the Sabine brothers’ “new look” collection in 1947 and Christian Dior’s collection that same year — an event that transformed couture and ushered in the New Look that still resonates today — are unmistakable.

Gone was the hard, boxy and masculine look (including liberating trousers) that came with wartime fabric rationing. “Hideous and repellent” is how Dior described that look. Instead he made sculpted dresses of as much as 25 yards of the finest luxury fabrics: ultrafeminine, but a burden to wear. Corsets shrank waists by up to two inches; crinolines and padding made full, calf-length skirts even more voluminous. Busts were lifted and breasts made into pointed cones. High heels and wide-brimmed or tilted tri-cornered hats completed the look.

Comfort was not the point: not then, and not now, on the small screen. The costume designers Chattoune & Fab acknowledge the retrograde feel of the 30 dresses they created by hand for the female stars of “The Collection.” (They also pieced together 1,200 outfits for the rest of the cast.)

“Women had been liberated during the war with jackets and trousers, and suddenly, Ooh! Fashion comes, and it’s, ‘Let’s go back to corsets and be uncomfortable,’ ” said Chattoune, whose name is Françoise Bourrec. “When people came to the studio and picked up the dresses, they were stunned to feel how unbelievably heavy they were. They were really very painful for the models to wear.”

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Even after the war, with rationing still in place, not everyone celebrated the return to luxurious decadence. In one scene in the series, a young model wearing an opulent Sabine dress is mobbed by a group of poor women selling fruits and vegetables. It is reminiscent of an actual event in the fall of 1948 on the Rue Lepic in Montmartre, when two older women, enraged at what they saw as irresponsible ostentation and waste, tore at a Dior dress worn by a young woman.

Big money played an important role. The House of Sabine is bankrolled by a French cotton magnate, just as Dior opened his own couture house with funding from Marcel Boussac, a war profiteer and the country’s cotton king, at the time the richest man in France.

Even the series’s overheated dialogue about the high stakes facing the House of Sabine — “Nothing bold or magnificent is built from fear”; “Just remind people that Paris is where it begins and ends!” — could have been uttered by Dior himself, who once announced, “In an epoch as somber as ours, luxury must be defended inch by inch.”

Still, the designer’s unapologetic approach to marketing French fashion — and courting the American market — made him a national treasure; two years after he started, Dior’s couture exports accounted for 5 percent of France’s total export revenue.

So back to Ms. Chiuri. Today, the Dior website proclaims that the New Look is a “perpetual revolution.” Indeed, Raf Simons, Ms. Chiuri’s predecessor, regularly revived, shrunk, curved and cut away the classic Dior Bar jacket presented in the spring 1947 collection. Which raises the question: Will the series spawn yet more nostalgia for that gorgeous, if cumbersome, era in women’s dress? Or will Ms. Chiuri sweep away the memories and make something new of her own?

On Friday, we find out.Read more at:formal dresses online australia

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