The Gallery of Costume in Manchester’s Platt Field Park is hailed as one of the most important costume collections in Britain, secondary only to the V&A in London. The Gallery of Costume contains over 20,000 fashion items from the 17th century to the present day, all of which are housed in a recently refurbished Grade2 listed Georgian house. The gallery continues to collect pieces to display and boasts a calendar of visiting exhibitions throughout the year. As the bruised skies threatened rain, I chanced a trip to the Gallery of Costume to see the Christian Dior retrospective, currently on show.
The Gallery of Costume: Narrowly escaping the downpour I made my way into the picturesque Georgian house which is set amidst Platt Field Park in Manchester. Platt Hall reopened to the public in 2010 following a major £1million renovation project, the care taken to regenerate the original features throughout the building is magnificent, the wooden floors, cascading staircase and ornate plaster work, are in pristine condition and as opulent as ever intended all those 300 years ago.
Christian Dior Exhibition: The exhibition features Paris and London couture, many outfits recently acquired by the Gallery of Costume. Two large rooms are dedicated to Christian Dior, displaying day, cocktail and evening wear, which represent many of Dior’s seminal collections. For those unfamiliar with Dior: Christian Dior was a french fashion designer who had a brief but supremely influential career, which began with his iconic ‘New Look’ in 1947. Dior created voluptuous silhouettes, that created controversy following the fabric rationing of WW2. Dior reigned supreme in Parisian fashion for ten years until his untimely death in 1957. To this day, the Dior fashion house continues to wow audiences with their couture and RTW collections each season in Paris.
It was a joy to see the ‘New Look’ outfit from Dior’s first celebrated ‘Corolle’ collection (spring/summer 1947) and a 1949 black ribbed silk cocktail dress, commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson. Dior understood elegance, creating silhouettes that flattered the female form, using fabrics, colour and prints that are timeless. Christian Dior spoke of elegance in a way that can be used to define the term to this day: ‘I will only say now that elegance must be the right combination of distinction, naturalness, care and simplicity. Outside this, believe me, there is no elegance. Only pretension.’
‘Elegance is not dependent on money. Of the four things I have mentioned above, the most important of all is care. Care in choosing your clothes. Care in wearing them. Care in keeping them’ -Christian Dior
Other significant items on display include the first Dior outfit donated to the Gallery of Costume in 1984. The dress, a 1956 black silk cocktail dress, was retailed by the famous Manchester fashion store, Samuels. Samuels was one of the region’s most important high-end fashion shops until it closed in 1968. The show also features a printed lilac silk cocktail dress designed by the young Yves Saint Laurent, who joined the Dior fashion house in 1955 aged only 19, before replacing Christian Dior as Chief Designer after his death in 1957.
Dior’s work aimed to please, to flatter and to provide a certain level of quality to women, that is so often overlooked today. To see such an array of timeless, well crafted pieces on display was a thrill. The silhouettes exhibited have long become classics and replicated the world over, proving that true style never fades. Beautiful frocks in fabulous historical surroundings, the perfect escape on a rainy day!
‘Life. It is unforgivable to do what one doesn’t love, especially if one succeeds. I think we have to be aware that people are allowed to make mistakes in their life. I brought back the neglected art of pleasing’ -Christian Dior
Visit: Gallery of Costume, Manchester- Wednesday 12 June 2013 – Sunday 12 January 2014, FREE