I mean, would you turn down an offer like that?
In September last year, two friends came over for a geeky museum study day at Barrow-upon-Soar in Leicestershire, UK. (I live an hour away, so I often take visiting friends over there.)
This time was different. Lowana and Karolina missed their train back to London… and in a delicious plot twist, 24 hours later I was alighting from a Eurostar train inside the cavernous Gare du Nord in Paris.
As you do…
If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a deep and abiding creepy fangirl relationship with haute couture pioneer Charles Frederick Worth, but thanks to the vision and creativity of our worldwide community of museum curators, I’m beginning to cheat on C.F. (I’m sure he’d be relieved), mostly recently with Christian Dior.
Multiple gorgeous Dior confections hit my sewing room bucket list in September at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs on that spontaneous Paris trip, but the tiny miniature representation (above) is the one that grabbed me by the heart and soul and wouldn’t let go. I just love the classic, feminine shape of it; it makes my inner five-year-old squee.
It’s called Zaire, and it comes from the A/W 1954 collection.
It wasn’t just my princess fantasy and the upcoming Costume College “Dressing the Royals” Gala that were pulling at me; it was also the engineering challenge.
Dior gowns, like many others of the era, were built onto an inner corselette that worked with the outer dress to form a complete, all in one garment; no other underwear was required under the structured, boned, cupped foundation, and in terms of construction, this meant that the dress was built directly onto the corselette from the outside.
I wanted to have a go. But how to recreate one?
In a story that is (so far) a rather neat geographical circle, back I skipped from Paris to Barrow-upon-Soar, because the Leicestershire County Council Museums Service just happens to have a lot of other interesting items of dress in addition to the Symington collection of corsets… including a beautiful haute couture Dior gown from the S/S 1955 collection. Not identical to mine, but pretty darn close in overall shape.
I just love the way that the skirt sits like a big, bouffant cloud of magic on the table. There’s so much movement in it, even when laid flat. I can’t help thinking of that dreamy, full-skirted pink prom gown that Marty’s mother Lorraine wears to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in Back To The Future.
Or in other words, two underskirts, each made of 4 yards of cotton bobbinet, reinforced every 2″ or so with rows of horsehair braid, then one circle skirt of the same cotton bobbinet on top of them, then one silk organza skirt, and the embellished top layer.
Fortunately I have no plans to recreate the painstaking embellishment on this particular gown – but I won’t be doing a perfect Zaire recreation either. I’m going to head out on a limb and try to create my own Dioresque design with a taffeta bodice and silk organza skirt… something that Princess Margaret might have worn in her youth as an enthusiastic Dior fan.
And here are the guts. I’m not sure why on earth this gown was made with an inner corselette of one layer of silk taffeta – it held up, but only just. Mine will be cotton bobbinet, which was also common for these gowns, and a lot stronger to boot. More soon…
Couture Sewing Techniques by Clare Schaeffer has a section on constructing Dior gowns
My totally subjective, non-comprehensive Pinterest board “Big 50s Dior Dresses”
This is the royal personage I’m aiming to cosplay at the Costume College Gala in my Dior gown