As the dust settles from the Oscars, it makes me think about the strong emphasis we put on fashion. Back in January, I was invited to take a small class of U of T students through the Christian Dior exhibition currently on show at the ROM.
Curated by Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Dior presented by Holt Renfrew, is exhibiting the ROM’s extensive collection from the first ten years of Christian Dior haute couture, 1947 to 1957. The exhibit hopes to offer captivating insights into the creative process and mechanics of the fashion industry in Paris during a pivotal time.
In addition to the positioning the curator is taken, it is also interesting to look at what happens when fashion is taken out of its original context and brought into a cultural institution for research, display, and education.
Unlike most exhibitions I visit, which is based mostly on curiosity, this one was really about providing a critical lens to the presentation of the material. And helping the students understand the decisions made and also look at other potential opportunities the curator and the institution could have taken to engage the viewer.
Upon entering the space, it is very dark. And it’s kept this way to preserve the integrity of the dresses. But as a visitor, it adds a barrier to the experience as most exhibitions are based on the visual representation of the material. And when the room is dark it makes it very hard to get into.
The space is set up to showcase dressing spanning daytime, evening wear, accessories, perfumes, photographs, and other supporting elements to the Dior brand. Digital elements are sprinkled throughout to allow the visitor more touchpoints to engage with the content and to learn more. At the back of the gallery, a video plays showcasing the new innovations of fashion.
Like most collection exhibitions there is a lot of content presented where over-load and fatigue sets in. Overall this is an exhibition about the elite ruling class of Canada. And the process, which is very intricate is really about the workers in Paris. I don’t feel connected to the content because as much as it stresses the process and craftsmanship, it neglects to showcase it in a meaningful way. Other questions like storage of the gowns, hours of production are leaving me wanting to learn more but unable to receive it. I feel that I paid for an expensive shopping experience where the beautiful one-of-a-kind things are on display. I was also looking for THE iconic piece, which a lot of collection exhibits center themselves around. Of the 30 dresses on display, I didn’t know what I was really supposed to spend my time to admire.
Overall, if you ever want to be in the presence of genius and historic haute couture fashion this is the exhibition for you. If you want to know more about some of the implications, process, and context, you might have to wait for the supporting book to be published.
To learn more about the exhibit feel free to read other reviews on the exhibition here: