Christian Dior: Designer in Focus at the Gallery of Costume

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor
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The gallery’s latest exhibition features rare pieces from Yves Saint Laurent and a dress commissioned by Wallis Simpson.

Who knew there were so many fashionistas in Manchester? The preview of Christian Dior: Designer in Focus at the Gallery Of Costume is a sea of monochrome outfits and wedge heels. It’s understandable that Cottonopolitans would have a vested interest in the rag trade and it goes some way in explaining Platt Fields’ dedicated fashion gallery. I grab a fizz flute and commend myself for donning my on-trend patent red Mary Janes from New Look – apt, really, as that was the title of one of Dior’s most celebrated lines.

We learn much about the trademark hourglass shape of the New Look collection and subsequent influential Lignes Verticale, ZigZag and Fuseau in this concise but precise collection of the designer’s back catalogue. Curator Miles Lambert’s stand-out piece is from the Ligne Tulipe. “My favourite is probably the wonderful Chine-printed silk one that a very young Yves Saint Laurent designed for Dior in 1956,” he says. With an amazing train running off the cocktail shape and a subtly blurred pink floral pattern, it’s easy to see why. Equally noteworthy are the delicately ribbed Ligne Corolle bodice and skirt combos, commissioned in 1949 by the Duchess of Windsor. Miles admits that this was “the most difficult outfit to acquire, and the one which made the show possible, as pieces from Dior’s first collection virtually never come up at auction. Wallis Simpson’s outfit was the most expensive.”

A concise but precise collection of the designer’s back catalogue

That one cost £9,000. The cheapest auction-bought number is the blue velvet piece on display in Platt Hall’s upstairs space – it set the Gallery back just £200. It presides over the Dior London section; six outfits illustrating the fashion house’s scope and influence in the UK, including the first Dior outfit donated to the gallery back in 1984. But it is the nine outfits on display downstairs that are the stars of the showm as well as the selection of Dior’s sketchbooks or croquis, a film made by ELLE France in 1947 and magazine clippings from the era. And I came away having learnt a lot – most surprisingly what an immensely short career Dior had. Oh, and the fact that Manchester Galleries boss Maria Balshaw’s YSL rigout was plucked out of the Selfridges sale for her by MIF fave, Marina Abramovich… Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, M14 5LL, 1pm-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat-Sun, all weekend (12 June-12 Jan 2014), free.

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