In 1947, Christian Dior revolutionized fashion with a collection whose sexy silhouettes and dropped hemlines celebrated femininity just as Europe emerged from years of the gravity and gloom of war. An exhibition commemorating seven decades of the house’s creations at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs was a sensation last year. Now, a modified version of that show, with a completely new presentation by the New York office of OMA, has opened at the Denver Art Museum (DAM).
For Dior: From Paris to the World curator Florence Müller, the choice of exhibition designer was simple. As she recalls, she was “totally captured by the beauty” of OMA’s design for Manus x Machina, the Costume Institute’s 2016 spring show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The studio dealt with the architecture of the museum in a subtle and surprising manner.”
In the case of the Met, the challenge was transforming an atrium not generally used as a gallery. Daniel Libeskind’s shard-like, titanium-clad Hamilton Building at DAM, whose galleries zig and zag and point in every direction, presented a whole other set of display problems, but also served as inspiration.
“My first instinct was to ignore the architecture,” says OMA New York director Shohei Shigematsu. “Then it became fun to react to it. We ultimately decided to bring the outside in, but with a different texture and form.” The building’s titanium facades translated into expansive metal paneling throughout most of the 13,700 square feet of galleries, as well as 134 petal-shaped platforms in the final room of the exhibition (see floor plan), which Shigematsu likens to a wunderkammer. Within that entire backdrop are arrayed over 200 mannequins outfitted in signature early-Dior dresses and colorful couture garments by later creative directors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, Raf Simons, John Galliano, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, in addition to artworks, accessories, jewelry, photographs, sketches, videos, and other archival material.
Shigematsu did, however, defy the angular spaces by creating organically shaped cells that meander through the kinked rooms like the garden path in Christian Dior’s beloved country estate, now a museum, in Granville, France. Many of the 10- to 15-foot-high aluminum vertical panels—most retaining a hazy mill finish, though some are powder-coated white or pink respectively for the Office of Dreams and Impressionist Gardening areas—are custom-bent to mimic the sinuous curves of the soft shoulders, accentuated busts, narrow waists, and large skirts for which the couturier’s designs were known. Some panels feature off-the-shelf corrugations whose rigid linearity contrasts with the flowing ensembles. As a whole, the undulating “chain of curves,” as Müller calls it, which surrounds visitors on both sides, creates an immersive environment where the materiality of the display armature enhances, rather than competes with, the fashion.
Dior: From Paris to the World is on view until March 3, 2019.