It is 9 am and the sun is already high in Doha, though the city center is not quite awake yet. But at the M7 space dedicated to young creators and artists in residence, this is certainly not the time to sleep in. Under the oversized ceilings of the vast atrium where stands a monumental rose by Isa Genzken, we work to put the final touches in place before the opening of the “Dior Designer of Dreams” exhibition, and exhibition that has taken three years to plan and prepare. We can only smile at this unintentional nod to the French designer who loved roses so much.
The day before, in the same room, the finalists of the Fashion Trust Arabia competition, consumed with nerves, presented their creations to the members of the jury. Now, Olivier Gabet, the director of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, is waiting for us to raise a corner of the veil, if only by recounting the design and production of this unique project, the first fashion retrospective of this scale in the Middle East, devoted to the work and world of Christian Dior.
Olivier Gabet had already orchestrated the initial version of this exhibition, shown by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in 2017 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Maison Dior. This is how he sees his role elsewhere: that of a conductor who makes each instrument resonate with the others at the heart of a symphony. The first time he accessed the archives of the Dior house? “Vertigo in the face of the abundance, the richness of this heritage” he says, but also “a lot of emotion communicated by the people who bring it to life. Beyond the corporate, stories of love, even passion”.
To create this monumental exhibition, Gabet will work in close collaboration with the screenwriter Nathalie Crinière, the famous multidisciplinary scenographer and interior designer, as well as with the teams of the Museum of Decorative Arts and those of the Maison Dior. This great complicity between the project’s different actors was needed if it was to see the light of day, he emphasizes.
Sheikha Moza’s dresses
It was while visiting this exhibition in Paris that Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani came up with the idea of transposing it to Doha. She had been drawn to the fact that she believed in something beyond fashion, that she associated clothing with the arts, with music. Dior was enthusiastic about the idea of adapting this exhibition to a different place, to show it another life.
The project is all the more interesting as Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, mother of Sheikha Al-Mayassa and Prince Tamim, the current ruler of Qatar, is not only an international icon for her appearance and the image she portrays of women in the Middle East, but she is also an icon of haute couture, notably that of Christian Dior. One of the evolutions of the Dior exhibition in Doha is the integration of 9 Dior models, chosen by Sheikha Moza from her personal wardrobe, in the “Stars in Dior” section, which includes members of the royal family in England and Grace Kelly. We know in advance that the exhibition will be a landmark.
A passion for the 18th century
MAD’s director tells us about the “hundreds” of original Toile de Jouy designs and embroidery made by Rébé for Christian Dior. At the exhibition, the “Mai” dress is presented alongside the Rébé embroidery pattern with which it is adorned. Olivier Gabet tells us about Christian Dior as he deciphers him by following the thread of his archives. The founder of Maison Dior only lived for ten years between the launch, in 1947, of the revolutionary collection called “New Look” by Carmel Snow, from Harper’s Bazar (which at the time only had a single “a”) and his sudden death of a heart attack on October 24, 1957.
Ten years… “How many artists have posed their style in just ten years? ” asks Gabet, who also tells us about Christian Dior’s passion for the 18th Century, which led him to collect paintings by Hubert Robert. “A feminist century par excellence, marked by the intellectual and artistic emancipation of women” concludes Gabet, this remarkable time will be reflected in the exhibition, as we will see later, in an extraordinary room dedicated to “a ball at Versailles”. At the crossroads of this Grand Siècle, and modern femininity, with curves reinvented by Christian Dior intended to turn its back on the economic, gloomy, square and masculine fashion of the War, there is of course the “Bar” cut, a tailored jacket with basques, which hollows out the silhouette and recalls the crinoline without recalling it, like an extinguished star, only the light of which reaches us. “New Look”? At the time it was seen as dazzling modernity. The creator was the only one who knew that, on the contrary, it came from very ancient times.
“An answer to an unimaginable reality”
We go on to museums and the arts. Gabet reminds us that Christian Dior, a collector and frequent visitor to museums – which makes a retrospective of his work at MAD even more relevant – began his career as a gallery owner in Paris. In fact, it was in his gallery that the painting “Soft Watches” or “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali was exhibited for the first time. “The dream of every fashion house is to create a connection with art, and this is often artificial, while at Dior it is organic,” says Gabet. A candid question comes to mind: where is the dream in Dior’s work? “Mr. Dior lived through very dark times,” said the director, “Not only did he go through the Occupation, but his sister was deported to a concentration camp. This man told himself that fashion can provide an answer to an unimaginable reality by inviting people to go beyond it “.
It is time to unveil the root of this exhibition, which can be visited until March 31, 2022. Upon entering, the Maison Dior shows its heritage: the creators who succeeded Christian Dior, from Yves Saint Laurent to Maria Grazzia Chiuri through Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and Raf Simons. We see their mood boards, their palette, fabric samples, sketches, their most iconic dresses and a film showing them at work in the studio. We then move on to the room dedicated to Christian Dior’s life and career, where we learn, amused, that his family made their wealth in fertilizers and bleach.
The imaginary garden
We then enter the magical circular room adorned with virtual paneling dedicated to the spirit of a ball at Versailles. At the exit, a globe by the Pannier brothers (made in 1908) loaned by MAD takes us “around the world” following ideas and concepts that influenced Dior, especially Japanese elements, with a tribute to Hokusai. A final room is adorned with the House’s most memorable accessories and miniatures. With your nose in the air you still observe the details of the objects placed higher up, then you feel the ground shake. Yes, you are in an elevator which has already taken you to the workshop room located upstairs. For any young designer, it is a pure joy to be able to closely inspect the architecture of the models on canvas posed on technical mannequins.
This white space in turn leads us to the room dedicated to the Lady Dior bag, which has received all kinds of coverings from collaborations with contemporary artists. You then cross the “Dior Gardens” of a designer who was a horticulturalist in his spare time, who was passionate about the roses in the garden of his family home in Grandville, in Normandy. Two successive rooms are dedicated to the most famous perfumes of the house: Miss Dior, an evocation of Christian Dior’s sister, and J’Adore, whose golden drop-shaped bottles are arranged like rain, in a hint of the work of Urs Fisher. Finally comes the grandiose moment when the dream culminates in a mapping of twilight that gives way to a starry night. We are in an imaginary garden where an equally imaginary ball is given. Except that the dresses are real, and they were worn by real stars, among which was Sheikha Moza. After this, in-between a dream and waking, you open your eyes to the present. There is happiness in all this beauty.