July fashion exhibitions

In order to enjoy exhibitions that explore fashion and identity, you have to be either in London or Paris this July. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior, Musée des Arts Décoratifs is putting on a major display that maps the history of this storied fashion brand. The Fashion Space Gallery in London is exhibiting garments that are damaged, worn-out or made from textiles that have perished over time. Meanwhile, The Palais Galleria in Paris pays homage to Dalida whilst London’s White Cube explores the enduring influence of Surrealism through the work of more than fifty women artists.



Bar suit (1947) by Christian Dior. Source: Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Christian Dior, Couturier Du Rêve at Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris)
until January 7, 2018

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior from 5 July 2017 to 7 January 2018. This lavish and comprehensive exhibition invites visitors on a voyage of discovery through the universe of the House of Dior’s founder and the illustrious couturiers who succeeded him: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and, most recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri. The selection of over 300 haute couture gowns designed between 1947 and the present day has a unifying thread of emotions, life stories, affinities, inspirations, creations and legacies. Alongside the dresses is the most wide-ranging display to date of atelier toiles and fashion photographs, as well as hundreds of documents, including illustrations, sketches, documentary photographs, letters and notes and advertising documents, and fashion accessories, including hats, jewellery, bags, shoes and perfume bottles.

Reflecting the fact that Christian Dior was also a knowledgeable art lover who adored museums, designs from over 70 years interact with a selection of paintings, furniture and objets d’art. These works highlight and develop Christian Dior’s outlook by exploring the ties he forged between couture and all forms of art, defining the House of Dior’s enduring influence. The two curators, Florence Müller and Olivier Gabet, convey their message with a chronological and themed exhibition design that inhabits and brings together the museum’s fashion areas and the nave for the first time, a space of almost 3,000 square meters.



Present Imperfect at Fashion Space Gallery (London)
until August 4

Disorderly apparel describes garments that are badly damaged, utterly worn-out or made from textiles that have perished over time. The items exhibited in Present Imperfect are prized for these very qualities. However, similar apparel can be overlooked or suppressed, left to lie dormant or languish in museum stores.

Selected apparel includes a pair of Victorian kid leather gloves that are burned, forever contorted in corporeal gesture. A cotton ballet singlet, borrowed from the Rambert Archive, was once animate but now lies limp, imprinted by repeated exertion. Shattered linings are properties common to a contemporary Stone Island jacket and an afternoon gown crafted over a century ago by leading London couture house Redfern. Most recent is a template leather jacket by Alexander McQueen. It features photocopied and glued pattern motifs and red felt-tipped annotation redolent of cut-and-paste zines.

These seemingly awkward garments are framed by modular structures that safeguard and actively communicate. Each structure proposes a strategy that alludes to the human form in its absence: a glove placed at the location of a hand; an impression of a dancer’s figure milled from a 3D body-scan; representation of a pattern-maker’s measures suggests process and proportion.

Text is a routine method for interpretation and engagement. Present Imperfect playfully subverts the conventions of text panel and label. Narratives – actual and associative – such as time, transience and trauma are suggested as possible themes for finding meaning.

In order to share working processes and reveal multiple alternative narratives, the installation is configured as gallery and studio space. An intention is to highlight that within the evolution of any exhibition numerous choices and ideas are explored, rejected and chosen.



Dalida, her Wardrobe On and Off-Stage at Palais Galliera (Paris)
until August 13

Dalida was a touching and impassioned figure and she has remained an immensely popular star. The Palais Galliera pays homage to her with an exhibition of her wardrobe, which was recently donated to the museum by her brother Orlando. She was a fervent lover of fashion and prepared to wear everything: from 1950s New Look dresses by Jacques Esterel to a Balmain’s seventies pinafore dress; she was chic and understated in Loris Azarro, dazzling in sequined disco outfits by Michel Fresnay in the 1980s, classical and timeless in Yves Saint Laurent rive gauche, and then there was Jean-Claude Jitrois who said dressing Dalida was ‘like dressing the stars for the Cannes Film Festival’.

An item from Dalida’s wardrobe on exhibition at Palais Galleria

Dressed by the greatest designers both on and off-stage, in haute couture or in prêt-à-porter, Iolanda – Miss Egypt, with the dynamite looks, became Dalida and had a huge hit with Bambino at Bobino, wearing a Hollywood-style red, strapless gown designed by Jean Dessès. This is the dress that sets the tone of the exhibition; it greets the visitor in the Museum’s salon d’honneur, setting the scene for the singer’s early career and her rise to fame: little dresses, stage dresses, photographs, record albums, the ethnic looks and the hippie looks. Dalida was archetypally Mediterranean – sunny and tragic, with a languorous drawl to her voice. A clearly defined waist, shapely hips and bust, her bare shoulders, the small of her back – everything about her was dazzlingly beautiful. And sophisticated. Her stage dresses, her make-up were like a second skin – she was born to perform. The show business side of her wardrobe is displayed under the gilded frescoes of the grande galerie: exotic gowns, leather, black and gold, and then, in the west gallery (galerie Ouest), the clothes she wore off-stage – set out in a display of pure Parisian elegance: coats and capes, in black and gold and leather. 

Her wardrobe always followed the movements of fashion, but it also reflected her artistic development. As her career progressed, she sang beautiful versions of songs by songwriters whose work drew out her great sensitivity and also her brittle quality. The young girl from Cairo, who had dreamed of being a film star, saw her dreams come true; her beauty transferred flawlessly to the silver screen. And so, the exhibition ends in the salle carrée with film costumes and screenings of extracts from her movies.



‘Untitled, from Early Color Portfolio’, (c1976) by Jo Ann Callis

Dreamers Awake at White Cube (London)
until September 17

White Cube is pleased to present ‘Dreamers Awake’, a group show at White Cube Bermondsey which explores the enduring influence of Surrealism through the work of more than fifty women artists. The exhibition brings together sculpture, painting, collage, photography and drawing from the 1930s to the present day and includes work by well-known Surrealist figures as well as contemporary and emerging artists.

Woman has a powerful presence in Surrealism. She is the object of masculine desire and fantasy; a harpy, goddess or sphinx; a mystery or threat. Often, she appears decapitated, distorted, trussed up. Fearsome or fetishized, she is always the ‘other’. From today’s perspective, gender politics can seem the unlikely blind spot of a movement that declared war on patriarchal society, convention and conformity.

Nonetheless, from its earliest days female artists have been drawn to Surrealism’s emphasis on personal and artistic freedoms and to the creative potential that the exploration of the unconscious offered. By focusing on the work of women artists, ‘Dreamers Awake’ hopes to show how, through art foregrounding bodily experience, the symbolic woman of Surrealism is refigured as a creative, sentient, thinking being.

Repossessed by its owner, the fragmented, headless body of Surrealism becomes a vehicle for irony, resistance, humour and self-expression. Ranging beyond those who might identify themselves as Surrealists, the show traces the influence of the movement where artists delve into the unconscious; create alternative realities; invent fetishistic objects, such as Mona Hatoum’s Jardin Public (1993), that subvert the objectification of the female form, or, in the spirit of Claude Cahun’s iconic black and white self-portraits from the 1930s, play with gender identity as a fluid construct.

The exhibition features works by women associated with the Surrealist movement – including Eileen Agar, Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, Dorothea Tanning and Leonor Fini – who until recently, were often characterised simply as muses, models or mistresses. Works by Francesca Woodman, Hannah Wilke, Louise Bourgeois, Rosemarie Trockel, Kiki Smith, Paloma Varga Weisz, Mona Hatoum, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, among others, testify to the far-reaching influence of Surrealism through the intervening decades. Surrealism meets punk in the work of Linder, and infuses the separate cultural heritages of Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman and Japanese painter Tomoko Kashiki.

Today, one hundred years since Apollinaire coined the term ‘surrealisme’, the unconscious mind is familiar territory, and the word ‘surreal’ itself debased to the point of meaninglessness. But in a world preoccupied with the politics of identity, in which the advances of previous generations must be continually defended, we see the continued – even renewed – relevance of surrealist ideas and strategies to a generation of emerging artists, including Sascha Braunig, Jordan Kasey, Loie Hollowell, Kelly Akashi, and Caitlin Keogh.


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