Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Opening the Doors of Dior

Opening the Doors of Dior

By New York Times writer Cathy Horyn

Saint Laurent, Chanel, Dior: the names of the most famous Paris houses sort of dance off the tongue. Their histories defeat the idea that younger generations might be bored with old things. And a stream of books and films helps to assure that they won't be.

“Dior Couture” (Rizzoli), by the photographer Patrick Demarchelier, is far and away the most gorgeous book on the house, established by Christian Dior shortly after the end of World War II. It’s not a complete record; Mr. Demarchelier, working closely with Dior, shows roughly 150 dresses, suits and coats, all of them made in the Dior ateliers from 1947 to 2011, and preserved in the archives. Obviously that’s a fraction of Dior’s output.

And it’s not a representative survey of house talent. There are examples of Christian Dior’s early work, like the famous 1947 bar suit with its neat peplum, and a natural-line Mirza dress in chic polka dots from 1951. Yves Saint Laurent, who succeeded Dior at his death, in 1957, is represented with two killer dresses, including one in a deep-red floral print with a very modern sense of shape. Marc Bohan has two outfits. Gianfranco Ferré gets none.

And while John Galliano’s work is well covered, there are omissions. None of his extreme examples of deconstruction shown in the 1999 Matrix show at Versailles are included, and there’s nothing from the 2000 hobo collection.

What Mr. Demarchelier offers is a personal view of fashion from a great Paris house. The opening shot, made originally for American Vogue, shows members of the Dior ateliers assembled in front of the house, at 30 avenue Montaigne. A portrait of men and women in lab coats with tape measures around their necks and perhaps pin cushions on their wrists, it expresses the technical side of dressmaking.

That’s a good opener for a house shaken by the offensive remarks and behavior of Mr. Galliano, who was fired in February. Surely a couture house derives its mystery and staying power from the knowledge of making things.

It’s obvious from “Dior Couture” that Mr. Demarchelier loves taking pictures of beautiful women, but his photos almost always have an extra quality: he also understands how clothes should look on the body.

Raised in northern France, Mr. Demarchelier, 68, first picked up a camera as a teenager. “I took portraits of my friends,” he recalled in his Manhattan studio. “When I was a bit older, maybe 19 or 20, I moved to Paris, and I worked in a lab doing prints.” By chance, he wound up being the photographer for a modeling school. “Most of the girls came from the countryside,” he said. “We cut their hair, we taught them to walk and dress.”

At the time, he knew little about fashion. He explained: “You had nothing to compare yourself with. Now you have the Internet, you see what’s going on all over the world. I was thinking about having a job and making some money to live. So after a year at this modeling school, I felt a bit stuck. I stopped and went to assist for some people in Paris.”

Soon he was working for himself, taking pictures for French Elle (children’s clothes at first) and then Marie Claire. But, again, he felt a bit stuck and decided to visit New York, planning to stay six months. He stayed 35 years. His first assignments were for Glamour and Seventeen. “When I worked for Seventeen, they had a private jet,” he recalled. “When I was working in France, we had a little car, all freezing, in winter. Suddenly, I go to America and we have a private jet, and I think, That’s it! Amazing, no?”

SUCH experience can’t easily be duplicated. Among the prettiest photos in the book are those of early Dior outfits, including the two Saint Laurents. “You could wear those clothes today,” Mr. Demarchelier said, looking at a simple black cocktail dress from 1959 by Saint Laurent.

For a series of outdoor photos made immediately after Mr. Galliano’s fall 2010 couture show (the theme was flowers), he told the models to imagine a garden party. The results look like richly pigmented paintings. Later in the book, he shows a model in a 1947 shirtwaist dress with tiny pin-tucks and a small veiled hat on the beach at Deauville — “a very Lartigue picture,” he said with a rumpled laugh.

Yes, Lartigue was a big influence on him. He turned the page to a 1947 coat that, against the northern sky, was all silhouette. “How chic is that?” he said.

Mr. Demarchelier, a master of lighting, makes his methods sound very easy. When questioned a bit further, he said: “I like to make it easy. I always say to young photographers, ‘Have a good time when you work. If you’re stressed, it’s not normal when you’re doing fashion work.’ See, I like to play when I work.”

To see the video of her interview with Demarchelier, visit The New York Times page...

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