The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Lady Dior as seen by Arnaud Pyvka. Source:
Lady dior bag

When Christian Dior debuted the Lady Dior bag in 1995, the French fashion house probably wouldn't have guessed that it would become an inspiring muse for so many people. So much so, that at the latest stop of Dior's travelling exhibition, "Lady Dior As Seen By," in Milan, over 70 international artists, photographers and filmmakers contributed their interpretation of the Lady Dior bag - that is, "Lady Dior as seen by" them.

The bag's success may be due, in large part, to the black, leather Lady Dior bag that Bernadette Chirac, France's then-First Lady, gave to Princess Diana in September 1995 at the opening of a Paul Cezanne exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. After that, it became Diana's signature handbag (she was often photographed carrying it), and the bag quickly became a symbol of elegance and femininity. Its cannage pattern recalls the quilt of the Napoleon III-inspired chairs used by Dior during his first fashion show in 1947, and its signature rectangular shape and D.I.O.R. charms are distinct and unmistakeable. 

The "Lady Dior As Seen By" exhibition debuted at Shanghai's Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011, thereafter making stops in Beijing and Tokyo, before landing in Milan's Triennale Museum on October 11. With a wide spectrum of creatives invited to interpret Lady Dior, it's no surprise that the results were incredibly varied.

Some artists, such a Swiss artist-socialite, Olympia Scarry, treated the bag as sculpture. Scarry created two Lady Dior interpretations: one made of frosted glass with its sides seemingly punched out, as if splashes of water were instantly frozen mid-air; the other appeared to be in the process of being sculpted from white stone - the bag's signature components recognisable, but still a work-in-progress. For fashion photographer Tim Walker's contribution, a three-dimensional Lady Dior bag appeared to be "held" by a two-dimensional cut-out of a British gentleman wearing a bowler hat. Meanwhile, the white Lady Dior of Italian visual artist Loris Cecchini melted into the ground.

The exhibition also included an area dedicated to the short films of the Lady Dior saga starring Oscar-winning actress, Marion Cotillard, and (of course) Lady Dior. Each part was directed by a different filmmaker, including Olivier Dahan, Jonas Akerlund, David Lynch and John Cameron Mitchell.

The Milan leg of the tour introduced the work of 12 emerging Italian artists to the exhibit. Two talented art students from Milan's Brera Academy of Fine Arts stood out: Alessandro Carano's Lady Dior was rendered in a cartoon, placed beside a used ashtray and a drink in a darkly mysterious room. Davide Stucchi transformed his Lady Dior bag into a pinhole camera that was able to produce images simply by placing the bag on a photosensitive paper and exposing it to light.

...Dali's distinctive erotic imagination was recognisable by the three masks protruding from the pelvic area of the corset.

The relationship between the French brand and art has always been very strong. Prior to achieving fame as a couturier, Christian Dior was an art collector; he displayed the works of then unknown Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti in his Parisian gallery as well as Pablo Picasso's landscapes and Joan Mirò's surrealistic paintings. Dior's creations themselves were directly or indirectly influenced by 20th century artists. Sometimes he dedicated his pieces to his favourite painters, naming them "Matisse," "Braque" and "Picasso" and decorating them with the same bright colours used by the artists in their paintings. In 1950, Dior and Dali combined their experience in fashion and art to create the installation, "Costume for the year 2045," a peculiar aqua green, silk jersey dress, draped on the hips, with a metallic corset. Dali's distinctive erotic imagination was recognisable by the three masks protruding from the pelvic area of the corset. 

With loving reinterpretations by both seasoned and newly emerging talent, "Lady Dior As Seen By" underlines Dior's passion for contemporary art. Regardless of its colour or fabric, or whether represented in film or photograph, the real success of the Lady Dior is most likely related to the bag's inherent elegance. 

Alina Kulesh interviews Marie-France Pochna, renowned luxury brand expert and author of the definitive biography, Christian Dior: The Biography.



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