The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Impressions Dior Christian Dior

"The Impressionists filled the hallowed halls of the French art establishment with light," wrote Karen Hurrell in the introduction to Impressionists, published by Parragon Publishing. "As a group, they were critically derided, professionally shunned, and considered to be the most outrageous and untalented artists of the nineteenth century."

Led by "enfant terrible" Edouard Manet, the Impressionists were the honorary rebels of the art world. Unlike Neo-Classical artists, the Impressionists didn't believe in copying the old masters (Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc.). Impressionists were informal in both subject - painting primarily daily life - and technique. They captured the "here and now", often depicting pleasant subject matter - picnics, hikes, sunrises, decadent fruit platters, young girls playing the piano, bath time, and of course, ballet dancers. Quick and "sloppy" brushstrokes dominated their oeuvres, and the artists often painted en plein air to accurately depict changes in light.

Despite the rise of photography during their time, the Impressionists were also not interested in realism; rather they wanted to capture movement and "impressions" of their subjects. Yet, Impressionist paintings and photography of that time are similarly candid - subjects are often caught in the act, never looking at the painter, and "blurred" paint strokes are reminiscent of a "blurred" photograph due to abrupt movement.

One region served as an Impressionist haven: "Normandy is a region with an impressionist spirit, and is even described as a cradle of Impressionism as it was one of the principal areas where the masters of this pictorial movement developed their art and flourished," cites the website for the Normandy Impressionist Festival which runs from April 27 until September 29, 2013.

These two elements can be observed in Christian Dior's style: where a spectacular, prestigious and luxurious vision of femininity meets the more fragile, charming, delicate aspects of women's seduction.

Impressionist Claude Monet moved to Normandy in 1883 and attracted several other artists to the area. Scenic and rich in a variety of landscapes - from the beaches of Calvados (visited by the likes of Eugène Boudin and Monet) to the countryside of Orne (favoured by Edgar Degas) - Normandy never failed to inspire the Impressionists.

It's no surprise then that the region and the Impressionists influenced couturier Christian Dior. Growing up in the euphoric Villa Les Rhumbs in Granville, Normandy, Dior developed a love for nature, specifically its changing colours and beauty, and went on to incorporate this admiration into his designs - ones that eventually became staples of the House of Dior.

Related: Christian Dior - the man and the brand - have had a long-standing affair with art.

Related: Lady Dior through the eyes of 70 artists from around the world.

Ten years ago, the Villa was transformed into an official Musée de France, the first French museum dedicated solely to a couturier. As part of the Normandy Impressionist Festival, Musée Christian Dior de Granville is hosting the exhibition, Impressions DiorThe Genteel's Alina Kulesh sat down with exhibition curator Florence Müller to talk about Dior's enchanting home, the Impressionists' influence on the designer, and the one-of-a-kind exhibition, Impressions Dior.

Alina Kulesh (AK): The exhibition takes place in the Villa Les Rhumbs in Granville - Christian Dior's childhood residence. Tell us about the villa and how it influenced Dior and his designs.

Florence Müller (FM): Christian Dior wrote in his autobiography, Christian Dior et moi (Bibliothèque Amiot-Dumont, 1956. Paris p.199): "Ma vie, mon style, doivent presque tout à sa situation et à son architecture." It means that his style has been inspired by the environment and the architecture of this villa.

This is a very special place: the villa is surrounded by a big garden on top of a cliff that looks over the city of Granville on the north side, just above the beach. From that point you have the most spectacular view of a vast horizon with no limits, the changing colours and the movements of the sea and the sky, and also of the Chausey Islands. These surroundings are very strong and romantic. The garden itself, that was built by the mother of Christian Dior with the help of her son, expresses another feeling: a calm retreat full of flowers, especially roses, maritime pines, green grass in the spirit of an English garden.

Impressions Dior Christian Dior
Musée Christian Dior de Granville.

The generosity of nature on one side, and the strength of the fluid elements on the other, the delicateness facing a spectacular and romantic scenery. These two elements can be observed in Christian Dior's style: where a spectacular, prestigious and luxurious vision of femininity meets the more fragile, charming, delicate aspects of women's seduction.

AK: And what elements of the Impressionism Dior exhibit demonstrate Dior's enchantment with the Impressionists?

FM: A selection of paintings, aquarelles, sculptures and photographies by Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot or Marie Bracquemond establishes a sensitive dialogue with the dresses and the accessories designed by Christian Dior and the artistic directors that followed him. There are also many quotations that help to follow this journey through this source of inspiration in haute couture.

AK: The fashions during the Impressionist era - can you describe them to us? And how do Dior's designs reflect them?

FM: The fashion style of the Impressionist time was built on strong shapes that were building silhouettes defined on the crinoline underwear, then the bustle structure and finally the "S" line. Christian Dior created strong silhouettes that are inspired by these different shapes. He reinterpreted the volumes of the skirts with his variations in a more supple manner, with a lot of research on drapery and light lingerie… the result was creative, modern and convenient for the period of reconstruction after the Second World War. It was also a great success because it was full of the charm of the past that is always a good way to make people dream.

Impressions Dior Christian Dior

AK: And what was the Impressionist artists’ interaction with/depiction of fashion?

FM: The Impressionists were very involved in the fashion world because they considered it to be the symbol of modernity. The modern world was seen as a world full of movement and change, that is literally how fashion works, by creating new things very quickly that transform the allure of women.

AK: Along with "modernity," the Impressionist painters also focused on light - its constant movement and the way it fell onto surfaces, people, and fabrics, as well as the idea the "here and now". How did Dior adopt these elements into his designs?

FM: The feeling of light is very important in the work of Dior, the range of colours, his research in prints, the embroidery work in the exhibition shows this very well. There is one vitrine that displays the changing light and colours in the sky and the sea. There is another one that illustrates the translation of nature into flower-dresses. But also, in the catalogue I have written a text on the research that Christian Dior loved to do on the movements and the interaction between the garment and the body. He worked on the effect of air, wind or the movements of the body on the garment.

AK: Beautiful. Can you describe to us a particular garment by Dior that is heavily influenced by Impressionism?

FM: There are many! But one of my favourite is the dress "Vilmorin" (spring-summer 1952) in white organza, totally covered with small and simple flowers that you can find in the countryside, embroidered as if it was taken directly from nature, with no predefined composition.

Raf Simons has designed dresses that look like views on the sky, very near to some studies done by Degas. (We have one beautiful example in the exhibition and the catalogue that belongs to the Musée d'Orsay.)

AK: I'm curious to know what the public's reaction was to Dior's Impressionist-influenced designs?

It has pleased the public a lot, because it has a common base: feminine beauty. And also, the Impressionist movement is still very appreciated and popular because it is full of beautiful and pleasant visions of the world.

AK: Dior's successors continued to honour Impressionism - how did Yves Saint Laurent and Raf Simons transcend Dior's Impressionist influences?

FM: Dior successors were faithful to the Dior universe: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and now Raf Simons. But they have added their own sensibility to the founder's spirit. For example, Raf Simons has designed dresses that look like views on the sky, very near to some studies done by Degas. (We have one beautiful example in the exhibition and the catalogue that belongs to the Musée d'Orsay.) These dresses are perhaps more abstract than the ones made during Dior's period.

AK: Is there a particular dress in the exhibition that you are most enchanted with?

FM: One of my favourite would be "Pastorale" (Spring-summer 1956), a dance dress in white organdy embroider with little flowers and birds, and with several flounces. It is charming, fresh, naive and elegant at the same time.



Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from The Genteel.

About Us

The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets. 

More about us

Our Contributors

A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.