Dior Brings Opulent Extravagance to Brooklyn

With lights dancing across dozens of floral dresses and sequined classical gowns in an over-the-top Beaux-Arts setting, visitors to the Brooklyn Museum generally stand speechless in awe of the extravagance before them in, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, closing February 20.

It takes a minimum of two hours to travel through the galleries, and much more time to absorb the wonders of this must-see fashion exhibition, drawn largely from the Dior archives in Paris.

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Haute couture in Brooklyn’s Beaux Arts court. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
Nevelson’s 1956 sculpture and 1952 Dior dinner dress. Courtesy: Dior.

The exhibition begins in a traditional gallery format, showcasing Dior’s epic haute couture works of the Forties and Fifties.

Print and film media document Dior’s ecstatic reception in America, including custom client fittings and retail showings in New York and San Francisco.

Some of the most spectacular evening and cocktail looks are paired with modern sculpture by Nevelson and design by Eames from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection.

Turning the corner into the photography gallery, visitors encounter the full spectrum of photographers who have documented Dior couture from the Forties until today.

Visitors are ecstatic when they see the dress next to the Avedon photo that is one of the most iconic fashion images of the 20th century – Dovima modeling Dior’s spectacularly sinuous black-and-white gown, caressing massive, animated elephants that surround her.

After Dior’s untimely death, a succession of fashion superstars led the creative side of the house. The show pays tribute to YSL, Bohan, Ferré, Galliano, and Simons with dramatic installations showing their inspirations from French film noir, modern art, opera, and art history. 

1955 haute couture, worn by Dovima for Avedon. Courtesy: Dior.

The garments are over-the-top, highly embellished, and smartly paired with Egyptian and Gilded Age works from the museum’s extensive permanent collection.

John Galliano haute couture for Christian Dior, inspired by ancient Egypt, the Belle Epoque, and other historical references. From the Dior Legacy gallery. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
Three 2020 ensembles by Maria Grazia Chiuri against Judy Chicago banners. Courtesy: Dior

There’s a special installation reserved for Dior’s current artistic director, Marie Grazie Chiuri, who has long used her platform in the fashion world to ask probing questions about culture, society, and women.

In this gallery, her dramatic haute couture work is surrounded by shimmering banners that she commissioned from Judy Chicago, whose epic The Dinner Party is the centerpiece of Brooklyn’s feminist art center.

A major set of galleries evokes the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles – a source of inspiration for Mr. Dior.

The curators use the space to show off Dior’s Miss Dior perfume product displays and pairings of old and more recent haute couture inspired by 18th century glamour of the French court. If the exhibition ended right there, you’d be satisfied.

Haute couture from House of Dior: John Galiano’s 2000 dress in embroidered antique satin and Christian Dior’s 1952 satin cocktail ensemble. In the 18th-century gallery. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.

But there’s much more – a gallery segmented by color to show off fashions, accessories, shoes, and miniatures; and an Instagram-ready all-white infinity room with dozens of white toilles made by the Dior ateliers from the designer’s sketches.

It’s another unforgettable gallery experience that pays proper tribute to the teams of behind-the-scenes experts who bring these fashion visions to life. 

Although the gallery of celebrity Dior looks is the final stop in the show, it almost feels like an after-thought compared to the magical displays of the Beaux-Arts Court.

Wall of 2007-2020 toiles for haute couture dresses, jackets and coats.

Haute couture is everywhere – clustered in the center, surrounding you on all sides, and artfully displayed on two-story-high walls and balconies.  One area features floral gowns, another shimmering gold ensembles, and another mysterious, dramatic black drama.

Haute couture dresses inspired by the divining arts surrounded by dresses inspired by nature, flowers, and gardens. Courtesy: Dior heritage collection.
2010 haute couture hand-painted embroidered evening dress by John Galliano for Christian Dior.

The show is a breathtaking array of light, sound, and visual riches – possibly the greatest feast for the fashion eye since the McQueen show at the Met.  Thanks to Dior for letting us see these amazing works from the archive, and to Brooklyn for giving us such an unforgettable fashion experience in its 125-year-old court.

Next up for Brooklyn’s galleries: a tribute to Virgil Abloh, opening July 1.

Gilded Age Treasure Hunt at The Met

Once you navigate the twists and turns of one of the furthest reaches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing (past the Versailles panorama and past the Rockefeller room), you’ll come to a treasure trove of Gilded Age interior design – Aesthetic Splendors: Highlights from the Gift of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore, on view through April 18.

What did rich people in the 1880s and 1890s want? The exhibition will show you.

1880s Herter Brothers cabinet, Britcher landscape, and reproduction wallpaper evoke the Wigmore’s home

You’ll find lush landscapes by second-generation Hudson River painters and first-generation romantic painters of the American West, elaborate furniture and decorative pieces embellished with tributes to Asian style, and bedazzled masterpieces from the Tiffany workshops.

Sanford Gifford’s 1879 An Indian Summer Day in Claverack Creek

The curators pay tribute to these avid Aesthetic Movement collectors by framing these promised gifts with reproduction period wallpaper and fixtures, and it’s hard to decide where to look first.

The approach to this marvelous exhibition gives modern gallery-goers an experience of what Gilded Age interior designers had in mind – cramming foyers and drawing rooms with lush paintings, flashy techno brass furniture, Japanese-style ceramics, art pottery, and fringed upholstered seats decorated with Arts & Crafts tiles that throwback to mythical times.

The mix of styles and techniques – some old and some new – reflect a time when consumption of luxury goods ran wild with the ascension of New York City as the trading and shipping capital of the world.  Many of the pieces reflect new machine-made technology mixed in with a bit of medieval nostalgia via the British Arts and Crafts movement.

Look closely at all these showstoppers in our Flickr album.

Detail of 1880 Modern Gothic cabinet by Kimbel and Cabus with tile by Minton & Co.

Although the exhibition is slightly hidden away, the landscapes appearing throughout the show provide windows to lush valleys of the Rockies (thank you, Mr. Bierstadt!), autumn colors of the Catskills, and spectacular, tranquil shorelines on Maine’s rocky coast.  All are either in their original fancy frames or reproductions from the era.

Alfred Thompson Bricher’s 1899 Low Tide, Hetherington’s Cove, Grand Manan in Maine

Most of the works are oil paintings, but (in case you didn’t know) New York was also the epicenter of the movement to make watercolor paintings the equal of any fine salon work.  The curators have included work by the masterful William Trost Williams, so you can enjoy a side-by-side comparison of the techniques he used to give those oil painters a run for their money. Every time we’ve visited this show, visitors simply stand transfixed, drinking in the saturated, tranquil views of the faraway.

The ceramics, cloisonné tabletops, andirons, and many large-scale pieces reflect the period’s mania for anything with a hint of Japanese or Chinese style – delicate birds flitting through bamboo and fierce dragons swirling in magical space. Designers for the upper classes were captivated by images from kimonos, scrolls, screens, and ceramics from the East and made sure that custom commissioned pieces were on trend.

Bradley & Hubbard’s 1895 phoenix andirons
Sapphire encircled by grapevines on 1910 gold and platinum Tiffany necklace

The mesmerizing beacon within the show is the spectacular array of Tiffany necklaces in the center – dramatic opals and sapphires, often encircled by intricate grapevines in gold or another nod to nature-by-design. The effect of these beauties side by side is magical, and you can imagine a Gilded Age beauty making an entrance with one of these dazzlers.

The Met just announced that its September 2022 Costume Institute exhibition would be displayed in the period rooms of the American Wing, so we’ll see if Mr. Bolton and his team deploy any period finery in the more-is-more 19th-century area.

Read more about pieces in this fantastic donation on the MetCollects blog and flip through close-ups of some the featured works.

Virtual NYC Museum Events – Broadway, Brooklyn, Karma, Kusama, and McQueen

New York museums are offering a full calendar of virtual events this week, including trips to Broadway history, hipster restaurants of the world, Buddhist virtual reality, and tributes to artistic genius. Take a look at the list here! Here are just a few highlights:

2002 Broadway revival of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song

Do you miss Broadway? Learn about some little-known secrets behind hit shows today, Monday (April 12) at 5:30pm. It’s a rare chance to meet the president of the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization, Ted Chapin, who will be giving a behind-the-scenes look at the Great White Way in his program, From Follies to Flower Drum Song and Beyond. It’s the premiere of a conversation recorded last Fall with Broadway World’s Richard Ridge, courtesy of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Did this global restaurant trend actually start in Brooklyn? Find out with MOFAD and the creators of Global Brooklyn: Designing Food Experiences in World Cities.

Love restaurants? Especially ones with slightly nostalgic post-industrial interiors decorated with that hand-crafted look? At 7pm, join the Museum of Food and Drink to meet the authors who explored how the Brooklyn aesthetic for How a Restaurant Aesthetic Became a Global Phenomenon. Learn how restaurants around the world adopted the style, and find out if this brand of hip actually started in Brooklyn.

On Tuesday (April 14) at 6pm, join the architecture crowd at the Skyscraper Museum to hear Mark Sarkisian, the structural and seismic engineer who is a partner at SOM in San Francisco. Mark designed one of Shanghai’s first supertalls back in 1999. His talk Pivot to China: How Jin Mao Portended Future Supertalls will explain how this tower’s innovations influenced the generation of supertall skyscrapers that followed.

Shanghai’s Jin Mao tower, 1999
Berman Collection poster part of the Youth Style talk at Poster House.

On Wednesday (April 14) at 6:30pm, take a journey back to early modernist Europe at Poster House, who will be hosting A Tale of Three Cities: Youth Style in Berlin, Munich, & Vienna with the Kaller Research Institute. The evening will focus on how young designers made their mark on design from 1895 to 1910. You’ll see works from the Merrill C. Berman Collection (the collection featured at MoMA in Engineer Agitator Constructor), and works from the Poster House’s current Julius Klinger exhibition.

Also at 6:30pm – an opportunity to understand your karma. Join the Rubin Museum of Art for The Game of Life: An Interactive Virtual Experience. A contemplative psychotherapist will guide participants through a virtual Buddhist Wheel of Life to finding liberation from negative habits and patterns. The virtual game takes you throughout the different floors of the museum, and provides twists and turns. There are “Hell” and “God” Zoom rooms, but the payoff is higher awareness of one’s state of mind.

The Rubin’s reimagined Wheel of Life by eight graphic artists.
Kusama at New York Botanical Garden

On Thursday (April 15) at 11am, it’s what all of New York has been waiting for! Mika Yoshitake, the curator of New York Botanical Garden’s KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will provide a look at how Kusama’s blockbuster installation reflects nature, the earth, the microscopic, and the cosmos. Cosmic Nature: Embracing the Unknown will present Mike’s insights about Kusama’s artistic language and her unrelenting, lifelong journey into new territory.

McQueen models backstage, as photographed by Richard Fairer

Want to go backstage at a McQueen show? At 6pm you can. Join Vogue photographer Robert Fairer at Museum at FIT for a live Q&A about his new book, Alexander McQueen: Unseen. Experience memorable moments of fashion’s greatest, most outrageous showman and see what a genius at work backstage before the show.

There’s a lot more happening this week, so check the complete schedule. Most of the events are free, but it’s always nice to add a thank-you donation.