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August 23 2014

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At Home With Christian Dior

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Renoir’s Roses Mousseuses and Christian Dior's 1956 Rose de France afternoon dress

For all his love of the social whirl and grand parties, Christian Dior was a man who prized nothing more than a garden retreat. As a boy, he picked up a green thumb and his lifelong love of flowers from his mother, Madeleine, whom he helped landscape the gardens of his childhood home—a belle epoque villa called Les Rhumbs, in Granville, Normandy. Of this house, Dior wrote, “My life and my style owe almost everything to its location and architecture.”

And so it was that at the tail end of a Couture season brimming with parties, the house of Dior whisked a handful of journalists off by helicopter to Normandy to visit Christian Dior’s childhood home and get a sense of where it all started.

Set on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic and what could only be called a Dior-gray sky, the pinkish-hued Les Rhumbs appears much as it must have when Dior was young—minus the tennis club next door. The hedgerow labyrinth mentioned in Dior’s 1957 memoir, Dior by Dior, remains, as do the pergola and garden furniture he designed himself. The Dior family owned the villa until the thirties, when financial hardship forced them to sell the house and all its contents. The designer never returned there, but his spirit remains: The gardens opened to the public in the late thirties, and sixty years later, in 1997, Les Rhumbs became home to the Christian Dior Museum.

Christian Dior in one of his Gardens

This season, as a part of the Normandie Impressionniste 2013 art festival, the Musée Christian Dior is presenting Impressions Dior, an exhibition that explores how the aesthetics of major impressionist works, on loan by the Musée Marmottan and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, among others, dovetail with Dior fashions from the forties to present day. Despite the more than half-century that stretches between them, the parallels between the art and the clothes are striking. On the ground floor, Renoir’s Roses Mousseuses hangs in what was once the living room, not far from a display featuring famous designs such as the Rose de France afternoon dress of 1956, or the Vilmorin dress, so named for the leading seed catalog of the day, which Dior learned by heart. At the show’s entrance stands one of Raf Simons’ Spring ’13 Couture dresses—a three-layered embroidered tulle and silk bustier evening dress. Upstairs, a corseted couture gown from 2005, designed by John Galliano in tribute to Madeleine Dior, keeps company with Three Women with Parasols, by Marie Bracquemond, while the embroidery on the organdy Pastoral dance dress picks up on an original hand-painted panel of birds, the sole decorative vestige of Dior’s house as he knew it.

Meanwhile, Dior’s love of flowers manifests itself anew in the garden, where a dozen olfactory panels illustrate the house’s most iconic fragrances, from Miss Dior and Diorissima to more recent creations (weekend perfume workshops are available upon reservation). Clearly, these are crowd-pleasers, and just further proof of one of Dior’s famous dictums: “You can never really go wrong if you take nature as an example.”

Still, this historic home is only the very beginning of the story. Last month, Dior acquired another one of Christian Dior’s private residences, the thirty-room Château de la Colle Noire (known locally as Chateau Dior), in Provence.

Impressions Dior runs through September 22, 2013.

Photos: Courtesy of the Musee d’Orsay (Renoir’s Roses Mousseuses); Laziz Hamani (Dior afternoon dress); Lord Snowdon/Camera Press/Gamma (Christian Dior)

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Dept. of Culture