Christian Dior: Hardcore

A selection of Christian Dior pieces – including an outfit from his revolutionary New Look line – pitches up at Manchester Gallery of Costume this month. We survey what's on offer

Preview by Rosie Green | 04 Jun 2013

Christian Dior (1905-1957) was a revolutionary. One of the most important and influential couturiers of the 20th century, he stunned Parisian society and the wider world with his iconic New Look post-World War II.

From 12 June, the changing exhibitions gallery and the stunning first floor dining room at the Manchester Gallery of Costume welcome a unique new exhibition. Christian Dior: Designer in Focus comprises a selection of rare couture from both the London and Paris fashion houses (with six and nine pieces respectively). Only a handful of collections outside of London have any examples of Dior’s Paris-labelled garments, so this is an exceptional chance for those in the Northwest to see them close up.

The exhibition proudly showcases one of the New Look outfits from Dior’s first Corolle – or Figure 8 – collection (designed and made for spring/summer 1947). With its long, full skirts, prominent shoulders and tiny cinched-in waists, this collection caused an instant sensation, sweeping away the utilitarian styles of wartime. Upon seeing the collection, Carmel Snow, the Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief, exclaimed: "It's quite a revelation, dear Christian. Your dresses have such a new look!" We can't wait to see one of these iconic outfits for ourselves.

For those interested in the history of the royal family, also being shown is a black ribbed silk cocktail dress, which was commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, in 1949. Another piece that is sure to be an exhibition highlight is a unique silk-lined, printed lilac cocktail gown designed by a young Yves Saint Laurent, who worked for the Dior fashion house from 1955 (he started at 19 years old) before replacing Dior as chief designer after his early death in 1957.

More significant pieces include the first Dior outfit donated to the Gallery of Costume in 1984: the beautiful black cocktail dress from 1956 was sold by the famous Manchester institution Samuels, one of the Northwest's most prestigious fashion stores until its closure in 1968. The show will also give the viewer a first chance to see a number of Dior items recently acquired – several were bought at auction last year – for the Gallery of Costume’s internationally important collections.

Christian Dior designed under his own name for only a decade, but his influence on the design world has long continued, and does so to this day. So head along, see some of the best in 20th century fashion, and celebrate the era of hardcore Dior.

Manchester Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Rusholme, from 12 Jun (until 12 Jan 2014), Mon-Fri 1-5pm, Sat/Sun 10am-5pm, free