Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Christian Dior’

Couture in Colour: Abraham’s silks in Antwerp at the Fashion Museum

Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balenciaga… you may know their haute couture designs, but how much do you know about the fabrics that give body to their creations?

On a recent visit to Antwerp’s fashion museum, I learnt a little more about the luscious fabrics that give couture its colour. The Musée de Mode’s (MoMu) latest display is ‘Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour.’ This fashion exhibition combines beautiful fabrics hanging like works of arts, key haute couture pieces and photographs from the Abraham Archive – a Swiss silk company, whose work is intertwined with couture from the 1930s onwards.

Haute couture and Abraham Ltd

Abraham Ltd meant nothing to me before attending the exhibition. The origins of this Swiss silk company can be traced to 1878, but it was not until after World War II that it became an international fashion heavyweight. In the 1930s, Abraham was run by Gustav Zumsteg, who mingled in the artistic environment of 1930s Paris with the likes of Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti, and famous fashion designers, including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent. This creative atmosphere influenced his designs, helping to position him as one of the top fabric suppliers to haute couture designers.

swatches of Abrahams fabric

Abraham archives interactive swatch files

Prêt-à-porter from the 1960s ushered in a new era for Abraham Ltd; as the demand for high quality silks diminished, they adapted to the high-end ready-to-wear market. In 1995, when the firm’s collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent ended, Abraham’s time was numbered. The company may have closed in 2002, but they left behind an extensive archive of textiles, sample books and fashion photographs telling a vibrant story of twentieth century extravagance and couture.

Christian Dior and Abraham partnership

Dior’s New Look, with its luxurious and excessive fabric contrasting with war-time austerity, was a perfect match for Abraham’s high quality silks, and thus an important fashion partnership was born in the 1950s.

Dior exhibit Fashion Museum Antwerp

This sweet, but nonetheless grown-up, Dior cocktail dress exemplifies the 1950s silhouette and style. Abraham’s flower print, “Apricotine” could hardly be more aptly named.

Dior orange dress

Yves Saint Laurent and Abraham

Yves Saint Laurent met Gustav Zumsteg at Christian Dior’s funeral in 1957, marking the start of a working relationship and lifelong friendship. The red and black silk satin dress from 1985 was the stand-out piece for me, with its bustle and large exotic flowers spreading across the fabric.

Yves Saint Laurent dresses

Balenciaga and Abraham

Balenciaga also came to Abraham for fabric, in particular for gazar (a crisp, sheer, plain-weave silk cloth), which was a speciality of this silk manufacturer, and was perfect for Balenciaga’s sculptural creations.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Balanciaga and monochrome display

Balanciaga black dress in the centre

Balanciaga blue dress Fashion Museum Antwerp

Fabrics everywhere

Fabrics weaved throughout the exhibition providing, not just a pretty backdrop to the fashions on display, but literally the material for them. From checks and animal prints to monochrome, from matte to sheen, a wide range of Abraham textiles, textures and patterns were on show.

monochrome fabrics hanging

Monochrome fabrics

Checked fabric fashion museum Antwerp

animal prints - fashion museum

Fashion Photo from Museum of Fashion Antwerp MoMu

Luxurious fabrics hanging Fashion Museum Antwerp

Flowers, and in particular roses, were a recurrent motif in Abraham’s designs, from traditional bouquets to more abstract, larger patterns.

Roses fabrics

roses catwalk

Fabricand shadows Fashion Museum Antwerp

Luxury shines through these heavy, glittering cloths. The high production costs of such fabrics meant that they were often the preserve of haute couture.

Luxurious fabrics Fashion Museum Antwerp

Givenchy and Abraham

Givenchy, whose fashion idol was Balenciaga, also collaborated with Abraham Ltd. Givenchy has become synonymous for dressing two stars in particular: Audrey Hepburn appeared in Givenchy on screen, for instance in Sabrina (for which costume designer Edith Head won an Oscar), and Jackie O wore one of his designs to JFK’s funeral. The yellow evening dress and cape below is from 1973 in silk gazar, and the similarities in shape between it and the blue Balenciaga dress (pictured above) are apparent.

Givenchy evening dress in yellow gazar

Givenchy dress black and green

The Givenchy piece above from 1987 is made from Abraham silk in crêpe de chine falconné imprimé. Although the puffball feature would probably be best avoided by almost everybody, this dress with its 1940s silhouette stood out for me (perhaps a nostalgia trip to the 1980s and reminiscent of a dress that my Mum wore and loved).

Kronenhalle

Towards the start of the display, this sweet table-for-two tableau greeted visitors. It represents Kronenhalle restaurant, a Zurich institution with a guestbook of the big names of the time across the spectrum from politics to art. Gustav Zumsteg helped his mother, Hulda, run the business and used the restaurant to house his growing art collection. His artistic connections helped in designing the restaurant: Alberto and Diego Giacometti designed lamps and other furnishings for its bar which was designed by Robert Haussman.

Kronenhalle Zurich at Fashion Museum Antwerp

Before Pinterest…

Long before Pinterest, the pleasure of preserving memories and aspirations was played out through cutting out and sticking in scrapbooks. On display were twenty scrapbooks from between 1947 and 1996 creating a picture book history of fashion, textiles and Abraham Ltd. 

Scrapbooks at Fashion Museum Antwerp

The Abraham Textile Archive is housed at the Swiss National Museum. Abraham Ltd began archiving professionally in 1955 preserving 50 years of creativity, and I imagine this collection would be invaluable to fashion students and designers now.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Musee de Mode MoMu

I would recommend an Antwerp adventure full stop, and if you do, check out the Fashion Museum (MoMu). “Silk and Prints: From the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour” is on until 11 August 2013.

Advertisements

Dior wins Dress of the Year at Bath in Fashion

The 50th Dress of the Year frees the ballgown. Raf Simons’ winning dress for Dior embodies all the glamour of couture, but updates it, replacing a restrictive full skirt with elegant ease.

The winner, chosen by Vanessa Friedman, the fashion editor for the Financial Times, was revealed during Bath in Fashion Week. Each year Bath Fashion Museum asks an expert to pick a dress that exemplifies the time’s fashion mood or tone, and that’s why this Dior piece is such an appropriate choice. Raf Simons’ debut couture collection for the House of Dior was so hotly anticipated, and this dress manages to pay tribute to the status of this fashion house behemoth without compromising on the Belgian designer’s fresh, modern vision. Indeed the flared hip silhouette of the dress has been taken from an original pattern in the Dior archives, but cut off and worn with slim pants.

Dress of the Year

Dress of the Year at the Fashion Museum. Photo: © Come Step Back in Time

As Vanessa Friedman states:

“This dress, or rather (this) evolution of the dress, from Raf Simons’ first collection show for Christian Dior, represents not just a generational shift in fashion – the moment when a new designer took over at the intimate couture house – but also an aesthetic new direction. It signals a move away from the most escapist, extreme garments of the fin de siècle and forward to a new 21st Century post-recession balance that blends functionality with fantasy…”

Detailed shot of the embroidered embellishment on the Dress of the Year © Come Step Back in Time

Detailed shot of the embellishment of the dress. Photo: © Come Step Back in Time

The ballgown may be cut short, but glamour abounds, and the intricate design of the bustier is complemented by the simplicity of its line and slim pants.  Pale blue and pink flowers are appliquéd and embroidered onto fine tulle which covers the silk dress, more than nodding to Christian Dior’s love of flowers, “where designs for dresses played second fiddle to the studies of flowers that inspired them.” (see Impressionist CouturierAll hand-sewn, the embroidery is covered with gemstones, pearls, tiny petals, and metallic thread. 

The heavy dress is corseted inside, and there’s a mini silk tulle petticoat, which you can see in the picture above. For the exhibition, the Dress of the Year is accessorised with a net veil by famous milliner Steven Jones and kitten heels. It is a look that is easily transferable to a vintage-lover’s wardrobe by shortening an evening gown and pairing with trousers.

For this small, but fashion-packed museum in Bath, it is a coup to display this piece, and it was wonderful to see the dress up close as part of visit to Bath Fashion Museum during Bath in Fashion. Raf Simons said:

“It is a great honour to have one of my debut Christian Dior Haute Couture collection’s looks chosen as Dress of the Year… The way the Museum’s collection is such a distinct document of, not just fashion, but history in general makes me proud that my clothes can feature amongst those looks and say something about today.”

Raf Simons’ debut show for Dior did not disappoint back in July last year. Take time out for a stylish reminder of his collection, referencing New Look silhouettes, parading down the floral-covered catwalk in the video below.

For the past 50 years, a fashion heavyweight has picked his or her Dress of the Year for Bath Fashion Museum, and you can relive fashion history via their list of the previous 50 winners. With wedding dress designs on the minds of many in the fashion industry and beyond in 2011, Sarah Burton’s exquisite “Ice Queen” wedding dress for Alexander McQueen was the winner last year, especially fitting as she was later revealed as the creator of the Kate Middleton’s bridal gown.

Dress-of-the-Year---Dior-2---(c)-Come-Step-Back-in-Time

Dress of the Year – Raf Simons for Dior. Photo: © Come Step Back in Time

There is more Dior at 50 Fabulous Frocks, an exhibition to celebrate the Fashion Museum’s 50th birthday, featuring an opera coat, which, though not couture, exemplifies the trademarks of this fashion house.

If asked for my Dress of the Year, I just wouldn’t know where to start… but I feel that this dress really fits. What would have been your Dress of the Year? Does this piece embody fashion’s mood in 2012? Let me know…

Look out for more blogs about my Bath in Fashion adventures coming up…