Marc, who? Exactly. Walk into the new Dior exhibition - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - at the Victoria & Albert Museum and you’ll be wowed by a glamourous exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s strongest fashion houses. A few rooms in, there’s a recap of the previous Dior Creative Directors, in order, from after Dior’s death in 1957 up until the present designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. All getting equal billing and space is Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferrè, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Chiuri.
The least known, yet the longest there, is Marc Bohan. From 1958 to 1960, Bohan designed for the Christian Dior London line. In September 1960, Dior’s creative director Yves Saint Laurent was called up for military service and Bohan was promoted to replace him. He stayed at Dior until 1989 when he was replaced by Gianfranco Ferrè.
Left - Linda in Chanel. But, will we remember this in a few decades time?
Bohan’s career at Dior lasted over 30 years and yet he is almost forgotten about. Still alive, he didn’t create anything long lasting directly attributed to his hand at Dior. Or, that is widely known. And this is where I bring my comparisons to Karl Lagerfeld. He lead Chanel from 1983 up until his death. That’s a 36 year career, and yet in a few year's time, what direct influences will Lagerfeld leave on the French house? Will Karl Lagerfeld become the Marc Bohan of Chanel? #Discuss
Dr Kate Strasdin, Fashion Historian and Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Falmouth University, says, “I think he will be remembered just because of the length of time he was at the helm and that his time coincided with the expansion of mass media. He talked about being a caricature of himself, creating his own distinctive self-image.
“As for Lagerfeld’s legacy, many people criticised his work as derivative. but actually I think he was astute at managing a heritage brand, treading that line between designs that were recognisably ‘Chanel’ and simultaneously relevant for over 30 years....I would argue that was his distinctiveness.” she says.
Looking at Lagerfeld’s Chanel, he brought the house’s tropes into the late 20th century, but they already existed. The tweed, the camelias, the quilting, the interlocking Cs and gold chains all existed within the archive. The most famous bag shape, the 2.55, was created in 1955 and is still a juggernaut today.
Benjamin Wild, Cultural, Historian, Writer and Lecturer, says, “For sure, there are many similarities between the men - longevity and the ability to contemporise classical styles, not least - but it is interesting to note the increasing number of voices that are coming forward to comment on Lagerfeld's less savoury social attitudes and comments. In a week where major fashion brands have withdrawn items from their Spring/Summer collections because of their perceived racism and insensitivity, it seems to be a sign of the times that Lagerfeld's character and creations are also being examined in a forensic manner as people recognise that person and portfolio cannot be - and should not be - so easily disentangled; if we are to understand Lagerfeld's contribution to fashion, we need to be frank about who he was, and this will, I think, leave for a more accurate, but disputed legacy.”
Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel was through the boom of designer brands and luxury clothes. Bohan’s was in a much smaller industry and no doubt had to design few collections than the six Chanel creates every year. Lagerfeld’s Chanel was much bigger, so it’s interesting that even fewer designs of Lagerfeld’s have stuck. But, also, today, there is now so much more competition.
It’s often what comes after and how good it is that really pushes a designer into the background. When Galliano created his Dior, it was a fantasy of couture, yet still managed to leave behind his strong DNA - the Masai neck, the saddle bag and the famous Dior newspaper print are all Dior signatures still attributed to him today.
Chanel is privately owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gérard Wertheimer, the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of Coco Chanel. After Lagerfeld’s death, Virginie Viard, fashion studio director and Lagerfeld's right-hand woman at Chanel, was announced as taking over the creative leadership. No doubt she’ll be in charge to offer a respectful gap to Lagerfeld’s legacy, but, ultimately, this is one of the plummiest jobs in fashion and many designers would kill to fill those shoes and offer their own take on Chanel’s future. Like many brands, it may take a few goes to find the perfect fit and I’m not sure anybody would stick around, or be allowed to stick around, for over three decades today.
“I think to get the best out of Chanel, it now needs to push the brand boundaries - not in a Balmain or Balenciaga ‘sell out’ begging-for-attention from the Instagram generation manner, but it needs to become more relevant. I feel Chanel has sunk into a comfort zone that rich women seeking affirmation or middle class basic bitch types aspire to.” says Katie Chutzpah, Fashion Blogger.
Lagerfeld is, of course, respected for his prolific and long career, but, what left is distinctively “Lagerfeld”? You have to separate the man and his designs. When his domineering character is quietened by his death, it will be his designs and collections which will have to fight with what went before, and what will, now, come after.
“If Karl Lagerfeld had just concentrated on Chanel, then I think he would've been forgotten, but his influence was so pervasive across popular culture. Despite his work at Chanel, he was actually a modernist and early-adopter of technologies. From fashion to art, photography, product design, and even music, he was always there at the edge, and I think that will be his true legacy, not reinventing a tweed jacket every three months.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
This isn’t about trashing Lagerfeld’s career, it’s an unemotional look at the things we can directly attribute to him. Clearly, Chanel has been a huge success under his guidance, but it had very strong foundations on which to build. In a few decade's time, will Lagerfeld’s chapter at Chanel be remembered as vividly and fondly?
It turns out Christian Dior liked English food. Clearly a charmer and a man who knows his audience, Dior had a strong relationship with London and the British royal family. Many of you probably saw snippets of this exhibition on people's Instagrams when it was in Paris last year. This is the same, but with an added room explaining his relationship with London. The Victoria & Albert museum did the same with Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty.
This giant Dior exhibition, the largest ever in the UK, charts the miraculous growth and influence of Christian Dior up to the present day.
The staging and room sets are stunning. The lighting and displays make everything look sumptuous. The only negative is, the space will quickly become congested, as there isn't much room to move, so I would recommend visiting this early or later in the day.
This is pure fashion escapism and is a visual feast, illustrating womenswear from the second half of the 20th century.
From the "New Look" of 1947 to Maria Grazia Chiuri's present incarnation of Dior, every Creative Director is covered.
John Galliano steals the show and illustrates how he took Dior couture to the maximum of its creative possibilities. It leaves you wanting a solo Galliano exhibition.
Everything in the exhibition is couture and handmade and there's a beautiful rainbow display showing all the accessories and costume jewellery.
Dior is one of the biggest brands in the world, today, and while this is a fantastic display, I didn't leave knowing anymore about the man himself. The exhibition is fairly light on information, but I guess the idea is for crowds to flow and for the museum to really pack in the numbers.
Dior sent the benchmark for mid-20th century femininity and it's fascinating how the brand continued to grow even though he died just over a decade after the company was established. Dior is one of the most coveted of French fashion houses and, while the last two creative directors haven't been particularly inspiring, it's interesting to see how that shape of 1947 continues to resonate.
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - Until 14th July 2019 - £20
While you're at the V&A, you could visit the Mary Quant exhibition.
Charlie Bucket spent his last coin on a chocolate bar in the hope that it would contain a golden ticket and gain entry behind the guarded gates of Wonka’s magical factory. If Roald Dahl were to write the story, today, Veruca Salt, the spoilt brat with the "I want it NOW, daddy!!!" attitude, would probably want to see behind the walls of Louis Vuitton or Chanel rather than Cadbury’s or Nestlé.
Her wishes were granted, last month, when LVMH expanded the fourth edition of its ‘Les Journées Particulières’ open days event. Seventy six venues across four continents held 'open days', with 38 never having been open to the public previously.
The event saw 56 fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Tag Heuer and Nicholas Kirkwood, taking part. New experiences included the opening of the Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the perfume creation workshop shared by Parfums Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in the centre of Paris and the Louis Vuitton workshop in Ducey, Normandy. It was also possible to reserve an exclusive tour of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s last residence in Montauroux.
Left - Inside Private White V.C. in Manchester
‘Les Journées Particulières' launched in 2011 and is a LVMH marketing exercise in harnessing the desire and interest from people to see the inner workings of brands they admire and respect. It’s this element of being able to see things you feel aren’t usually on display, demystifying the processes and laying bare the inner workings of these brands that gets people to make the effort to visit.
Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, recently tapped into this enthusiasm by auctioning the ultimate watchmaking experience by putting two VIP tours of its workshop in Switzerland up for sale. The brand hired Sotheby’s to auction the experiences, which comprise two separate lots that it claims represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness its work up close. Each involves a behind-the-scenes tour through the Vacheron Constantin Maison, accompanied by style and heritage director Christian Selmoni.
It’s this ‘magic’ that people want to see and the attraction and interest in seeing how things are made and a celebration our industrial history is expanding as more brands open up their factories to the public. It gives products a halo effect of ‘special’ and really cements the brands into people’s minds and memories in a positive way.
I always say, when you go to a factory, it’s a bit like going to a friend’s house for the first time: you really get a fully rounded and immersive experience and a lasting memory. It’s a familiarity you can’t get in a shop or by simply wearing the product.
Solovair produce their shoes in Northampton under their parental badge of The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) founded in 1881 by five men in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Ashleigh Liversage, Online Marketing Manager, NPS Shoes Ltd. says, “As more and more brands move their manufacturing outside of the UK it is important to us that our customers can come see for themselves how their footwear is made by our skilled workers in our factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
Right - Exterior of the Private White V.C. factory in Manchester
“Our Managing Director takes the group on a tour through the factory offering an exciting insight into all areas of shoe production,” says Liversage. “The NPS Factory tour follows specific content-related criteria, giving guests access to all shoe production technologies: the ‘Clicking’ or cutting Room, Closing room, Levelling / Making Room, Shoe Room, while machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century,” she says.
“The feedback from our customers is why we continue to offer the tour, they love to see how and where their footwear is made and hear about the history and heritage of NPS Shoes,” says Liversage. “Even those with no particular interest in footwear have commented how interesting the tour is. We have people come from all over the UK to attend our tours and even had visitors from Canada once!” she says.
Over in Manchester, Private White V.C., has the last remaining clothing factory in the world’s first industrial city. Mike Stoll, Factory MD, says the reason they have a factory tour is, “To raise awareness: we actually are real and make our special garments near Manchester City centre.”
“Most people that make the tour either make a purchase or send someone who does. It spreads the word,” says Stoll, but, “It only works if you have something to see. This building is unusual and the way we currently manufacture is unique.”
North of the border, Johnstons of Elgin produce some of the world's finest knitwear and blankets. George McNeil, Johnstons of Elgin, Retail Managing Director, says, “Rarely does the public get an insight into how their products are made, and the entire craft behind the process, and so this is a chance to see quality in the making and also to understand our rich and unique history.”
Visitors get to see “Everything!” says McNeil. “Our cashmere goes from raw fibre, through dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing by the latest generation of craftsmen, all in our Elgin mill.”
“If a brand has the personal touch to each and every product, like ours, it is hugely beneficial to educate the consumer,” says McNeil. “We are in fact the last remaining vertical mill in Scotland to take raw fibre to finished product – from goat to garment – making this traditional process unique in current times. As consumers continue to prioritise where their belongings come from, and become more curious about the work that goes into them, they will demand to know more and brands will answer.” he says.
Not all brands can offer this openness though. Brands often produce for other people, called ‘Private Label’, and many brands like to keep their producers and suppliers out of the public domain.
“As a manufacturer for over 160 different brands, we actually don't allow factory visits because of the issues they can cause,” says Rob Williams, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Hawthorn International, who produce apparel for various brands. “Many fashion brands prefer for their manufacturer to keep their identity private, so that their costs cannot be revealed and so that their designs can't be shared between brands who all use the same manufacturer,” says Williams.
“Because privacy and confidentiality is so important to our clients, we found that it caused a huge logistical problem to organise factory visits without the visitor seeing any intellectual property of our other clients,” he says.
Left - Johnstons of Elgin's mill in Elgin, Scotland
Factory tours work because of a growing niche of people’s fascination with being educated about the things they buy. It works for brands who want to tell their story and, often, explain why you are paying a premium for the products. Admittedly, you get shown what they want you to see, but, it's this openness and sharing that creates an atmosphere people want to buy into.
This is the National Trust for the fashion geeks amongst us and it’s growing in popularity. Johnstons of Elgin has tea shops and restaurants attached to their mills which can also be a revenue maker for the company.
The tour makes the product come alive, you can picture what you’re buying being made and this really is the ultimate souvenir. People love a factory tour with a final stop at the factory shop for a bargain. Who needs a stately home when you can have a Victorian shoe factory?
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Arguably the greatest fashion designer of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent, is synonymous with Marrakech and North Africa. I’d wanted to visit Marrakech for a while, now, and when the new YSL Museum opened in October, it was definitely the thing that cemented my reason for going.
Left - Take your ChicGeek selfies before you go in because the exit is on the side
Located on the same street as the famous Jardin Marjorelle – it was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980 to stop it being developed into a hotel. The new owners decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle,” - the new museum is testament to Saint Laurent’s talent, his 40 years career and his connection with the city. Built by the Fondation Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s life and business partner, the two museums bearing his name - there’s another new one in Paris BTW - are preserving his archive and legacy.
The 4,000 m² building includes a 400m² permanent exhibition space devoted to the work of Yves Saint Laurent and designed by Christophe Martin. The museum also includes a hall for temporary exhibitions, a research library with over 5,000 volumes, a 140-seat auditorium, bookshop and terrace café.
Right - The iconic Mondrian dress welcomes you into the main exhibition space
The new building has something of the Frank Lloyd Wrights about it. The low-rise, concrete and brick finish, designed by French architectural, Studio KO, has a 20th century modern feel and is beautiful in its simplicity.
As you enter the circular entrance you’re greeted by the timeless and elegant YSL logo - take all your pictures and selfies now, as you won’t be coming back this way - once inside there is a green tiled fountain in a glazed courtyard.
There is a small, temporary exhibition space, painted Marjorelle blue, currently showing the paintings and illustrations of Jacques Majorelle, the creator of the garden. This space will change up to three times a year with different exhibitions and it was interesting to see what a talent Majorelle was. Think Art Deco Arabia.
In the main exhibition space, everything is dark and meticulously lit. The first thing you see is Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Mondrian dress, an item of clothing so simple, yet original, and part of the explosion of pop we saw in the mid-sixties. This is, rightly, one of the greatest items of women’s fashion from the 20th century.
Left - There was a strict no pictures policy, I never quite understand why, so here's one of the museum's images of the beautifully lit main exhibition space
There’s a small sketch of the classic logo, designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1961, and, then, the room opens out into a timeline charting the life and career of the designer.
At the end of the room is a collection of classic, black ‘Le Smoking’ suits. Saint Laurent revolutionised womenswear by making it acceptable for women to wear black tailored dinner suits.
As you turn, a double height portrait of Yves surveys a collection of looks from his career. There is no chronology here, and even the worst type of 80s gypsy or Russian dresses look great due to the lighting. Towards the end there is a large display cabinet with lots of accessorises and fashion jewellery. The pieces with lots of embroidery and Braque-like birds really sparkle in the black space with the shiny floor adding to the sumptuous feel of the exhibition.
As you leave, you enter into the gift shop with its red lacquered walls. There’s a café across from the auditorium showing catwalk shows from Yves Saint Laurent’s career. The exit is here, with Prickly Pears lining the walk back to the street, letting the small museum flow with visitors.
There isn’t any menswear in the museum, but, if you like fashion, there’s plenty to enjoy. Small touches reinforce the power of this brand. I’m not sure if Kering, the parent company of YSL, had any input here, but they must be very pleased with the result. The brand definitely goes up in your estimation and puts itself in the enviable position of having lots of recognisable brand signatures and designs.
Even the subtle touch of two separate fuchsia pink and tangerine coloured glass windows reflects the small coloured squares on YSL’s ready-to-wear ‘Rive Gauche’ label and no doubt a colour combination taken and inspired by Marrakech.
Left - Born in Algeria, Yves Saint Laurent is synonymous with North Africa
A pioneer, Yves Saint Laurent was the only fashion designer of his generation to systematically archive his work, beginning with the founding of the couture house.
Beginning in 1964, Yves Saint Laurent decided to set aside for safekeeping certain pieces from every collection. The Fondation Pierre Bergé’s holdings include every entire haute couture collection made by Yves Saint Laurent between 1962 and 2002. The Fondation also safeguards 65 Dior garments designed between 1955 and 1960 while Yves Saint Laurent was Christian Dior’s assistant, before becoming the couture house’s creative director.
Right - TheChicGeek outside the recently opened museum
Unfortunately, Pierre Bergé died a few weeks before the museum officially opened. But, with his ashes now in the Jardin Marjorelle, along with Yves, they are both now part of an exciting and stylish cultural quarter in Marrakech which charts the career and development of one of the biggest 20th century brands in fashion. The museum is a definite must if you're visiting Marrakech and the Jardin Marjorelle.
Below - Designed by French architectural firm Studio KO, the museum has a feeling of a Frank Lloyd Wright meets Marrakech aesthetic
TheChicGeek was a guest at Le Palais Paysan around 25 minutes from central Marrakech by car with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains and surrounding countryside. See more here