Saturday, December 29, 2012

History's Runway: A Theatre Costume by Dior, 1958

Costume, 1958
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This fully-fitted, front-fastening jacket of carmine wool and mohair fastens edge to edge at bust level and is embellished with false buttonholes and self-covered buttons to either side of the V neckline which is trimmed with ivory lace. It features full-length sleeves trimmed with self covered buttons. The jacket is worn over a curved skirt adorned with bold satin bands in sand and beige silk which cascade to floor level. The ensemble is finished with a small natural straw hat trimmed with beige and reddish net.

While this outfit looks like a true Nineteenth Century gown, it is, in fact, a theatrical costume which was designed for the role of Paola in “Duel of Angels” in 1958. It was originally created by the celebrated couturier Christian Dior for the noted French actress Edwige Feuillère. The gown was recreated for Vivien Leigh when she took over as Paola in the London production of the show. By the time Leigh took the part, Dior was dead and so the costume was recreated by the London costume firm Bermans.

Dior was careful to imbue the costumes with the accurate details of the period in which the play was set - 1859 - while reinventing the period style in his own taste. Dior incorporates touches that could only be of the 1950s. For example, the box pleats in the skirt are solely characteristic of the mid-Twentieth Century. Care was taken to assure the actress’ comfort. Instead of forcing them into actual period corsets, Dior devised the jacket to have a built-in shaping structure which gave the illusion of corseting without actually binding the performers.

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