Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Look Inside Dior Couture at the V&A

Working with mass produced clothes on a daily basis, as I do, can give you a somewhat altered idea of what a sewn garment should look like, and can affect the standards you apply to your own home made pieces. There are some good ideas about construction and technique to take away; there are also some things to avoid (not enough stuff is lined, as far as I'm concerned, and too many pieces have elastic waists, therefore avoiding the need for tailoring and fitting). Though the styles may not always be to my liking, I have to admit that the basic construction standards are usually good. Most things are slick and sharp inside and out, but there is no evidence of any human hand being involved in the construction - everything is correctly placed, seams are all overlocked, etc.

It was therefore very refreshing to see this when I visited the newly re-opened Costume Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum:

Inside detail of the bodice section of the Zemire ensemble by Christian Dior, 1954-55
 Here's a close up:

I love it! Notched seams, massive seam allowances, tiny hand stitching which a modern chain store customer would turn their nose up at, and no overlocking. You can see the 'hand' of the  person, or people, involved in making this piece.

Here's what it should look like when worn:

The bodice was part of this ensemble, consisting of jacket, skirt, petticoat, and bodice (source)

The ensemble has an interesting back story, which you can read about in detail here. The piece on display in the V&A was originally made for Lady Agota Sekers, who was wife to Miki Sekers, a British fabric manufacturer. This ensemble was comissioned from Dior and made out of cellulose acetate satin made at the Sekers mills who supplied not only Dior, but Balenciaga, Givenchy and others. Apparently it was common for Lady Sekers to comission designs by top couturiers to promote her husband's product. She sounds like a hoot - she often abandoned fitting sessions in order to go sight seeing around Paris! The Sekers company is still going - it celebrated it's 70th birthday in 2008. Read about it here and here.

Anyway, back to my main point - seeing the inside of this piece made me smile. I've never really got on with overlocking/serging, and I don't really mind if there are slight imperfections in any of my finished pieces. I see it all as a learning process, and any so-called mistakes just give each piece a bit of added character. And I'm so glad the V&A has thought to show the insides of not just this, but several pieces in their collection. I find it frustrating that so many non-sewers have no idea of the work that goes into the clothes on their backs; hopefully this tiny gesture will make an impression on a few visitors. That beautiful clothes can have personality inside and out, and that perfection isn't necessary for an item to have aa lasting impression.


  1. Great post, I totally agree - love shopping for handmade vintage clothes where you can see the marks of the person who made them. But I also enjoy looking at the finishing on well-made shop garments. You can get loads of ideas from both.

  2. Love it I have also save the link to the museum.

  3. Agi Sekers was a hoot – and my mum. The true story is that it was my father who commissioned the dresses. Agi, who was not at all vain, /hated/ the business of fittings, saying that if she was in Paris, she'd rather spend time with those of her family who lived there. God ! I remember the row when this dress was delivered, culminating in my mother saying to Miki, "It's no good. I'll never wear it. You'll have to send it back!" And that was why it was eventually found in a cellar in Paris. She could be a terrifying hoot (Once at an after-opening night party, I overheard her telling Peter Hall in her heavy Hungarian accent, "My darling, it it had only been ze play dat vas terrible ..."


I love comments!