FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature a fabulous ballgown designed by fashion icon Christian Dior. This garment is currently not on display, so we offer you this exclusive online viewing!
Christian Dior established his couture fashion house in Paris just as Europe began its slow recovery from World War II. Launched in December of 1946 with funding from cotton magnate Marcel Boussac, Dior’s first line presented groundbreaking designs that redefined fashion in the post-war era. The “New Look,” as it came to be known, featured garments characterized by full skirts that fell below mid-calf, small waists and prominent bust lines. After the fabric rations enforced during the war, these ample cuts caused a quiet riot in the American fashion world, but were nonetheless quickly accepted.
During the war, many Parisian fashion houses shuttered their doors and the exportation of styles to the United States ceased. As soon as the war ended, American retailers like Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Neiman Marcus in Dallas and I. Magnin & Co. in San Francisco swiftly returned to France to purchase couture designs and fabrics, and a close relationship between the San Francisco retailer and the house of Dior ensued.
When the French government awarded Grover Magnin the prestigious Medal of the Legion of Honor for this support of French fashion and textiles, Christian Dior attended the ceremony held in San Francisco. I. Magnin & Co., a valued Dior customer, purchased couture models and fabrics from the French fashion house to sell in the store’s San Francisco custom salon.
During that same visit, Dior participated in a benefit gala staged in the I. Magnin & Co. store on Union Square that featured six showpieces from his 1949 Milieu du Siecle collection. Among these, were the incomparable Venus and Juno gowns, both of which Grover Magnin deemed “museum pieces, not for sale.”
The bodice and skirt of the Juno gown are made of white silk tulle embroidered with iridescent blue, silver, copper, purple and green sequins. The billowing graduated skirt made of horsehair-lined tulle and silk net dwarfs the diminutive bodice. This gown, along with its partner Venus, were presented to the Fine Arts Museums with the following notation:
I. Magnin & Co. presents with pleasure to the de Young Museum, two magniﬁcent evening dresses by the master, Christian Dior. These creations were brought to America because I. Magnin & Co. feel that as fashion leaders, it was their responsibility to let the women of California see them. It is believed they will be a document for future generations, portraying the greatest talent and genius of the present era.
Juno and Venus represent the first Christian Dior gowns as well as the first couture pieces to enter into the Museums' costume collection, where today they remain highly prized. In addition, Jean Magnin’s voluminous scrapbooks chronicle the close relationship between I. Magnin & Co. and Christian Dior and are preserved in the Textile Study Center.