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Publication and Press Releases
2009
May
Golden age of couture at Heritage Museum
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     More than 100 exquisite sets of dresses carefully selected from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (The V&A), including daywear, cocktail and evening dresses made for high society and royalty, will be shown at an exhibition entitled "The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947 - 1957" starting from tomorrow (May 30).

     The exhibition, which runs to September 28 at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, offers visitors an insight into fashion during its most artful, imaginative and powerful decade.

     Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the exhibition is jointly organised by the V&A and the Heritage Museum, supported by the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, and sponsored by Christian Dior. It is also a programme of Le French May, and a key exhibition of the Heritage Museum's "A Salute to Masters" exhibition series for 2009.

     Officiating at today's (May 29) opening ceremony were the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui, the Director of the V&A, Mr Mark Jones, the Consul (Culture & Science) of Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Jacques Soulillou, the Deputy Director (Culture) of LCSD, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Hong Kong Design Centre, Mr Freeman Lau, the Regional Managing Director of Asia Pacific Christian Dior Couture, Mr Diego Menarin, and the Chief Curator of the Heritage Museum, Ms Belinda Wong.

     This is a touring exhibition organised by the V&A. Following its success in London and Australia, the exhibition starts its tour of Asia with Hong Kong as its first stop. The exhibition showcases the creativity and socio-commercial qualities of haute couture, a sector built on glamour and workmanship. It also reveals the lesser-known domain of the couture houses.

     The exhibition celebrates an important decade in fashion history which began with the launch of the famous New Look by Paris fashion icon Christian Dior in 1947 and ended with his death in 1957. Couture thrived during these years, and Paris enjoyed renown worldwide for the luxurious creations that its fashion houses produced. Designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy, and their London counterparts such as Hardy Amies, John Cavanagh and Norman Hartnell also excelled.

     The couture industry was important to the prestige and economy of both France and Britain. While traditionally catering for wealthy private clients, the couture houses also sought new markets. As the decade progressed, they created perfumes, opened boutiques and licensed their designs to foreign manufacturers. By the late 1950s, the leading couture houses had become global brands.

     In 1939, there were 70 registered couture houses in Paris, including the grand establishments of Chanel, Schiaparelli and Balenciaga. This flourishing industry was disrupted by the wartime occupation of Paris. Private clients dispersed, international sales almost ceased and many couturiers closed. Towards the end of the war, in a time of great hardship, the Paris couturiers created the Théâtre de la Mode. This was an exhibition of about 200 dolls, dressed in the latest styles and arranged in theatre sets designed by artists such as Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau. The Théâtre toured to Britain, Scandinavia and the USA between 1945 and 1946, raising funds for war victims and promoting French fashion.

     Dior launched his couture house on February 12, 1947, and became an overnight sensation. His voluptuous collection was the antithesis of masculine wartime fashions. Instead, the designs featured sloping shoulders, a full bust and a cinched - in waist above full, long skirts. It was christened on the spot by Carmel Snow, editor of American Harper's Bazaar, as the "New Look". London couturier John Cavanagh described the style as "a total glorification of the female form".

     However, the large quantity of fabric required to create a New Look garment caused outrage in Britain as the general population was still under the fabric rationing regime after the war. The collection was shown in private to then Princess Elizabeth and other members of the royal family at the French Embassy in London. The New Look gained widespread popularity, particularly after Princess Margaret adopted it, attracted by its femininity and youth.
 
     The London couture trade took Paris as its model. Many British designers were trained in Paris. Although London could not compete in terms of output, its fashion and textile industry became increasingly profitable. For France, the couture industry was vital to the economy. In 1949, Dior alone provided 5% of France's national export revenue.

     Dior's death in 1957 brought this golden age to an end. With the changing social and economic climate, fashion moved from the fitting rooms and ateliers into the streets and boutiques. Yet, its legacy of artistry and craftsmanship survives in the remaining grand houses of Paris and the bespoke workshops of Savile Row.

     To enrich the content of the exhibition, photographs by renowned fashion photographers Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon and documentary film, textiles and archival material will also be on display.

     Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
 
     Admission to "The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947 - 1957" exhibition is $20 from Thursday to Monday, and $10 on Wednesdays. A half-price concession is available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, full-time students and people with disabilities.

     Car parking is available at the Heritage Museum. Those who prefer to use public transport may take the MTR to the Che Kung Temple station, which is within three minutes' walk of the museum.

     For enquiries, call 2180 8188. For details of the exhibition, visit the museum's website at http://hk.heritage.museum/

Ends/Friday, May 29, 2009
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1

One of the exhibits on display -"Les Muguets (Lily of the Valley)" evening dress by Hubert de Givenchy. The strapless bodice includes inset boning, so the wearer could step into the garment and not have to wear cumbersome corsets. This was standard in a couture gown. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

2

One of the exhibits on display -"Cocktail dress" by Michael Sherard. The flamenco dress was a recurring theme in 1950s evening wear. Sherard's version has a bell-like skirt and train made entirely of lace, his trademark fabric. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

3

One of the exhibits on display - "Evening dress" by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Balenciaga occasionally produced gowns that shared Dior's nostalgia for the grandeur of historical dress. Generally, however, his designs became increasingly abstract and restrained during the 1950s. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

4

One of the exhibits on display - "Evening dress" by Victor Stiebel. Given by Lady Templer, the wife of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Commander-in-Chief of the British and Commonwealth forces, the dress is an original model gown, bought late in the season at a reduced price. The straps were added at the client's request. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

5

One of the exhibits on display - "Cygne Noir (Black Swan)" evening dress by Christian Dior. This imposing gown is from Dior's sixth collection from 1947 to 1950. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

6

One of the exhibits on display -"Zémire" evening dress by Christian Dior. "Zémire" is one of Dior's most historical designs. It was named after an opera by Grétry, first performed at the royal palace of Fontainebleau in 1771. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum appear next to the image)

7

The opening ceremony of "The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947 - 1957" was held today (May 29) at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Pictured shows the officiating guests (from left) the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Hong Kong Design Centre, Mr Freeman Lau, the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Mr Mark Jones, the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui, the Consul (Culture & Science) Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Jacques Soulillou, the Regional Managing Director of Asia Pacific Christian Dior Couture, Mr Diego Menarin, and the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Ms Belinda Wong.

8

The officiating guests, the Under Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui, and the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Mr Mark Jones, tour the exhibition.

 

 

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