1950s elegance celebrated in Paris fashion exhibit

1950s elegance celebrated in Paris fashion exhibit
Three couture creations by fashion designers Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Pierre Cardin are displayed on July 10, 2014 at the Palais Galliera in Paris, as part of an exhibition on French fashion between 1947 and 1957.

PARIS - Cinched at the waist, with soft rounded shoulders and a swirling skirt, Christian Dior's famous "Bonbon" dress today appears the epitome of modesty and restraint.

But in 1947 - after years of clothing coupons and wartime austerity - this simple dusty-pink wool dress with a brown belt was nothing short of scandalous.

The French fashion designer had been yearning for a return to a more feminine silhouette to replace what he called post-war "soldier women with a boxer's build".

The hourglass-shaped "Bonbon" or "Sweetie" dress - one of more than 100 haute couture outfits that have just gone on display at a new exhibition in Paris - fitted the bill perfectly.

Dubbed the "New Look" by Harper's Bazaar magazine, this return to feminine curves was an immediate hit although the amount of fabric Dior's new designs required caused outrage.

During the war years, dresses were typically made from just three yards (metres) of material. By contrast, one of Dior's new evening dresses required no less than 25 yards of taffeta.

Dior himself attributed the huge success of the "Bonbon" dress not just to its being "pretty" but also to its price tag - it sold for much less than it cost to make because of a pricing error.

The style was highly influential and "found great resonance with other couturiers", according to Olivier Saillard, co-curator of the exhibition at Paris's Galliera museum of fashion.

For a decade from 1947, haute couture was dominated by a small group of male designers whose wasp-waisted dresses implied a return to the corset and the aesthetics of the Edwardian era.

"It's very elegant but it can also give the idea of a woman who is trapped by the mysteries of her seduction," Saillard said.

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