Montreal’s McCord Museum has three patterns of Maison Dior dresses, dating from 1959, in its archives. Before visiting the new Christian Dior exhibit (running September 25, 2020 to January 3, 2021) dedicated to the great couturier, we spoke with French Canadian designer Helmer Joseph, who transformed the patterns into garments.

Why did the McCord Museum call on you to create the dresses?

I had already made a few contracts for the house of Dior during the haute couture collections, when John Galliano was artistic director of the label. I was then called for my expertise to work on a specific model (including making a corset, a draped dress and a jacket with the brand’s emblematic houndstooth pattern). The McCord Museum asked me to recreate the Arthénice, Bella and Dolorès dresses while respecting the techniques of the time.

Helmer Joseph for Dior

Was the process complicated?

It has absolutely nothing to do with the dresses we design today! For example, for the Dolorès dress, everything is sewn in a single piece of duchess satin, 3 meters long; and for the Arthénice model, we had to make a hem of 45 centimetres, which added weight to the skirt, but which should not be visible. It was complex, especially since all Dior dresses are mounted on a corset. In all, I worked for over a month on the three creations.

What did you take away from this experience?

That we can design masterpieces with a sewing machine and our 10 fingers. I also learned that there was a way to make these creations, and that if you didn’t respect it, the result was not beautiful. Everything is there for a reason. At the time of Christian Dior, each one was also specialized in a specific field: you could spend 30 years placing staples, and there was not the versatility that we see today. The opportunity I had was a real pleasure and a great responsibility. And, above all, it’s a real gift for Montreal fashion.

Original sketches of the three dresses:

Dior Sketches

This article has been translated from French to English. 


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