Le Petit Théâtre Dior - Haute Couture in miniature

On the 31st of May, Dior unveiled the exhibition Le Petit Théâtre Dior in Chendgu, China (open until the 20th of June). It is the first stop of this travelling exhibition, inspired by Théâtre de la Mode, a 1945–1946 touring exhibit of fashion mannequins, approximately 1/3 the size of human scale, crafted by top Paris fashion designers. Now, for the house of Dior, twelve installations retrace the history of the House and present miniature versions of the Bar suit, the dresses Schuman, Muguet, Miss Dior and many more. Minutely sewn to the millimetre, they resemble the originals down to the tiniest detail. It's not just an exhibition that's heading off around the world, it's the Dior spirit that's travelling, too.

So why is Dior making these miniature dresses, crafted with full-scale precision? "In a time when everything is tending to the machine. Dior should be more like an artisanal laboratory than the ideal of a factory" Christian Dior wrote in his memoirs. Even before founding his own House, the couturier recognized that the noble professions exercised by the artisans were inseparable from Haute Couture.

Pale pink and white silk bustier ball dress worn by Jennifer Lawrence for the 2013 Academy Awards.
Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013

At the time of the original Théâtre De La Mode exhibition, Christian Dior himself was working for Lucien Lelong, a venerable French fashion house and it is believed that he had a hand in making some of the original dresses. In the modern reinterpretation, even at only a third the size of the original model, each miniature dress in the Petit Théâtre Dior is produced with the master's exacting standards: based on a cotton toile in the purest Haute Couture tradition and with the same precision and rigour as the magical creations worn by Dior's clients.

J'Adore: Backless dress in nude-coloured silk chiffon, Belle Epoque gold necklace.
Special creation, 2011 for Dior perfume ad.

In couture ateliers time seems to stand still: embroidery is done by hand, as in the 18th century (and mostly in specialised small firms such as Lesage), miniature silk fabric flowers are made by hand, with delicate precision almost matching a neurosurgeon:.one can see them on the original Miss Dior dress, designed in 1949, as well as on the miniature version,made especially for this exhibition. To achieve this result, le petite main carries on as part of a long legacy; fabric petals are cut out by hand with a punch tool and the embossing is done with a period tool. Then both are fixed around a brass stalk to make the final flower.

The detail is so breathtaking that it seems the miniature dresses are even more exquisite and precious than their life-size counterparts. I wish I could have all of these made for my dolls and photograph them as couture models of this era. What a lovely assignment that would be.

White organza evening dress embroidered with “Pointillist” layered chiffon.
Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 2012.

Aventure: Black wool button-up skirt, black-and-white hound’s-tooth jacket with gored back.
Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1948, Envol line.

Opéra-Bouffe:  Short evening dress in candy-pink silk taffeta.
Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 1956, Aimant line

Schumann: White silk tulle ball gown trimmed in Valenciennes lace. Cascade of Dior roses at the back. Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1950, Verticale line.

Display at the exhibition - notice the oversize thimble and pin cushion contrasting the miniature dresses.