“Who made my clothes?” is an entirely reasonable question and yet not one that is always guaranteed a straightforward answer. If you’re keen to see a positive example of a sustainable approach to clothes-making, look no further than the recent installation from Brothers We Stand at the Amnesty International Headquarters in London and the V&A’s upcoming exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”.
Brothers We Stand, who make ethically sourced menswear, are tackling the problem of integrity and visibility of workers. Their installation features a lifelike portrait, hand-painted onto t-shirts, showing the faceless workers who slave to make the clothes in unbearable and inhumane conditions. The brand hopes to highlight how important buyers rights are, and that consumers will start to question their buying cycle and boycott companies who abuse their workers throughout their shady supply chains.
Next year’s couture extravaganza at the V&A is particularly impressive. Expect to see over 500 objects on display, with over 200 rare haute couture garments from exclusive in-house archives. You can also watch exclusive footage celebrating Christian Dior’s relationship with the Royal Family. Step back in time, and get transported through the decades to experience the Dior woman’s love affair with the ballgown. ‘The Ballroom’ will feature gowns by all six artistic directors, as well as Dior’s original designs, with current celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron and Lupita Nyong’o, ensuring the label is still relevant today.
Christian Dior’s groundbreaking ‘New Look’ shape has been carried on by his protegees (including the six artistic directors: Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Bill Gaytten, Raf Simons as well as the current designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri) who have ensured that the fairytale evening gown – in its numerous guises – will always be a stalwart of the brand.
The fact that couture is such a specialist industry is one of the reasons that it remains popular with the elite. Using premium (sometimes rare) fabrics, precious embellishments and unique trimmings, the role of designer and artist are blurred as each piece is painstakingly constructed as a piece of body armour. Obsessed with creating unique and show stopping pieces, the off-the-shoulder Christian Dior couture gown that Princess Margaret wore to her 21st birthday party in 1951 is also a highlight of incredible craftsmanship.
The seamstresses known as ‘Les petite mains’ (literally small hands) are sought after and respected, and are often fiercely loyal to a fashion house, spending their whole career solely at one brand. Painstakingly constructed, these items are made-to-measure by hand, resulting in pieces of clothing that are both unique and meticulously perfect. Each garment takes skilled workers hours and hours to create, and their time time is valued accordingly. The elegant showstoppers dictate the scene for high street copies, but here, the couture designers are totally involved throughout the entire design process and the quality of the garments means that they do not lend themselves to fast fashion copies. The ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ installation will showcase an extensive archive of related products. From toiles from the Dior ateliers to costume jewellery, hats, shoes and bags, through to illustrations, miniature dresses and archive lipstick and perfume bottles, all will be on display, making this an affordable way to buy in to the luxury label.