How The Saree Influenced Dior

Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM

We know how beautiful designer sarees can be. The intricate embroidery and beadwork, the vivid colours, the exquisite draping; but it isn't often that the craftsmanship of ethnic wear is appreciated by those in Western fashion—especially those in the haute couture world. But did you know that one of Western fashions' most-renowned designers was a fan of the saree? Christian Dior, whose infamous fashion house launched in 1946, was inspired by the shapes and lines of the saree blouse. And when you think about it, we shouldn't really be that surprised. Dior—the designer's namesake brand—was known for its boned, bustier style bodices. Many of his designs featured intricate (and discreet) snaps and buttons, and often, comprised of two separate pieces: a skirt and blouse top. The latter of which was meant to accentuate the wearer's waist, giving the illusion of a curvaceous figure. If you think about it, the mechanics of Dior's designs function much like that of a saree or lehenga: we're snapped into intricately designed saree blouses and draped in curve defining fabric. And it only takes one glance at some of the fashion legend's early designs to see the similarity, not only in the silhouettes of his pieces, but in the embroidery and draping.

It's also been said the the designer created his pieces (those tricky buttons and snaps) so that one couldn't dress without help. In essence, he wanted dressing to become a social activity, a bonding experience for the wearer and the friend, family member or lover who was inevitably fastening them into their gown. Who among us hasn't stood still while an aunt or friend has wrapped us into our designer silk saree? That's one of the best aspects of ethnic wear dressing—the camaraderie.

But Dior's reference to Desi design is most evident in his piece "Soiree de Lahore" from his Autumn 1955 collection. The dress features a distinct saree-esque wrap and intricate (yet familiar) embroidery and peacock design. While the inclusion of a turban may be dated (and a little problematic), it's clear who was Dior's' muse: the saree.


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