30.9.11

Book Quote Friday: Dior by Dior

My dear friend Abi recently moved flat and city, prompting an urge to down-size her possessions, including, most shockingly, her books. So round I trotted to her increasingly empty flat, more concerned with sadness that she was moving than anything else, but of the 12 or so books she offered me, I picked up 11 and then went back for the 12th. She really does have excellent literary taste (in fact, as well as being my friend, she was also one of the most vocal members of my book club). Dior by Dior, an Autobiography of Christian Dior, was the first of this pile to reach that hallowed spot on my dressing table where hopes are fulfilled and dashed and literary heroes are made....


The particular edition I received from Abi was the V&A reprint that was published in order to coincide with the The Golden Age of Couture exhibit there in 2007. Indeed, I found ample proof within the book that Abi attended the exhibition herself: 




I so wish I'd gone too! The highlights look exquisite, and the book itself is lovely - witty, fresh and oh-so-French. I think the joy of it, apart from the sly anecdotes and frivolous gravitas of Dior's tone and style, is that it is amongst the most French-sounding English that I think I've ever read. Antonia Fraser (widow of Harold Pinter, writer of many a historical biography) did the translation for it back in 1957, and, if the translator's job is to convey the spirit and tone of the book, then she has hit the bullseye with this one - it's absolutely stunning. It's basically a French conversation using English words.


Here's a quote that hopefully illustrates that. I've chosen this one in particular as the white room is which the models are announced then picked to pieces reminds me of the white room with the sphinx cat and Gaga's diamond headdress in 'Bad Romance' (from around 2:00 if you click on the link; also how much does she looks like Amy Winehouse at 4:28?) Also, I read it in a teepee at Bestival (yes, I glamp), and the contradiction in circumstances pretty much blew my mind. The passage is actually a friend recounting a visit to a dress rehearsal at Dior before a grand unveiling:



'When I first reached the landing on the first floor, I lost myself in white muslin. Successfully evading this first barrage of snow, I had to overcome a second, through which I was firmly but courteously rebuffed by a disembodied hand. I heard the murmur of the word cabine (dressing room). To my right, a third and fourth curtain awaited me, which masked the entry to the grand salon, the aim of my expedition. I felt myself lost in an atmosphere of light and cleanliness. Furthermore, there was complete silence around me, but a silence full of rustling, rather like the silence in the theatre just before the curtain goes up. Then a hand lifted up the diaphanous curtain, and invited me to penetrate into the sanctuary.
I was immediately struck by a tremendous impression of whiteness. The whiteness reflected off the two rows of armchairs installed on my right, all covered in snow, on which several girls in white overalls were sitting. Quite free from the traditional gold and the crystal of chandeliers, the classic grey and white decoration of the walls, with their large mirrors, made me feel as if I was present at some council of ghosts. Then my eyes were dazzled by a fantastic Cinderella's trousseau, strewn on the carpet on my right. Accessories, whose beauty took one's breath away, luxuries and frivolities of every sort were there jumbled up in one delicious but ordered chaos, as though thrown down by the prodigal hand of a fairy godmother. I felt myself led by a benevolent hand and placed in a chair in the corner of the fireplace, clearly destined for me. I sat down and busied myself in trying to look as small as possible....
...It was at this moment that the curtains billowed, or to be more exact, a young woman parted them, in order to enter. From the door, she announced:
     'Un modele, Monsieur.'
     Then she revolved, advanced and smiled. Amidst the gentle ripple of discreet laughter, I realized that this was a traditional joke to pass the time of waiting. I heard remarks like:
     'She really must be taught to walk properly.'
     'You see, ma petite...'
     This last was greeted with a real gale of laughter. Obviously it was one of the favourite expressions of the absent master of ceremonies! As a bon mot it was a riotous success.
Around us, the spectacle was being got ready. The rows of chairs continued to fill up, with the exception of several armchairs in the middle, which obviously corresponded to that of the Presidencia at the Plaza de Toros in Madrid. The illusion of a bullfight was completed by the entry of a valet - who was enveloped in the inevitable curtain; he placed about ten clattering umbrellas on the table with the jewels, and then disappeared, fair, pink, and silent. Christian Dior's own place was recognizable by a peculiar installation: two pockets of brown holland ornamented the armchair to the left and the right. My neighbour informed me that these were for rubbers and crayons. In front of his chair, a stool supported two long pieces of paper and six pencils, sharpened like daggers. On the stool was a baton with a gold band...'

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