We all have much to learn from excellence. Soaking in the wonder and beauty of the Dior and Cartier exhibitions over a few absorbing hours, one gets a sense of history of the business and what it has taken to sustain. Design traditions form a core; loyalty to signature colours, design and cut, individually and collectively, comprise an exquisite finished product at each particular stage of history.
Just the same, both design houses demonstrated capacity to innovate, incorporating different materials and new techniques, responding to, as well as leading, cultural and technological change. Ultimately we all benefit in the flow through to widely adopted techniques and inexpensive copies.
Wars and personnel changes affected both businesses catering to high end clients, as did the shift of new money from Europe to the United States. Vision and adaptability was not limited to design and materials, which shows no business or person is spared challenges. Importantly, attention to customer requirements reigned, as patronage and promotion through privilege proved a boon to repeat custom.
Dior maintained traditional colours: white/cream, black and a very rich, deep red that spoke to me. Truly feminine shapes with waists, sculptured and fuller skirts enhanced the overall design, whether in flouncy materials or solid fabric.
A special section marking relevance to Australia displayed artefacts and news reports of Dior’s exhibition at David Jones in 1948, not long after the early days of Christian Dior’s independent foray as lead designer of the business. Each new lead designer introduced innovation to design to adapt to the times, yet remained loyal to the initial style, shape and colours. We learn respect for core values has flow on benefits. Miranda Kerr’s wedding gown epitomized Dior feminine shape and sculptured style.
In the part of the exhibition that showed how an exceptional outfit is made, one gains an appreciation of the sheer numbers of people involved and the extraordinary skills, honed over years of experience to a level of excellence. The light of many talents shines through a gown marketed by an exclusive French design house to wealthy, privileged patrons.
As we now know the business expanded into hats, handbags, shoes and other accessories like perfume that are more generally available. From high-end exclusive design comes opportunities to enjoy beauty at a level with which we are comfortable.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, as the song goes, but there was a time when pearls outshone them in value. Cartier traded two strings of pearls for the site of their New York house.
Patronage from the royal houses of Europe, especially Great Britain and her empire, ensured the house of Cartier was able to build an enduring legacy. Again, there was loyalty to the traditional round cut diamond as its signature style, enhanced by other innovations: emerald, cabochon and baguette cuts.
Artisans involved in perfecting a piece included the designers, cutters, polishers and setters. As with Dior, the light of these skilled people shines through in a finished piece. When we celebrate the tiara, ring, brooch, necklace and ear rings, we are paying tribute to the people who helped complete something beautiful.
Being able to view special jewelry pieces owned by the famous celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Queen Elizabeth (who loaned pieces for the exhibition) and Dame Nellie Melba, stirs memories and wonder.
The Tall Poppy
The tall poppy syndrome has always been alive with envy, dissatisfaction and injustice. Wealthy patrons, outliers with the money to commission and afford exceptional outcomes, often also paid dearly in other ways. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their heads and their lives over the extravagance of building the Palace of Versailles. Similarly the Russian Tsars, the Hapsburgs in Prague, the Ming and Qing dynasties’ Forbidden City in Beijing, yet the fruits of their extraordinary visions of aggrandisement linger for commoners all to enjoy, decades and centuries on, showcasing depth of culture and knowledge to become mainstays for tourism export dollars in sometimes flagging economies. If North Korea opens its borders, perhaps in time we will be able to visit a de-nuked site or labour gulag and pay for the privilege.
In Australia we have the enduring legacy of a national emblem in the visionary Sydney Opera House designed by Jorn Utzon. Utzon never returned to this country after shabby treatment from the less inspired.
In each of us there is a gem upon which the light should shine. It is up to us to bring that gem out from under the bushel of modesty, lack of confidence or reticence. Also Implicit in the message is the decree to let the light of others to shine. We need to be big enough, self-assured enough and generous enough to allow us to appreciate the gem in others. That might mean putting aside destructive envy, jealous and inverse snobbery in order to appreciate the richness in others, as well as ourselves, as more often than not, we stand to benefit.