Little did I know when buying my house some 20 years ago that I had famous neighbours! Ok, I may be stretching the truth a little (by 44km to be exact!), but I honestly didn’t know that the town of Granville, birthplace of the world-famous couturier Christian Dior, was less than an hour away when buying my little house in France. Dior’s family home is now a wonderful museum, hosting magnificent exhibitions every year, and the family gardens are open to all and worth visiting.
Born in Granville in January 1905, Christian Dior was one of five children. His parents, Maurice and Madeleine Dior, moved the family to Paris in 1911, keeping the family home in Granville, Les Rhumbs, as a holiday home, although the family returned during WWI. Christian Dior opened his own fashion house in 1946, having previously opened an art gallery exhibiting work by Picasso, Matisse, and Dali, to name but a few, and then going on to sell his fashion designs to other milliners and couturiers. He also worked as a pattern cutter for the designer Robert Piget. In 1942 Dior joined the team of fashion designer Lucien Lelong, becoming the leading pattern cutter. In 1946, Dior decided it was time to branch out on his own, launching his own fashion label, and created twenty-two haute couture collections between 1947 and 1957, before his sudden death in 1957 in Italy. The family home was bought by the Granville town authority in 1938 after the 1929 financial crisis took its toll on the fertiliser business run by Maurice Dior, Christian’s father. Initially, the house was going to be demolished, but those plans were scuppered by WWII, and ultimately, the house was saved. The Dior Museum opened its doors to the public in 1997, after some renovation work.
Current pandemic notwithstanding, a small group of friends and I went to the Dior Museum recently, as a treat to ourselves. Although slightly nervous about being in such a public, and popular, tourist attraction, I was relieved to see all proper precautions were being taken. Only a specified amount of people were allowed into the house to see the exhibition at any time; my heart went out to the poor man on the door keeping track of how many had left the building, and how many he could now allow in, offset against how many had pre-booked, how many had just turned up on chance (me!), and how many groups there were! And he did all that with a smile that was so big it could be seen in his eyes, as he was partly hidden by the obligatory mask.
And so, after a short wait in a short queue, to the exhibition…
I have always loved clothes, even though if you were to see me right now (ok, confession time; I’m writing this whilst still in my pyjamas!) you would never know it. I have a fascination with fashion through the ages, which ties in with my love of history, but there is nothing that can quite prepare you for seeing right in front of you clothes that have been designed by such an important designer in the history of fashion. To say that every little detail in every item had been thought of would be an understatement. From buttons to pleats to fabrics to colours to embroidery, every single aspect of each design had been bought together seamlessly (no pun intended) and the end result was an array of perfection that just delighted the eye.
This year, the exhibition includes a variety of outfits, from evening gowns to everyday wear, with influences of the Dior characteristic “New Look” design being seen in some outfits. Through the exhibition, the visitor can the influence of not only Christian Dior, but of subsequent leaders of this famous fashion house, such as Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano. There is also a small peek into the work that goes on in the background, such as mannequins made for specific clients.
When most people think of the fashion house Christian Dior, they probably instantly think of the New Look, the (then) outrageous post-WWII design with its lavish use of fabric, which was still rationed at the time. Launched in 1947, its pinched waist, figure-hugging top and very full, ankle-length skirt gave women a new silhouette that was fun and exciting after all the years of hardship they had endured, and even though some thought it was far too decadent, it was embraced and enjoyed by many. I for one would love to be able to don such an iconic outfit, swishing my way around a reception room, cocktail in hand, greeting and passing time with the artistic elite. Knowing me, though, I would have hit half a dozen people with my wide-brimmed hat, my cocktail would have ended up all down my clothes, and my heeled shoes would have got caught in the hem of the skirt! Still, I can dream.
As we wandered through the exhibition, my friends and I would point out which was our favourite outfit from each cluster of clothing on show, point out which outfit would suit each other best (“I can see you wearing that!” could be constantly heard by other visitors), and numerous sounds and sighs of admiration at the designs, the colours and the craftsmanship involved.
All-in-all, I would say this is an exhibition worth a visit. It’s a well-curated collection of beautiful garments, in the perfect setting, that is both enlightening and awe-inspiring. You don’t have to have a love of fashion to be able to appreciate this exhibition; the designs are an art form in their own right and can easily be appreciated as such. Younger visitors of our small group were offered a small quiz which had them looking for certain dresses dotted around the exhibition. This not only made sure they had an additional reason to look at the dresses, but it also made sure that mums got a good look too when checking answers! And so you leave the building, not forgetting to say au revoir to the gentleman on the door so he knows to subtract you from his figures and allow new people in as your replacement…
...and now you have time to walk around the gardens!
Whilst I thoroughly enjoy the exhibitions at the Dior Museum, every single one of them, the gardens are an additional element to your visit that many hadn’t realised. Dior himself had a very active part in designing the gardens at his home, most notably the pergola and pond area. Although not large in area, the gardens are beautifully set and a delight to walk through. My particular favourite is the rose path, where different varieties of roses are planted along a pathway, with colours and perfumes subtly changing as you gently stroll through.
All the planted gardens have the most wonderful views of the sea, as the house is set at the top of a cliff; yet again, my imagination was sent soaring as I pictured myself sipping tea and nibbling on toast as I took breakfast under the pergola, overlooking the sea and enjoying the gentle sea breeze (my imagination only acknowledges good weather it would seem!).
One addition, in this most unusual of years, is the expansion of the Salon de Thé into a small restaurant. It’s still possible, and indeed I heartily recommend, to stop and take a cup of specially blended tea, surrounded by trees, overlooking the sea, and breathe in the sea air and you sit back and enjoy a little relaxation after all the hard work of being a tourist. This year, tough, you can now enjoy lunch in this outdoor dining area; there is a small, but perfectly prepared and delicious to eat, menu, although reserving a table is recommended, as it was busy. Reservations can be made online.
1 Rue d'Estouteville, 50400 Granville
Open July 1st 2020 to January 3rd 2021. Until September 30: every day from 10:00 to 18:30. Last admission at 18:00.
From October 1st: Tuesday to Sunday and every day during French school holidays, 10:00 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 18:00.
Last admission at 12:00 and 17:30.
Full price: 9 €.
Reduced price (students, jobseekers, disabled): 7 €.
Free for children under 12.
7 € per person (from 12 people, on reservation).
Free entrance for groups of 20 people or more (on reservation).
There is very, very limited parking at the museum itself. However, parking can usually be found in the surrounding streets, although you may need to make a few circuits until you find a space. My advice is to arrive early!