Dior at Blenheim

Growing up and living my whole like in the heart of London can be overwhelming. This is why it’s important to retreat to the countryside, absorb some much-needed fresh air and escape to the peaceful greenery. Thankfully, I spent most of my university years living in Surrey, but now, back in the city and crying out for that ‘British Countryside Weekend Escape’ I spent the day over the weekend at Blenheim Palace.

A little history lesson…

Blenheim Palace is over 300 years old; it’s a monumental country estate in Oxfordshire and the principle residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. The building of the Palace was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1St Duke of Marlborough, from a grateful nation for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians during the War of the Spanish Succession, culminating in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim.

The English-Baroque palace has had generations of Dukes and Duchesses gracing its grand hallways as well as being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

The palace is known for its wide collection of art and interest in modern art. The Blenheim Art foundation has commissioned modern masters to create pieces that are exhibited in and around the palace each autumn. At the moment, Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s artwork is placed around the palace.

The three rings, which make up the infinity sign, are symbolic. The two outer rings are, natural and artificial paradise. The center is the one we are ought to aspire to become.

Blenheim opened its gates to art and culture over the weekend. Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage Site and one of England’s greatest stately homes, which was the spectacular setting of the Blenheim Festival of Literature, Film and Music.

“A Match in Britain, a show made in heaven”

Justine Picardie, Editor-In-Chief of Harpers Bazaar and Town and Country, gave an interesting and inspiring talk about the history of Christian Dior at the Palace through her trial of family and fashion connections and the company’s return to the Palace earlier this year.

Christian Dior was first invited to showcase his collection in 1954 at the Palace by Princess Margaret. This one occasion and later in 1958 were both staged in aid of the Red Cross. The Duchess of Malborough who was then residing in the residence was a committed benefactress of the charity. The Duchess’ commitment was such that when she conducted a preparatory expedition to meet Christian Dior at his headquarters in Paris, she arrived dressed in her Red Cross uniform.

Princess Margaret had first seen Dior’s dresses from a private viewing of the ‘new look’ collection in 1947 at the French Embassy in London and was immediately impressed. She ordered numerous dresses, one included a while ball gown she wore for her 21st birthdaywhich she described as ‘my favourite dress of all.’

Justine Picardie’s profound account of her own family connections (her husband’s parents were at the Dior show at Blenheim back in 1954) and fashion history came in place, which has made her speech and words so intriguing to listen to.

After years of negotiation between the Duke, Justine and the trustees of the Blenheim estate, Dior returned to the Palace a third time this year to showcase their latest cruise show. There was a sense of the threads of history coming together with Dior at Blenheim Palace. The modern and contemporary look clashed with the historic and traditional architecture and interiors of the palace, however ‘the runway of canvas painted with a recurring traditional fox-hunting scene appearing on jacquard suits and tops interspersed with floral tea-dresses and classic tweeds. The collection, therefore picked up the classical reference of the British aristocracy, even though it was recalled not as beautiful as the dresses of the 1950s shows. The show seemed to suggest the possibilities of a dialogue between the past and the present; between the historic legacy of Blenheim and the eclecticism of contemporary Parisian couture.

Where do the history of clothes come into this? In fact clothes are what tells us about ourselves, sometimes-material clothes can be ignored.

Justine also briefly touched upon the importance of Coco Chanel as a female fashion designer and her role with the Duke of Westminster, which helped her gain fame in British aristocracy, influencing much or her designs such as the tweed jacket as well as how her personal life can be compared to Justine Picardie’s.

Some interesting facts…

Dressing in black and the Little Black Dress created in the 1920s by Coco Chanel were meant to demonstrate women’s liberation and independence.

The Chanel bag named Boy as well as a lipstick I own by Chanel also named Boy is named after one of her lovers.

Christian Dior’s designs in the 1950s in rose pink and dove grey symbolised flight and beauty.

The perfume Miss Dior was named after Christian’s younger sister Catherine after she passes away.

Chanel was enraged at the sight of Dior’s new creations in 1947 with ‘the new look’ and came back from retirement with a jacket and skirt suits. Here we can recognise how the history of fashion is woven into the history of wars.

The chain that runs around the bottom of the Chanel jacket was inspired by the chains with keys that the nuns used to wear when a young Gabrielle used to see living in a convent. Chanel gave women dignity by adopting traditional mens tailoring.

Many think that fashion is imposing a uniform, in fact fashion is a way to break away from the rules. For example, Chanel made it acceptable for women to wear trousers in a time when it was considered shameful.

There is defiance in fashion and provocativeness that Justine Picardie explains is not part of Harpers Bazaars illustrations of beauty, however still plays a significant part of fashion today… Perhaps I will write more on this topic. Stay tuned.


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