Haute Couture (or “High Fashion”), as the name suggests, is not for just anyone. It is the pinnacle of fashion, made specifically to the exact dimensions of the wearer, in high quality, luxurious fabrics, virtually all by hand (the seams are machine sewn), and a single garment can take up to 4 months to make. But, when it comes to Haute Couture, you’re not just buying a piece of clothing; you’re buying a piece of art!
So who wore this Dior?
It is a three piece suit of blue wool serge designed by Christian Dior for the Spring 1950 ‘Vertical Line’ collection. It features a bodice with long pencil skirt and swing back jacket. The Museum purchased the outfit from a vendor in London in 1994, who informs us that it was owned by a female member of the Firestone family (founders of the Firestone tyre company) of Detroit, USA.
Of the women in this family, Mrs Elizabeth Parke Firestone is the most thought-of for her expensive taste and fashion sense. Elizabeth (1897-1990) was married to Harvey S. Firestone Jr, son of the founder of the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company. Her daughter, Martha Firestone, married William Clay Ford Snr, grandson of Henry Ford.
Mrs Elizabeth Parke Firestone, Image courtesy of The Henry Ford Research Center
Between 1915 and 1975, Elizabeth acquired an impressive wardrobe of Haute Couture garments, many of which are now in the collection of the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan, and gained a reputation for being one of America’s “best dressed women”. Dior and Balenciaga were her preferred designers and amongst the collection is a 1952 Christian Dior red silk faille dress with matching shoes, a sketch for a gown sent for approval in 1956 (Elizabeth often purchased garments without ever having tried them on!) and a stunning 1953 Balenciaga linen print dress.
Some research with the Benson Ford Research Center, however, was unfortunately unable to confirm if Elizabeth was, in fact, the owner of this suit. Their collection of Firestone Family Papers includes several folders of correspondence with Christian Dior, but alas, without any reference to this 1950 piece. However, not all of Elizabeth’s couture collection went to the Center. Some were also sold at auction and some were donated to colleges in Ohio.
Image courtesy of The Henry Ford Research Center
In the meantime, if anyone can shed light on the Firestone family and this particular Dior suit, please let us know.
Next week, I will be taking you inside the suit – looking at the intimate details normally obscured to the eye – and the workmanship involved in making a couture suit, like this, sit absolutely perfectly on the wearer!