Christian Dior exhibition at Granville in Normandy
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Enchanted by Dior? Love the dresses in the V&A’s highly
acclaimed exhibition, Designer of Dreams? Then don’t miss this year’s exhibition across
the Channel in Normandy at the great couturier’s childhood home on the west
coast of the Cherbourg peninsula.
Standing in shady grounds on the
clifftop above Granville, the Musée Christian Dior is a must-do, whether you
have a designer budget or, like me, just enjoy admiring celebrity fashions. Put up for sale in 1932 when his
industrialist father floundered in the economic crisis, it was bought by the
town who opened the garden to the public in 1938.
"I have the most tender and
wonderful memories of my childhood home", wrote Dior. "What can I say? Most of my life and style I owe to its
position and architecture."
Today the garden is open, free of
charge, all year round, whilst the house opens from April to November, the only
Musée de France entirely dedicated to a couturier. And each year, visitors can enjoy a
different slant on the life, work and inspiration of Christian Dior who died in
Italy of a heart attack in 1957, aged just 52.
The 2019 display sounds like one of
its most spectacular – 90 dresses that celebrate the 90th
anniversary of the birth of Princess Grace of Monaco. And 37 years after her death in a car
accident, the Hollywood actress turned European royalty is still a fashion
Grace Kelly wore Dior for her
engagement ball at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, carrying on her association
with the fashion house through its subsequent directors. In 1967, she became ambassador for the children’s
brand Baby Dior, and she always decorated her private bathroom with Dior
All the dresses in the exhibition Grace de Monaco, Princesse en Dior, have
been lent by the Palace of Monaco, and reflect her style and taste both as a
public figure and as a modern wife and mother. So expect elegance by the bucket load, but also a more informal
selection from the royal wardrobe. On
top of this, there will be photos, sketches, perfume bottles, and letters
between Princess Grace and the House of Dior.
Make sure you leave time too to
wander around the tranquil garden with its tree fringed lawns and coastal views. And don’t miss the bust of Dior himself,
gazing heavenwards from a plinth in the rose garden. The designer’s love of flowers began as a
child whilst watching his mother in her beloved garden, and he was to
incorporate floral motifs in many of his clothes – a passion he shared with
As a firm believer in the power of
women, Grace would also have found a kindred spirit in the House of Dior’s
current artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. "I am basically a feminist", the former actress once remarked. "I think that women can do anything they
decide to do."
So indulge your fashion fantasies
in the pink-washed villa in its floral garden and then head downhill to explore
the buzzing port of Granville. A town of
two halves, Granville is split between the busting area of shops and
restaurants at harbour level, and the historic Haute Ville on the promontory
From the 16th century
onwards, Granville was a major player in the cod fishing industry off
Newfoundland, and you’ll still see colourful boats returning with the day’s
catch. Once you’ve admired the sleek
sailing yachts and maybe had a seafood meal beside the water, wind up the hill
to the upper town.
The first people to live on the promontory were the
English, who settled here during the Hundred Years War when Normandy was part
of England. In the 16th
century, back in French hands, the town was licensed by Louis XIV for military
privateering – the legal capture of ships that belonged to enemy nations. Look out for the evocative cliff-top statue
of Georges-René Pléville Le Pelley, the privateer with the wooden leg, who was
one of 15 admirals based at the town during the Sun King’s reign.
The English built ramparts at Granville and 21st
century visitors can still enjoy the rare opportunity of crossing over a wooden
drawbridge as they pass beneath the main gate to enter the cobbled streets of
the Haute Ville. On the right, the
Museum of Old Granville houses maritime artefacts, local costumes and
Wander along streets of solid no-nonsense houses, splashed in
summer with floral window boxes; linger over a drink in pretty Place Cambernon;
and visit the Church of Notre Dame with its contemporary stained glass windows.
Granville is a great base for exploring Normandy’s far west
and the area around the Bay of Mont St Michel. You can even make like a sailor yourself and take a short trip by ferry
to the Channel Islands or to Grand Ile, the only inhabited island in the archipelago
of the Iles Chausey. Maritime Normandy
at its very best, with a designer fashion bonus!
‘Grace de Monaco, Princesse en
Dior’ runs from 27 April to 17 November 2019. Adults €9, concessions €5, under 12s free. Opening hours from www.musee-dior-granville.com. For tourist information on
Normandy, visit www.normandy-tourism.org.
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