The Red Christian Dior dress now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto

Royal Ontario Museum not shying away from controversial Dior dress linked to anti-Semitism

The theatre located underneath the Royal Ontario Museum, the Signy & Cléophée Eaton Theatre, saw a number of people come in for a lecture February 9, 2013 on the Dior red dress.

The senior curator of textiles and costumes, Alexandra Palmer, spoke to the audience about her decision to commission the dress from Dior and how it was the centre piece of the new ROM exhibit “BIG”.

During the lecture, the ROM also showed an documentary about the making of the dress: it took the Dior tailors 500 hours to make the $100,000 dress.

Passage #5 is the name of the dress that the French fashion house’s disgraced designer John Galliano made for the Dior Spring 2011 collection. A month after it hit the runway,  Galliano was videotaped making drunken anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris bar.

The French government later charged the designer for his comments and Dior top brass quickly moved to fire him.

Galliano apologized for his behaviour in January 2012, and stated that he’s been going to rehab for alcohol addiction for the past two years.

While the ROM’s exhibit curator didn’t discuss the controversial dress during her lecture, Alexandra Palmer did explain why the museum went after the dress to add it to the museum’s extensive textile collection.

“There’s a handful of couturiers, so you’re limited if you want to know couture dress stitches,” Palmer said in an interview. “I’ve done a lot of research on the house of Christian Dior, I’ve written a book on Dior, and the ROM has a good collection of historic Christian Dior dresses, so it fits in very well with our collection.”

Alexandra Palmer signs books at the Royal Ontario Museum lecture February 9, 2013.
Alexandra Palmer signs books at the Royal Ontario Museum lecture February 9, 2013. (ERIKA MARUCCI/TORONTO OBSERVER)

This Dior dress was caught in the net of the controversial matter when the ROM decided to buy it.

Some members of the Toronto Jewish community were upset by the purchase.

“If you look particularly in France, there seems to be a return of levels of anti-Semitism. So when a man of the statue of Galliano makes anti-Semitic comments, yes you will have people protesting,” said Anita Bromberg, the chair of legal affairs at B’nai Brith Canada. “I see a difference in ‘not forgetting’ and perhaps ‘forgiving’. Our organization won’t be asking for him to be banned from a display on fashion as long as he admits his mistakes and takes an opportunity to speak out.”

And so when asked about the Jewish community’s concern, curator Palmer emphasized that the ROM is not shying away from the matter.

“The dress is a representation of haute couture and it happens to encapsulate that moment, which is important to discuss and talk about,” Palmer said. “It’s a critical moment in the history of the house as well as for Galliano and for fashion.”

The timing of the lecture couldn’t have been better.  The designer was seen leaving a Manhattan townhouse on Wednesday February 13, heading to New York’s Fashion Week, wearing a black hat, a long black jacket and a curled hairstyle that raised eyebrows because of the resemblance to the typical Hasidic style of dress.