By  on February 27, 2007

Sixty years to the day since Christian Dior presented his first collection in Paris, an exhibition documenting the designer's special and often surprising relationship with Germany opened at Berlin's Kunstbibliothek.

More than an homage, the show, "Christian Dior and Germany, 1947 to 1957" (which runs through May 28), and accompanying catalogue (from Arnoldsche Art Publishers, Stuttgart) provide a rich illustration of early Dior fashion and accessories — much of the latter under German license — as well as their presentation and reception via newsreels, press reports and Dior German-language publications.

There are 20 original couture models from Berlin and other German collections, many presented for the first time. Seven are from Marlene Dietrich's wardrobe, including the three-piece evening dress "Saphir" from spring 1948, in which she reportedly "stole the show" at the 1951 Oscars; the day suit "Acacias," (spring 1949), which she wore on-screen in gray in Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" and offscreen in blue, as seen in Berlin, and a two-piece day dress and matching hat from the Dior New York prêt-à-porter deluxe collection from fall 1950 for the U.S. market.

Also on display are 24 original costume jewelry sets of rhodium, tombac (pinchbeck) or bronze with Swarovski glass stones and Dior pearls, produced between 1955 and 1957 for Dior by the Pforzheim, Germany, company Henkel & Grosse. Dior was a strong supporter of costume jewelry, as clearly stated in his "ABCs of Fashion," which was also published in German in 1954.

The house's choice of a German firm to do costume jewelry in what was at first a local and then a global license caused a political uproar in France, but financial considerations played a crucial role. Known for excellent quality, Henkel & Grosse, founded in 1907, had a strong international business prior to World War II, selling to stores like Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue in the Thirties. Due to such contacts, the company could guarantee a minimum turnover "which would have amounted to twice the total French costume jewelry export volume," catalogue essayist Maria Spitz wrote.

Dior's licensing division was set up in 1950, and the first German license for Christian Dior stockings went to Werner Uhlmann in Lippstadt. "Dior — Made in Germany" handbags were produced by Goldpfeil in Offenbach, and by 1963, the Paris house had concluded more than 65 licensing agreements worldwide.

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