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Ohio State’s Snowden Gallery celebrates 70 years of Dior

A collection of evening gowns featured in the “Dior in Ohio: 1947-1997.” exhibition. From left to right, blue and white flower print silk organza dress, dark green silk satin cocktail dress with surprise bodice and short sleeves, off-white silk gauze strapless cocktail dress with multi-colored embroidery. Credit: Sydney Riddle | Lantern Reporter

When historians termed World War II a “total war,” no one would have thought the phrase applied to fashion –– except Christian Dior.

The Ohio State Historic Costume and Textile Collection is celebrating the 70th anniversary of  Dior’s World War II “New Look” in its latest exhibition, “Dior in Ohio: 1947-1997.”

The exhibit at the Snowden Gallery in Campbell Hall will feature a display of vintage Dior pieces, including ball gowns, daywear and suits worn by Ohio women –– especially the earth-toned blazer and mid-length skirt combo made famous by women in wartime.

In honor of the anniversary, curator Gayle Strege decided to honor the fashion house with an Ohio spin.

“All of the 51 garments on display were either worn by an Ohio woman or hail from an Ohio institution,” Strege said. “And at least half of them are from our collection.”

With the upstairs highlighting evening gowns and daytime dress and the downstairs showing pantsuits from five different decades,“we can physically see how fashion cycles through time,” Strege said, and the stylistic changes in aesthetic from generation to generation.

The gallery also features accessories such as shoes, scarves and hats.

The idea formed when the original House of Dior in Paris contacted Strege two years ago and asked her to send photographs of the Dior pieces Ohio State had in its collection in anticipation for the upcoming anniversary, Strege said.

Strege examined and photo-cataloged its Dior inventory, which sits at about “120 or so” pieces, Strege said. Realizing the extent of Ohio State’s supply, Strege said the request led her to the idea of showcasing Ohio State’s own artifacts as well as “significant designs from other institutions” such as Kent State, the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Strege said she noticed a trend of notable Ohio icons who had donated their vintage Dior over the years and saw the opportunity to make a connection.

“I thought, ‘Huh, there’s a pattern of well-known Ohio women who bought Dior and then donated it to these local museums,’” Strege said. “The thought occurred that we could really make this an Ohio-focused exhibit about Dior. It illustrates how fashion connected women in Ohio.”

Notable Ohio women among the donors are Elizabeth Parke Firestone, actress Dorothy Peters and her daughter Mary Peters Bolton, as well as actress Marilyn Maxwell, Strege said.

Most notable is Firestone, Strege said, as about one-fifth of the collection comes from her donations. Firestone is the daughter-in-law of Harvey Firestone, the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.

Student volunteer Lynn Overmier, a fourth-year in fashion and retail studies, described the exhibition as a history lesson and an art show.

Everything is strategically picked to reflect what was happening in history during the time the pieces were in style, Overmier said.

The gallery is wonderful because it allows students and, really, anyone in the area an up-close view of an iconic Haute-Couture designer,” Overmier said. “It also creates this sort of time capsule that transports you to 40s, 50s, 60s Ohio the second you enter the space.”

Overmier said students and faculty should see the exhibit because it is unlikely they’ll experience something similar in the future.

“When else will they get the chance to get to see a large collection of Dior masterpieces? I am a fashion major and we learn about some famous designers and to be able to see their work up close is a true treat,” Overmier said.  

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