Lined with majestic chestnut trees, imposing mansions and generous sidewalks, Avenue Montaigne in the heart of Paris’ 8th arrondissement bears an air of quiet, elegantly carried grandeur.
The casual stroller will notice the iconic red awnings of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, the hip scene outside L’Avenue restaurant, and affluent shoppers taking advantage of the slew of luxury boutiques bearing the names of Prada, Gucci and Chanel. The Seine is just to the south; the Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art are just a stone’s throw away.
When Christian Dior founded his high fashion home here in 1946, it was a calculated move aimed at attracting the neighborhood’s cultural and financial elites. Fast forward to 2022, and 30 Avenue Montaigne has reopened after a two-and-a-half-year major renovation. But how does a heritage fashion giant, now owned by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, translate the power of the 1947 New Look to a 2020s audience?
Originally built in 1865 for the widow of a politician who was said to be Napoleon’s illegitimate son, the building – created in the grand Haussmann style – was located in the right place and had all the potential to achieve the vision of Dior. As he so aptly put it, “Living in a house that doesn’t look like you is like wearing someone else’s clothes.
Dior’s interest in interiors had originally been cultivated by his mother, who involved the young Christian in decorating the family home in Granville, Normandy. Later, in Paris, with the help of interior designers of the day Victor Grandpierre and Georges Geffroy, and absorbing the influence of his contemporaries (before setting up his fashion house, he worked briefly as an art dealer for Duchamp, Dalí and Man Ray), Dior developed a design code that still resonates today. The result was a combination of neoclassicism, Louis XVI style – think gilt bronze, tall potted palms and the Empire tent – and the sobriety of a gray and white palette, including flowers (via the recurring motifs of the lily of the valley and the rose) and perfectly proportioned and rigorous lines (he is the creator of the Bar jacket and the Y-line dress after all).
The creators of 30 Montaigne’s Version 2.0 have taken all of these ingredients, packed them into a time machine, and reconfigured them into a shining 21st century beacon of expertly crafted, experiential brand storytelling. The original building – except for the facade – has been completely transformed, wrapping around the adjacent street and now encompassing over 10,000 square meters of shops, as well as a museum, restaurant, patisserie and gardens. There is even a hotel suite, where a night will give you the keys to wander around the premises at your leisure, as well as the possibility of seeing a triptych by Guy de Rougemont and furniture by Thierry Leproust and Yves Klein up close.
Hired to help bring this 21st century iteration to fruition, architect Peter Marino, who said his mandate from LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault was to make the store “unexpected, new, elegant and joyful”; landscape architect Peter Wirtz, famous for remodeling the Tuileries Garden in 1990; and the scenographer Nathalie Crinière, who was inspired by it, “mainly by looking through the windows of La Galerie Dior and thinking [herself] that Christian Dior and his successors had also watched the street and the sky from those same windows.
Just like in a great European cathedral, on entering the store the visitor’s eyes are drawn upwards, first by an original ceiling light sculpture by Paul Cocksedge, which Marino describes as “abstract white leaves falling freely in the ‘space’, then by the enormous spiral staircase in the central atrium bathed in light, at the top of which sit enthroned high fashion studios.
While strolling (there is no defined direction of circulation, one is rather encouraged to discover the space in an intuitive way), the guests can listen in the elevator to music chosen from the Dior collection, sit on armchairs upholstered in Miss Dior houndstooth checks and even eat a “New Look” Croque from the menu, inspired by the Dior archives.
As if following a treasure hunt, the keen-eyed Dior aficionado will notice how the symbols of the house have been woven into the decor, such as the white Corian walls of the gallery café adorned with Cannage stitching, the parquet floors of Versailles of the 18th century, the star motif of Dior’s own gris-gris or talisman, which is stamped on the door handles and coasters, and the medallion chairs wittily reimagined by designer Sam Baron as an arrangement joint seats for guests.
Immersive installations are not new to exhibitions these days; however, the house of Dior has really kicked things up a notch. Upon entering La Galerie Dior (tickets cost 12 euros), the viewer is greeted by the truly awe-inspiring diorama: a massive spiral staircase, surrounded by 3D-printed Dior accessories and displayed in a rainbow gradient from the ground on the ceiling. This main dishmy guide tells me, is the space Instagram moment, which a quick search for “#galeriedior” confirms.
Moving through the exhibition space, a room titled The Enchanted Garden uses a combination of falling, twinkling lights and atmospheric music by sound designer Reno Isaac to showcase an array of exquisite ballgowns. Further on, a sound installation brings to life the voices of each of Dior’s seven artistic directors (after Monsieur Dior himself, Yves Saint Laurent, then Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and the current holder, Maria Grazia Chiuri), while a shop window pays homage to famous women who have worn Dior (“Pas de Dior, pas de Dietrich”, as Marlène, another resident of Avenue Montaigne, told Alfred Hitchock during costume fittings for the movie Stage Fright in 1950. way.)
In another room in the Gallery, there are 13 in total, visitors can watch two seamstresses at work on a fabric using traditional craft techniques – a reflection of the house’s belief in keeping the sanctity of these ancient traditions, which have been passed down through generations and are still used in high fashion today. Some things, it is clear, cannot be improved by digital innovation.
The experience of visiting the store is so captivating – my visit lasted three hours – that I had a hard time thinking how a Dior flagship of the future could possibly improve on this one. A Dior metaverse, perhaps, with visitors enjoying a masterclass with a recreation of the man himself? Or, the chance to be seated front row at one of Galliano’s legendary shows? For now, customers are enjoying the heightened post-COVID-19 lockdown pleasures of a physical experience, while the spirit of Dior lives on – updated for a modern consumer and more desirable than ever.