Christian Dior, Haute Couture, SS15, Paris.
From a construction point of view, there are a number of beautiful and clever details that have been used for the Spring-Summer 2015 haute couture collection at Christian Dior. One of the most striking details is one of the textile embellishments where rows of ribbon have been sewn to a base fabric to form pleated skirts and to create bouncy silhouettes.
The process of creating these amazing textiles has been captured as part of a video following the construction of a single dress from the collection. The video by Visionaire and Refinery29 is embedded below or can be viewed at Refinery29»
While videos like this are very insightful for those who have studied fashion or work in the fashion industry, there are a number of details that may need some additional explanation to help you truly appreciate how much work and planning has gone into these garments. For this reason, we’ve taken some screenshots from the video to explain some of the construction stages in more detail.
Testing the Design and Construction Methods
Some of the early images in the video show mannequins that contain versions of the dresses in pure white. It seems likely that these are toiles», which are essentially prototype versions of the designs. As a student, young fashion designer or home sewer, you would usually sew toiles in cheaper and plainer fabrics to allow you to iterate a few times on the shape and style of the design before committing to a final pattern shape. However, some designs require the toiles to be created in the exact same fabric as the final garment, where this is financially possible, in order to create the best possible indication of whether or not the design will work.
In the case of the Dior pleated dresses, it appears that the toiles may have been created in the exact same fabric and trims, but only in white. This allows changes to the fit and silhouette to be made without the distraction of colour.
Preparing the Ribbons and Threads
The next stage that is shown in the video is the preparation of the ribbons that are to be used on the final fabric. In this section of the video, we can see that there are discussions about using certain colour numbers, and can also see the ribbons being dipped into dyes of different colours. The slight rib on the ribbon seems to indicate that they are grosgrain ribbons, which are more rigid than usual ribbons and may be less susceptible to puckering when topstitched. Threads are also selected to match these colours so that they can be used to topstitch the ribbons into position on the base fabric.
Preparing Base Fabric for Pleating
Once the ribbons are dyed (and probably checked to ensure they are colour fast) we can see how the workers in the atelier use sewing machines to attach the ribbons onto the base fabric. The coloured samples that are shown hanging in the background show how narrower samples of these panels have been used to plan out the colour order and spacing of the rows.
While we expect haute couture to be sewn entirely by hand, there may be construction reasons behind the use of the sewing machines for this task. Since the dress designs conceptually rely on absolute repetition across the perfect pleats, the use of sewing machines may simply be the most precise way of ensuring consistent size and tension across the many rows.
Pleating the Fabric
With an insight into the world of hand pleating, we then see how the fabric is carefully prepped for pleating by laying the panels between two pieces of cardboard called “pleater’s boards”. The pleats are finished by winding the mould up tight and placing it in a large steamer, where the heat and pressure will set the shape of the pleats.
We are assuming that the base fabric that is used is synthetic since synthetic fabrics have the thermoplastic qualities required to ensure that the pleats remain permanently fixed in the fabric. Pleats created in fabrics with natural fibres have different qualities and tend to be less resilient over time.
Constructing the Garments
At this point in the video, we get only some hints about the construction methods that are used to finalise the dress. One part of the video appears to show the finished pleating being gathered together, which we assume is used to ensure that each section of the panel is the correct length before it is joined to other panels to create specially blended tiers. One image shows a sketch that indicates how the different panels are pieced together, and we can see how the number of panels for each tier increases towards the bottom of the dress.
Once we look closely at the finished garments you can see a couple of examples of the barely visible easing that occurs between the tiers to slowly increase the fabric volume and create subtle variations in silhouette. In general, the pleats are often tightly gathered or folded at the top or waist of the garment and then the pleats release as the volume builds towards the hem.
The position on the garment of where the silhouette changes shape is controlled by how much one tier grows in volume in comparison to the previous row, and is also shaped from underneath by the underskirts required to support the silhouette. For the tiers to grow in volume, often two pleats are carefully tucked underneath one pleat so that the pleats slowly branch out towards the hem.