The Christian Dior Toile Room

The Christian Dior Toile Room

The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Images of toiles from the 2019 V&A exhibition paired with their catwalk versions.
Toile of garment, Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2007.

One of the most amazing rooms in the V&A Exhibition Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams was the toile room, a vast room filled with the ghostly prototypes of couture seasons. Being a minimalist at heart, there is something incredibly satisfying seeing the pure cut and structure behind iconic dresses and tailoring pieces from previous seasons. Although The Cutting Class looked at the rest of the exhibition in a previous article», the Christian Dior toile room deserved closer examination all by itself and a chance to pair some of those toiles with their eventual catwalk iterations.

V&A Christian Dior Exhibition, Atelier Section showing the "toile room". © Adrien Dirand.
V&A Exhibition Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams image fo the Atelier section or “toile room” © Adrian Dirand.

But first, a recap on the importance of a toile. A toile is essentially a prototype that is created of a garment to test the design. This test garment is a chance to test the pattern, proportions, internal structure and placement of embellishments before the garment is made up in the final materials. You can see more examples of toiles in the article, Toiles and Sample Garments».

In ready-to-wear, the simplicity of the design will sometimes mean that the pattern is created through flat pattern cutting techniques first, with a quick calico toile sewn up to test the pattern, or the toile stage may be skipped altogether to go straight into a first sample garment.

In more complex construction situations, such as for haute couture and bespoke garments, the toile stage is more likely to be created through a combination of draping / moulage and flat pattern making techniques as the toile of the design is built on the stand to create a precursor to the final design. In some cases, the toile fabric itself may form the pattern for the final design, while at other times the toile may be turned into a pattern first before being cut in the final fabric.

Toile Markings

If you are a fashion designer, pattern maker or sewing machinist, or if you sew for yourself, part of the delight in seeing pieces in toile form is to peer closely at the tiny markings, cross marks and colour-coded lines of basting thread as a snapshot in the middle of the design process. If you look closely at the toile images, you can see tiny notes as references to the makers of what to amend when they make their final garment.

The colour-coded lines of basting thread could be hints at common reference lines – specially marked so that the maker can see some of their vertical and horizontal reference lines (Centre Front, Centre Back, Hip Level, etc) while other lines may have been drawn in pencil or pen onto the fabric before it was draped as a reference of where the straight grain is, and also sometimes where the cross grain and bias grain falls if this is also helpful when draping the design. And of course, there is the use of the almost universal “X” marks, as a note to delete a dart, a seam, or to ignore a line that was marked previously.

Toiles: Christian Dior by John Galliano

If you visited the Christian Dior toile room at the exhibition and couldn’t immediately recognise some of the pieces, this may be because the complexity of the patterns used to create the structure of the garment is somewhat obscured by the final choice of fabric or the level of detail of the embellishment. For example, a perfectly tailored garment that you may assume to be a destined to be realised in black wool as a new interpretation of a Bar jacket, may actually make it to the catwalk in sheer pink organza.

This also highlights the beauty of the toile process for the designer. Sure, the idea is that you make up a toile in a facsimile of the fabric that is intended for the final design. But sometimes when the toile is presented, it is the perfect blank canvas to project other new iterations onto – yes, maybe it will still be made into the fabric as intended, but it may also be pictured in different fabrics and colourways as well.

The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2007.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2007. Paper cutouts show the planned position of embellishments.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2007. © The Cutting Class, 2019.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2007.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, showing pleating and darts used to create shaping.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2007.

Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2007.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2008.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2008. Detail of sleeve volume and panelled waist.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2008. White dress with wide collar and cinched waist.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2008.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010. White toile realised in embellished fabric.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010. Detail of toile markings.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010 becomes sheer pink catwalk garment.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010 with upturned collar.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010 with sleeve and body cut all in one, and using an underarm gusset.
Toile of Christian Dior by John Galliano garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2010

Toiles: Christian Dior by Raf Simons

Seeing the toiles also gives you a sense of what the atelier team feels does, and doesn’t, need to be tested at the toile stage. For example, on some of the toiles you can see that paper cutouts have been used to approximate the layout of the embroidery, but the embroidery itself has not been tested on the toile itself (though there would likely be a separate sample of that in the final fabric/colours).

For a Spring-Summer 2015 collection, which used a technique across many garments where braid and trim was applied to the fabric before the fabric was pleated, it was important for this to be tested on the toile. This is because in this instance the application of the braid is not purely decorative; the braid will affect the stiffness of the fabric as it adds extra stability and weight to the fabric. If this is not tested then it would be difficult to know how the overall silhouette would be affected, and also if the maths used to calculate the pleated fabric would be correct.

The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons pink dress, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons pink dress, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012. Close up of thread basting on toile.
Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons long red dress with layered bust cups, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons long red dress supported with bands of crinoline to give internal structure, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012.
Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons garment, Haute Couture, Autumn-Winter 2012.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2015. Notes on toile to show required changes.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2015. Detail of how trim and pleating has been tested on the toile.
The Christian Dior Toile Room | The Cutting Class. Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2015.
Toile of Christian Dior by Raf Simons garment, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2015.

Images of toiles by The Cutting Class from the V&A Museum exhibition Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, 2019
Images from Christian Dior Spring-Summer Haute Couture 2007 on Vogue.com»
Images from Christian Dior Autumn-Winter Haute Couture 2007 on Vogue.com»
Images from Christian Dior Autumn-Winter Haute Couture 2008 on Vogue.com»
Images from Christian Dior Spring-Summer Haute Couture 2010 on Vogue.com»
Images from Christian Dior Autumn-Winter Haute Couture 2012 on Vogue.com»
Images from Christian Dior Spring-Summer Haute Couture 2015 on Vogue.com»

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