Dress Watch: Paper Lantern Revisited

Dior lantern dress

I call it a lantern dress. Maybe, you can understand why. But then, maybe not.

Today, when kids rely more on their parents’ iPads than on imagination for amusement, playing with self-made paper lanterns may be as familiar as occupying oneself with origami. Who uses paper anymore? Or folds them? Or cuts them? But I did and still do, and I remember. As a kid, I made a whole lot of them lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival. I took an oblong coloured paper and, in landscape orientation, folded it into half; then made slits of equidistance in the centre of the paper, right across its length, leaving a border at the top (which would also then provide the same border for the bottom whem the paper is unfolded). The paper was opened up, the breadths joined and sealed to form a column, which, when gently compressed at the top and bottom, yielded a slotted lantern. I made a few of them, and hung them up in a group. At that very young age, I believed I made art.

In my eyes, there is art in this Christian Dior dress. And seeing it up close earlier this afternoon, my interest was piqued by this wash of nostalgia. Raf Simons’s clever and skilful composition of a bustier-dress is, naturally, nothing like what I made out of paper. Here is a dress that is anything but flat. You sense movement even when it is still. The less aware may call it wash-bay curtains at the gas station or horizontal blinds at your office, but these panels are not left to catch the wind so that, collectively, they leave the dress formless.

While the use of un-joined vertical panels is not entirely new, applying horizontal ones to control their resultant shape is. The upper half of this silk dress is secured with a broad elasticised corset belt (possibly to underscore the bust). In the bottom half, panels in black are woven—almost ketupat style—across and around, forming soft hoops and effectively holding the bell shape of the skirt. In the rear, the vertical panels are allowed to hang from the top unsecured, cascading like Watteau pleats!

For a brief moment, I was drunk with awe.

This panelled silk dress, SGD12,000, is available at Christian Dior, Ion Orchard