Dalida - a fashion exhibition on a tragic icon
The French do have a thing for their tragic singers, and few were more so than the glamorous Italian star Dalida, the subject of a striking exhibition in the Palais Galliera in Paris that opens Thursday. Entitled Dalida: Une garde de robe de la ville à la scène, the exhibition features her remarkable wardrobe, which was recently donated to the museum by her brother Orlando.
Though little known in the UK and the USA, Dalida was the greatest singing star in France following the death Edith Piaf. Like Piaf, Dalida had a tragic ending; ultimately taking her own life through barbiturates in 1987.
But in her three-decade career as performer, actress and singer she mesmerized audiences due to her dazzling looks, throaty voice and ability to sing in almost a dozen languages.
Born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti in 1933 into the Italian community in Cairo, she was named Miss Egypt in 1954 before moving to Paris and winning a contest in the Olympia Theatre in 1956, going on to sell a remarkable 170 million albums worldwide.
Throughout her time in Paris she cut a swathe with her exoticism and love of fashion. And, unlike today’s stars, Dalida actually bought her own clothes.
The exhibition opens with New Look frocks by Pierre Balmain and Jacques Esterel paired beside white tulle boleros with white swan’s down trim by Nina Ricci. Before one wall of hundreds of magazine covers stand a Moorish corset and gilet by Saint Laurent, and series of black trenches by the master.
Opposite are nine dazzling white robes – by the likes of Loris Azzaro – all worn after the suicide of her lover Luigi Tenco – who shot himself after failing to win San Remo song contest in 1967. She attempted to take her own life one month later, but survived after five days in a coma.
Returning to the stage she became the acting queen of French Disco; a period captured by glimmering Azzaro sheaths; sequined disco jumpsuits and Futurist leotards by costume designer Michel Fresnay – in many respects the star designer of this show - and leather fantasies by Claude Jitrois who said dressing Dalida was “like dressing the stars for the Cannes Film Festival.”
“Her style is so wide ranging it seems very current,” says the show’s artistic director Robert Carsen, who presents her stage wear on three-meter diameter golden discs. Before video highlights of her classics – like Parole, Parole with Alain Deloin or dance video Laisser moi danser – where her outfits cling to the leggy Mediterranean like a second skin.
“I wanted the audience to get to know her. To find this emotional connection,” added Carsen, in between directing Don Giovanni in La Scala and The Rosenkavalier in the Met on New York, for Renée Fleming’s last operatic performances.
A final room features cuts from the score of movies in which she appeared – notably “Stranger from Hong Kong,” all presented before actual clothes from the films.
“She could have been a great actress but she got sidetracked into singing. Dalida couldn’t find any personal happiness. She was continuously getting involved with the same wrong guy. Again, again and again. She was hugely successful and they weren’t and that made her feel guilty,” lamented D-Carsen, who printed quotes from Dalida on the walls of the Galliera.
“Quand on dit ‘je t’aime’, on veut dire ‘aime-moi’, reads one. Meaning: When they say, ‘I love you,” they mean ‘love me.’
Dalida was found dead in her own home, a looming mansion on rue d’Orchampt beside Montmartre, still identifiable on the skyline of that Paris hill.
Dalida: Her Wardrobe On and Off-Stage is open from April 27 to August 13 in the Palais Galliera.
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