Three Days in Denver Christian Dior and More!

Denver, Colorado or Bust!

Day 1

Our latest adventure was domestic in nature.  As we enter deeper into the retirement mode with our friends, we will be taking more frequent trips to some of the fantastic cities and places available to us in the middle of the country. Equidistant to both coasts, we are in an ideal location to be anywhere in the country within a few hours by plane or days by car…trains are still (unfortunately) problematic for us but doable if time is of no concern.

For this journey, along with my wife, a group of friends who love all things fabric and sewing related left during the tail end of one of our usual Midwest snow storms and hit the road via Interstate 80 to the largest city on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains–Denver, Colorado.  The primary purpose of our visit to Denver was to see the Christian Dior exhibit at the Denver Art Museum but we also took advantage of our extended weekend by visiting several other museums, the Denver Botanical Gardens and, of course, a few of Denver’s excellent restaurants.

Traveling the 498 miles (from door to door of our VBRO rental) takes around 7 hours with stops for gas, food and general stretching of the legs.  The landscape between our two destinations is essentially flat as a pancake until we reached the geographically unique Sandhills region.  The Sandhills will be a topic of a future post but suffice it to say, it is one of the most beautiful areas of the country and also one of the most awe inspiring.  It is worthy of a visit on it’s own.  ‘Sand’ and ‘hills’ are two words that become permanently connected in your soul when you first experience the quiet solitude of the open range.  This is an area of the country where jet trails, telephone poles, and four lane roads are few and far between–if nonexistent!  Cell service? Very little, if any.  The area does provide some amazing golf courses experiences, thought!  More on that, too, in the future. 

O.K. Back to Our Trip...

Aside from seeing the Christian Dior exhibit entitled “From Paris to the World”, there was plenty to see and do while in Denver and our intentions were to do more than we could possibly do but one has to set goals high to get the most out of the limited time available.

After settling into our rental and resting from the long drive, the first event for the evening was attending a lecture at the Denver Art Museum.  The lecture was given by renowned author and historian–among other credentials–Maureen Footer.  She, along with the Denver Art Museum’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion, Florence Muller, spoke about Dior’s collaboration with interior decorators, Victor Grandpierre and Georges Geffroy. It is a complex relationship that would require long study to fully appreciate but in simple terms, interior design became an integral aspect of Dior’s creative approach and he worked with Grandpierre and Geffroy to create symbiotic environments between his haute couture fashions and the interior spaces where people and their clothes would become the total fashion experience.  

The lecture, provided an introduction to Christian Dior’s life and evolution from architectural student, graphic artist and eventual trend setting couturier designer.

Time to Eat...French!!

Whew!  It was a lot to absorb for one evening, so we had to go eat!!  And what better way to celebrate our immersion into French Haute Couture than to go to a French restaurant!  And we found a pretty wonderful one not far from the museum.

Café Marmotte at 290 South Downing Street was just the perfect choice for our group.  Quiet, small, intimate, friendly, and complementary Valet Parking, too!!, are just a few words to describe the restaurant but the real appeal are the cuisine and wine. High quality, authentically prepared dishes, knowledgeable wait staff and did I mention the complementary valet parking? I had the creamy French Onion soup and Dover Sole Munier. Both were outstanding.  I snuck some bits off of other diners plates–the rack of lamb and the beef tornados (the special)–and I want to say any of them would have met with the highest standards you might be looking for.   The restaurant is at the intersection of East Alameda Venue and South Downing on the northeast corner.  Valet parking is along the S Downing side of the building. Or drive around the building several times and call the restaurant for directions…like I did…Make a reservation well in advance to be sure to get in!

Images from Day 1

Day 2

 It’s showtime!  

The exhibit, Dior: From Paris to the World is in its final days in Denver and from Denver it moves to Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.  Check online for times, locations etc., for future locations around the country.  

The first piece of advice to offer is make a reservation for seeing the exhibit in advance.  Online works just fine.  You can specify the entry time that fits your schedule but I would advise leaving yourself a good two hours to see the exhibit. (This true for any location, I’m sure.) And make sure you include any additional lectures if your schedule permits.  

The exhibit, ‘Dior: From Paris to the World’ is just spectacular.  Designed by Shohei Shigematsu with the the architectural firm of OMA from New York City, the exhibit flows chronologically over the 70 plus years Dior (the company) has been in existence. I won’t spend time going through the entire list of designers but the exhibit gives a thorough understanding of how the brand has evolved through the creativity of those that came after Christian Dior.  His successors, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré on up to Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri (who holds the currant lead design position) are beautifully represented by meticulously designed settings.  

One post show discovery: Check out Dior and I on Amazon Prime for an indepth look at Raf Simons’ first year as lead designer. It explains the process from early anxieties of creating a show in 6 weeks through the exillerating final runway show. 

A "Few" Images from Dior Exhibit

The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Our second stop of the day was The Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art–keeping with the theme of museums and design–which was within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum.

The Kirkland is home to some of the most definitive collections of period furniture and art dating to the early 1920’s through to today.  One particularly timely exhibit is the work from the German Bauhaus School of Design which celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the school.  Many works on display are from Bauhaus designers such as Luidwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and Marianne Brandt.  They will undoubtedly be recognizable since they are still being reproduced today. 

Other collections of 20th century furniture and decorative arts cover the movements of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Glasgow Style, De Stijl, Art Deco, Modern and  Post Modern.

 

Vance Kirkland

Aside from the magnificent collections, one new discovery for us was the collection of paintings by the museum’s namesake, Vance Kirkland (1904-1981). Kirkland was an important Colorado and regional painter who was proficient in a variety of painting styles of the early 20th Century.  The five periods that Kirkland proficiently and honestly painted in were Designed Realism, Surrealism, Hard Edged Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism and Dot Painting. For those not familiar with the style, Dot Painting is similar to Impressionism in that he uses dots of color to create an abstract vision.  The result is mesmerizing and is uniquely a signature style of his. The museum’s website gives a detailed explanation of Vance Kirkland’s five painting periods along with examples from the collection.

A Few Images From The Kirkland

What's For Dinner?

After a very full day of museum hopping, we pushed on with more walking!  We chose to walk to a restaurant in the neighborhood where we were staying. El Five, located at 2930 Umatilla Street, is a mediterranean themed (Tapas de Gibraltar) restaurant and bar on the fifth floor of an office building that overlooks downtown on one side or the mountains on the other.  El Five is vibrant, and attracts a young-ish crowd. But!, even though we were literally the oldest customers in the place, we felt very comfortable and kind of ‘hip’!   

The food at El Five is tapas and very foodie friendly on any dietary scale.  And make sure you order a ‘tonic-and-anything’ as they carry a variety of tonics by Fever Tree.  Try the Elderflower and Hendricks Gin!  At $16 (I think that’s what the tab indicated), its a bit extravagant but an experience worth having.  Open late, I imagine the bar vibrancy expands with the hour and you’re sure to meet some other ‘hip’ people by 11:00 PM closing…it just had that vibe…O.K., I know “hip” isn’t hip but that’s all I got…

El Five Memories

Day 3

Our third and final day in Denver was leisurely and started off with lunch at a nice restaurant/bar named Earls Downtown Denver in the Glenarm neighborhood.  Earls is a chain restaurant which is a little unusual for our group but it was highly rated on OpenTable and had a diverse menu including plant-based selections for the non-carnivorous.  For the carnivores in our group, the menu is more than satisfying.  From their website, it looks like Earls is primarily a Canadian venture and is slowly getting a foothold in the U.S.  I predict they will do well!  From the service to the ambiance to the quality (and portions) of the food, there isn’t too much to improve on.  Oh, and check out the brunch pricing on weekends! Just get there before 11:59 AM!

After a satisfying start to the morning, we head to the Denver Botanic Gardens   Now winter is not the best time to go to a Botanical Garden but we still enjoyed seeing the greenhouses and orchid exhibit currently on display.  The gift shop was pretty nice, too.  Not overdone but plenty to ogle and fondle.  From locally made art to gourmet seeds, its not too difficult to find something to take home…and we did!

One note about the Garden.  There is a large expansion currently under construction so on our next trip to Denver, we will be putting the Denver Botanic Gardens back on our list of places to return–in the fall of 2020 would be a good time according to their website.

 

Let's Eat Again!

Our day was completed with dinner at an Italian restaurant called Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar located at 1700 Wynkoop.  This was another place that I found on Open Table and I would agree with the reviews that gave it a $/4.5 star rating.  Northern Italian (Venetian, hence the name) cuisine is their specialty and along with their experienced and friendly staff, our dining experience was very superb-o! You can judge an Italian restaurant by it’s Cesare Salad and I would say it was an amazingly unique and fresh result.  The rest of the meal didn’t disappoint. I should mention the pasta is house made and it was as authentic as you’ll find in the middle of America.  We will definitely make a return visit in the future!

My only criticism is that the place was sooo popular, the noise level was fairly deafening.  I guess all that marble has its drawback…If you go, ask for a table along the outside wall.  It might be a little more intimate.  

Images from Day 3

A Video of the Dior Exhibit

Final Note of Perspective

Our three days in Denver with our close friends was a nice break from the normal winter doldrums.  Taking a road trip with friends who are almost like family, who love the same adventures that we do provided a break from the normal routines that take over our lives unless we decide to break away. Even if it’s only for a few days.  The enrichment to our lives that we gain from such fulfilling experiences cannot be lost or replaced…as long as you take a lot of photos! 

The perspective that I took from our trip is the parallel between architecture and the day to day aspects of our lives like what we wear, the furniture that we use in our homes, the art we resonate with and the food we enjoy to eat. The most revealing perspective for me was that I have a new appreciation for haute couture that I never had before.  Christian Dior’s beginning as an architectural student had a major impact on his philosophy toward design of women’s clothing which makes sense given enough understanding of what it takes to create in the world of couture.     

Thanks for slogging through this long post and let me know if you have any comments!

Greg 

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Author: Gregory Newport

Architect (Retired); Traveler (Not-Retired)

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