Glamour, sequins and drama

Dalida, the most-imitated cult singer in France, is now being given a new stage: the fashion museum Palais Galliera is exhibiting her flamboyant wardrobe. Mademoiselle Lili is already gasping in anticipation.  

No drag queen performance is complete without Dalida. She has been regularly impersonated for decades at the oldest surviving cabaret bar “Chez Michou” in Montmartre. For every drag queen, the singer Dalida, who died in 1987, is quite something to live up to: her languishing expression, her exotic accent, her flowing mane, sometimes blonde, sometimes red, sometimes brunette, her curves, emphasised by her narrow waist, low-cut cleavage, off-the-shoulder outfits and swinging hip lines – everything about her was dizzyingly breath-taking. Dalida, the superwoman, is at least as famous for her dramatically hyperbolic fashion as she is for her dozens of international hits.

30 years after her death, not only was a new cinema film dedicated to her (incidentally captivatingly played by Italian actress Sveva Alviti), even her wardrobe is now deemed worthy of its own museum exhibit. The fashion museum Palais Galliera is dedicating a whole exhibition to her, which not only tells of her incomparable style, but also the fashion history of the 1950s through to the 1980s. You can see her street and stage outfits, from 1950s New Look Carven brand dresses, the glamorous Hollywood gowns of Jean Dessès, the sober chic of Loris Azzaro or Yves Saint Laurent, the 1960s Balmain bodice and the 1970s disco glitter fashion of Michel Fresnay. The cult leather designer Jean-Claude Jitrois described her as follows: “Dressing Dalida is like outfitting stars for the Cannes Film Festival”. But every day.

Glamour and sequins, drama and pills. You read Dalida’s own life story to yourself, as you stroll past all her glorious and elegant dresses that were only recently given to the museum by her brother and manager Orlando. The native Italian, who grew up as the daughter of an opera violinist in Cairo, won the title of Miss Egypt at age 22, and travelled to Paris in 1955 with “a suitcase full of dreams and not a lot of money”, as she later tells it. Her dreams soon came true: in 1956, she won her first Gold Record award for her hit “Bambino”. “Le Jour où la pluie viendra” was one of her biggest hits. But, like so many superstars, her fame was cut short by misery. The suicide of two of her life partners threw her into a bout of depression, which henceforth became her constant companion, just like her haute couture outfits. On 3 May 1987, she was found dead in her house in Montmartre, with a glass of whiskey in her hand and an overdose of sleeping pills in her stomach. Next to her was a note with the words: “My life has become unbearable. Forgive me!”

She was only 54-years-old. Moved, I tiptoe past the beautiful fabrics she used to hide her internal dramas, and secretly think to myself that you could reduce such dramatic falls with low-key sneakers and jeans.      

Dalida  - la garde-robe de la ville à la scène, till 13 August in Palais Galliera. www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr