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Inside the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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The largest exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior opens at the V&A Museum on Saturday, February 2, featuring more than 200 rare haute couture pieces from 1947 to present day, including couture gowns worn by Princess Margaret and Jennifer Lawrence.

The ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ marks the V&A’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015 and is the first fashion exhibition to be staged in the museum’s new Amanda Levete-designed Sainsbury Wing.

The exhibition is a reworking of the ‘Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve’, organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, with a new thematic journey that includes 60 percent new content as well as new sections, including one on Dior’s fascination with British culture. There is also a recreation of the Avenue Montaigne Dior boutique façade at the entrance and the temple de l'Amour in Versailles in the ‘Historicism’ section, as well as a garden-themed section featuring thousands of paper roses.

Oriole Cullen, fashion and textiles curator at the V&A, said in a statement: “In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion with his New Look, which redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-War Parisian fashion industry. The V&A recognised Dior’s important contribution to design history early-on in his career, acquiring his sketches and garments from the 1950s onwards.

“The influence of Christian Dior’s design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era. In their own individual ways, each of the House’s successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted Dior’s own designs and continued the legacy of the founder, ensuring that the House of Christian Dior is at the forefront of fashion today. More than seventy years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition celebrates the enduring influence of the House of Dior and reveals new research about Dior’s relationship with Britain.”

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams opens at V&A

Drawn from the extensive Dior Archives, the exhibition presents over 500 objects, with more than 200 haute couture garments shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions, across 11 sections that trace the history and impact of one of the most influential couturiers, as well as the six artistic directors who have succeeded him.

The opening room, ‘The New Look’ focuses on Dior’s famed Bar Suit from his ground-breaking first collection in 1947. At the time the design caused a sensation and revolutionised the female silhouette with the wasp-waist jacket and full skirt, now it is widely recognised as standing for Dior, and has seen subsequent Dior designers reinventing it over the years.

The journey then moves onto ‘The Dior Line’, the ten defining looks made between 1947 and 1957, Christian Dior’s own tenure at the House, before heading into ‘Dior in Britain’ that uncovers Christian Dior’s personal love of England and his British client’s reciprocal love for his fashion, including the romantic off-white gown with golden straw and mother of pearl embellishments worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations alongside the famous official birthday portrait by Cecil Beaton.

Next is ‘Historicism’ which examines the influence of historic dress and decorative arts in the House of Dior’s designs from 1947 to today, encompassing Dior’s love of the 18th century, and the Belle Époque fashions worn by his mother, Madeleine Dior.

The thematic layout then moves into how ‘Travel’ and different countries and cultures have inspired the various designers at the House of Dior, with Egyptian-themed dresses designed by John Galliano taking centre stage.

This then leads into the prettiest section ‘The Garden’, where hanging paper wisteria, clematis, lily of the valley and roses surrounding the most beautiful of Dior gowns to highlight the importance of flowers and gardens as a source of inspiration to the House, from garments to perfume.

House of Dior celebrated with new London exhibition

The most anticipated room has to be the ‘Designers for Dior’ where the work of the subsequent six key artistic directors since Christian Dior’s death in 1957, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri are on display side-by-side.

It showcases how showstopping John Galliano’s designs were, full of fantastical story-telling, whereas Yves Saint Laurent are probably considered the most timelessly chic, while Raf Simons style is more minimalist and technical, and Gianfranco Ferré was flamboyant. Then there is Dior’s longest-serving creative director, Marc Bohan, who took the helm from 1960 to 1989, probably one of the lesser-known Dior designers, but he really added a contemporary feel while maintaining the distinct Dior style. Finally, you see Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion.

You then walk into the all-white ‘The Ateliers’ that showcases a hundred toiles from the Dior Ateliers in a stunning ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style installation from floor to ceiling, which is very reminiscent of the style of the statement room in the McQueen exhibition.

“Everything created by human hands expresses something - above all the personality of the creator. The same thing is true with a dress. But since so many people are working on it, the real job is to get all the hands that cut, sew, try on and embroider to express all I have felt,” said Christian Dior in 1954.

While the most colourful of the rooms is the ‘Diorama’ that examines the breadth of the House of Dior, from accessories including costume jewellery, hats, shoes and bags, to miniature dresses, illustrations, and archive lipstick and perfume, bottles, in a colour-coded way, alongside magazine covers from 1947 to the present day.

The most spectacular section has to be ‘The Ballroom’ at the exhibition’s close, which celebrates the fantasy of the ball by showcasing 70 years of formal evening wear under the beauty of a seven-minute reel of shooting stars and golden glitter that projects on to the walls and ceiling. The Ballroom also houses couture dresses as worn by Jennifer Lawrence to the Oscars, Lupita Nyong’o and Elle Fanning’s Cannes Film Festival looks, and the Swarovski crystal-encrusted gown from the 2008 J’Adore campaign as worn by Charlize Theron.

The final look from the exhibition brings the House of Dior right up-to date with a pleated pastel tulle gown by Dior’s current creative director Chiuri from the Shanghai presentation of the French luxury label’s spring/summer 2018 haute couture collection that references a promotional fan given out during Dior fashion shows throughout the 1950s, which is now in the V&A’s collection.

The ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ exhibition runs from February 2 – July 14, 2019 at the V&A.

Images: courtesy of the V&A by Adrien Dirand

Christian Dior
Victoria and Albert