Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the Victoria & Albert Museum
‘Craft and Making’ are key areas of focus for the V&A and its most recent exhibition, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, holds true to that ethos. It is the largest and most comprehensive exposition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior and follows the V&A’s outstanding fashion-based exhibitions, coming hot on the heels of Alexander McQueen and Cristóbal Balenciaga.
Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948. Image courtesy of Christian Dior
The exhibition highlights how, in February 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion by redefining the female silhouette with his New Look (christened by Carmel Snow, editor of Harper’s Bazaar). The nipped-in waists and full, flowing skirts with their yards of costly fabric, not only provided the world with its first taste of post-austerity design, but also reinvigorated the Paris fashion industry after World War II and it is only fitting that Dior’s iconic Bar Suit takes pride of place as you enter.
Based on the major Paris exhibition ‘Christian Dior: Couturier du Reve’ (which celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the House of Dior), it has been extended by the V&A to illustrate the designer’s fascination with British culture. A self-confessed Anglophile, he said, “There is no country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.” Displays not only include examples of Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers, but also focus on his most widely known early British clients (from Nancy Mitford to Margot Fonteyn) and culminate with the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebration (on loan from the Museum of London).
Princess Margaret (1930-2002), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80), London, UK, 1951. © Cecil Beaton, V&A
The exhibition has been beautifully designed and there are discrete areas, each investigating the major influences on Christian Dior and the subsequent Dior designers who followed after his early death in 1957. ‘Historicism’ demonstrates the influence of historic dress, encompassing Dior’s love of the 18th century, and architecture. Such care has been taken with designing the display, so that the surroundings in this room have been styled to echo the neoclassical façade of Dior’s fashion house at 30 Avenue Montaigne, together with its grey and white interior panelling.
Left: Miss Dior limited edition, Baccarat blue crystal, 1947. Parfums Christian Dior
The same is true of the 'Garden' section, where the ceiling and walls are awash with beautifully prepared paper roses and drooping lilac to reinforce the importance of gardens and flowers as a major source of inspiration, as well as providing a background to the dresses themselves. The scent of flowers, however, introduces the creation of perfume and its addition to the House of Dior. Not only do the stylish bottles reflect the importance of design, but they also reflect how deeply Christian Dior considered scent integral to haute couture. With childhood friend, Serge Heftier-Louiche as president of the perfume and beauty business, the first scent was born and ‘Miss Dior’ was named after Dior’s younger sister, Catherine.
The areas entitled ‘Travels’ and ‘Designers for Dior’ demonstrate how, despite Christian’s untimely death and subsequent speculation by the press that this would mean the end of the House of Dior, his legacy still survives. Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent was just 21 when he was appointed creative director and his bravery when, during his first collection, he moved the emphasis away from the waistline, proved a phenomenal success. Followed in 1989 by Gianfranco Ferre (who told the Washington Post that he was ‘very proud that Dior chose me’), whose exuberance and appreciation of textiles brought new life and excitement into Parisian haute couture. Ferre frequently referenced the nipped-in waists and large skirted ballgowns of Dior’s New Look and was awarded the prestigious De d’or (Gold thimble) of haute couture. John Galliano (1996-2011) also referenced the world of Christian Dior as his opening collection fell on the 50th anniversary of the New Look. Greeted with great acclaim, it set the tone for his riotous 15-year tenure and the influence of travel on his eclectic designs is clearly showcased.
Christian Dior by John Galliano b.1960, Haute Couture, Autumn Winter 2004 Photo © Laziz Hamani
‘The Ballroom’ provides a sparkling conclusion to an exceptional exhibition. Galaxies of stars cross the ceiling, but are outshone by the stunning evening wear which adorns the room. Many outfits glitter with the ‘Aurora Borealis’, a crystal borne of a collaboration between Dior and Swarovski in 1956 and used to wonderful effect by designers such as the hugely original John Galliano in his 1997 Metatarse Ensemble. Evening dresses worn by Princess Diana and Rihanna are perfect examples of the haute couture exemplified by the House of Dior, where the technical skills of the ateliers who produce these hand-crafted dresses can only be marvelled at. As Dior himself said shortly before his death, ‘In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous”… alongside this exhibition!
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Showing until 14 July 2019
For more information CLICK HERE