The Victoria and Albert museum has released an exhibition titled ‘Christian Dior: Designer of dreams’ based on the original 2017 show in Paris ‘Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. However, the V&A explore a completely unique side to Dior history than previously has been. With a different thematic journey and with 60% new content and a clear emphasis on Christian Dior’s obsession with Britain at the very forefront alongside a brand new section specifically dedicated to the V&A’s exhibition, this is not one to miss.
“There is no other 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.”
The current creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri said ‘Dior came here because he wanted to be free – it’s the same story of many. Britain is a place that is strongly about freedom and this comes across in its fashion.’ This bond is clear in the revolutionary ‘New Look’ Corolle Haute Couture line featuring the revolutionary and now iconic Bar Suit. With a 16 inch waistline it is the ultimate example of the exaggerated upside-down corolla silhouette which led Christian Dior to make a long lasting legacy and distinctly connects with the British freedoms he loved.
The exhibition follows from 1947 to the present day covering the history and sub sequential influence the Dior house has had as well as Dior’s influence and relationship with Britain. There are over 200 rare Haute Couture pieces from the V&A’s own collection as well as the Dior archives. All coupled with accessories, magazines, illustrations, fashion photography, vintage perfumes and Christian Dior’s own personal possessions.
There are eleven separate rooms each with a specific focus on iconic themes and pieces. Within each theme and iconic piece it displays each artistic directors take and interpretation. One of my favourite parts of the exhibition is the story around a featured book in the display cabinets. Titled ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris’ written in 1958 by Paul Gallico and part of the V&A Textiles and Fashion library collection; the book depicts the effect of the Dior name and style and delves into the idea that the Dior dress had become synonymous with the ultimate ballgown. It tells the story of a London cleaning lady who saves up all of her earnings to travel to Paris and buy a Dior gown. I found this story heart warming as it shows how true fashion is something that is treasured by all kinds of people, from all walks of life and it can be such an important part of someone’s life. It is moments like these that make the Dior exhibition so special because it manages to appeal and educate the masses of people that are visiting daily but it also shows how as a brand, it can be incredibly personal and has touched so many people and is the basis of some incredibly special memories.
A significant piece is Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday dress, with a strong bond between the two, the cream silk and chiffon masterpiece made the house of Dior a memorable and prominent element of a special time in her life. It also solidified the trust and desire between the British public and Dior as it was favoured by the royal family with private viewings and public outings to Dior’s shows.
Created by Oriole Cullen as fashion and textiles curator with Nathalie Crinière as set designer, it is the first exhibition to be held in the V&A’s new Amanda Levete galleries. I left the exhibition with a meaningful understanding that fashion is an experience. In Chiuri’s words it is somewhere that all women can find a place. The overall experience of this incredible exhibition is that although the clothing is impeccable, it is elevated by the set and scenery. The surroundings and design of the individual rooms allow for the clothing to blossom.
The recreation of the Avenue Montaigne Dior boutique welcomes the exhibitions visitors in whilst then moving into the temple de l’Amour in Versailles in the ‘Historicism’ section giving context to the clothing and its origins of inspiration throughout the decades. The floral garden themed room is covered in thousands of hand cut paper roses, wisteria and lily of the valley blooming on all walls and the ceiling. The ballroom features a reel of projected lights, shooting stars and glitter on the walls and ceiling to give the ballgowns an ethereal feeling. It is not just the beautiful fashion pieces that made this exhibition as incredible as it is, the set, the architecture and the layout allowed the fashion pieces to thrive and to show how and where the Artistic Directors gain inspiration. With every piece together in the unbelievable set it enabled the pieces to be an experience. It enabled all of us to understand why Mrs Harris would save all of her money to buy a ballgown. It’s more than a ballgown.
What I think is really important about these exhibitions; not only the Dior designer of dreams but similar exhibitions such as the ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ is it shows how important fashion has been in the development of women as a gender and how it is imperative to move and shape itself around how we see and feel about ourselves in the moment. With the ‘New Look’ style revolutionised by Christian Dior himself from 1947 the radical, boxy and masculine style of women’s fashion after the second world war – it revolutionised the female silhouette at the time and caused a sensation.
With women filling the places of men away at war in all areas of work and functioning society, upon their return women were no longer seeing themselves as just being competent housewives and many men now saw that a generation of women had been able to keep society functioning and actually perform jobs that traditionally men had always performed. The fashions change with the women wearing them and this is clear moving from room to room, from each artistic director to the next. To see how much we have changed and revolutionised and how fashion has enabled others to see women for what we are and for women to see themselves as we are over generations is an incredible feeling. It is clear that each designer has pushed us forward. Yves Saint Laurent brought rigour and style, John Galliano breathed electricity into the brand with spectacle and drama. Raf Simmons made it acceptable for modern day women to be strong yet feminine and most recently Maria is allowing us to be tough and elegantly modern.
Clearly Dior has brought us more and more as the years have gone by and more importantly, Dior has elevated the women that wear and admire it to stand on their own.