When I think of Dior I think of femininity, luxury and class. When Dior launched his first collection in 1947, he created The New Look – the hour glass silhouette. The press dubbed the collection The New Look because of its revolutionary nature. In contrast to wartime boxy styles, his designs emphasised the curves of the female body.
Born in 1905, Dior retrained as a fashion artist in 1935. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in 1957, just ten years after the launch of his first collection, however the legacy left by Dior continues to inspire some seven decades later, through the six artistic directors that have succeeded him in the fashion house.
The V&A’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015 Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, has been a sell out for the London Museum, leading them to extend the exhibition for a further two months until 1 September 2019. The exhibition was inspired by the Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve in Paris and also explores the designer’s fascination with British culture. Dior is quoted as saying: “There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much.” He was fascinated by England’s great houses, ocean liners, Savile Row tailoring and royalty. He often showed his collections in grand country houses, such as Blenheim Palace in 1954 in aid of the British Red Cross.
I had long anticipated the release of tickets for this exhibition and finally got to visit in March with my friend. For the visit I wore a red t-shirt from Topshop with J’adore on the front to emulate an actual Dior t-shirt worn by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City Movie 2.
I paired the t-shirt with a black satin, bias cut skirt from New Look. A similar skirt produced by Topshop was an Instagram sensation and therefore a sell out. The weather still being somewhat chilly, I also wore my trusty New Look faux leather biker jacket that is one of my go to pieces. To really set the outfit off, I wore black suede heels that I purchased in Belgium some years back and accessorised with an Asos bag which I thought had a look of a Dior saddle bag and actually appeared in Fabulous magazine sometime after I had purchased it. The only true Dior I wore was my mascara, Diorshow which I can’t rate highly enough. A lady on the tube commented on how beautiful my shoes were but after a whole day in London in them, I can assure you I was using a rather different word to describe them!
The exhibition has over 500 objects, including over 200 rare Haute Couture outfits, displayed with accessesories, original drawings, perfumes, magazines and photographs. The exhibition is set out over different themed rooms and is a display of absolute beauty, curated perfectly to take you on the Dior artistic journey. It looks at where Dior found inspiration for his designs from the eighteenth century, to travel to gardens.
The entrance to the exhibition looks at Dior’s life and then focuses on The New Look, particularly the bar suit, acquired by the V&A in 1960 and considered to be a key piece of his first collection, reimagined subsequently by many artistic directors.
Dior in Britain’s main attraction was the dress designed by Dior for Princess Margaret to wear in her 21st birthday portrait in 1951. Dior said of the princess: “she was a real fairy princess, delicate, graceful and exquisite. The same adjectives could be used to describe Dior’s own creations.
The next room is historicism and looks at the influence of the eighteenth century on Dior and subsequent artistic directors.
Christian Dior enjoyed travel and took inspiration from art, landscapes and architecture in different countries. The Travel room looks at how travel inspired his, and future designs of the fashion house. My favourite outfits in the room are shown below. On the left an Egyptian inspired piece by Christian Dior – John Galliano and part of the Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2004 collection. This is purely art, if totally unwearable. On the right, the dress was for the Tokyo presentation of the 2017 Spring-Summer haute couture collection and I just adore this Christian Dior – Maria Grazia Chiuri creation, which with the trailing cherry blossom, encompasses the femininity of Dior.
The next room was by far my favourite, The Garden, and I could have spent hours in there. It truly felt like a secret garden, which is exactly the feel Maria Grazia Chiuri wanted to create in the Musee Rodin where she displayed her first couture collection, as homage to Dior’s love of gardens. Flowers influenced both Dior’s designs and his wonderful perfumes. He would often sketch in the garden and as a boy he loved to study his mother’s plant catalogues. Dior said: “After women, flowers are the most divine of creations.” The room was simply magical. The centre piece gown, seen top right in the below collection of photos is Christian Dior – Maria Grazia Chiuri and part of the Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2017 collection. The detail is phenomenal with the petal-like decoration created using layers of dyed feathers.
The centre bottom photo of the collection above is a dress by Dior – Raf Simons and part of the Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 2012. The dress was worn by Natalie Portman as the face of the Miss Dior perfume. The bottom right picture of the above collection shows to the far right a dress by Christian Dior – John Galliano, which was part of the Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 2010 collection and is hand painted silk, clinched at the waste by a green bow representative of garden twine.
The Ateliers room demonstrates how test garments are made in white cotton fabric so the fit and shape of the design can be checked before making it in the actual fabric and adding embellishments.
The exhibition concludes with The Ballroom which was where Dior could really allow his imagination to run free and showcase extravagance. Dior once said that: “evening clothes are the most glamorous and fascinating things a woman can have as the evening is the time when you escape the realities of life.” This room was really atmospheric with relaxing music and lighting moving it between day and night.
The dress to the bottom right of the collection above is Christian Dior and part of the Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 1949 collection was embroidered with thousands of shimmering sequins and has to be one of his stand out pieces.
The final dress we see is the below creation by Christian Dior – Maria Grazia Chiuri and was part of the Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2018 collection. The inspiration for the dress was an original 1950 hand-painted fan by Christian Dior, held by the mannequin. Having his signature embroidered in the skirt is symbolic of his lasting legacy.
If you can get to the exhibition, I highly recommend it. Additional exhibition tickets will be released on the 15th day of each month for the month ahead and limited tickets are available to purchase daily at the museum on a first come, first served basis. Dior remains one of the greatest designers and his creations are often seen both on the red carpet and in the fashion magazines.
The shop at the V&A also has an impressive range of books on the designer and souvenir drawings, photos and stationery from the exhibition.
Sadly my finances will probably only ever extend to the makeup and perfume of the fashion house, but his influence can often be found in high street designs. He was a true God of the fashion world. Long may his legacy continue.