The largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the U.K. on the House of Dior has opened at the V&A Museum – and it’s not to be missed.
In fact Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015 and it charts the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers from 1947 to the present day, including the six artistic directors who succeeded him at one of the world’s most storied fashion houses.
Based on Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, the major exhibition organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the exhibition is reimagined for the V&A., with a brand-new section that explores for the first time the designer’s fascination with British culture.
The house’s eponymous founder, who died in 1957, once said of Britain: “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.”
He had a predilection for Savile Row suits and admired the grandeur of the great houses and gardens of Britain, as well as British-designed ocean liners like the Queen Mary. His first UK fashion show took place at London’s Savoy Hotel and he established Christian Dior London in 1952.
The exhibition explores Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers, including Dents for gloves and Rayne for shoes, and shines a light his most notable early British clients, from author Nancy Mitford to ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn and Princess Margaret, whose Dior-designed 21st-birthday dress is on loan from the Museum of London following conservation work.
Over 500 objects, with over 200 rare Haute Couture garments, have been drawn from the extensive Dior Archives, including accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions. There are also several looks from the spectacular fashion show that Dior staged at Blenheim Palace in 1954, now in the V&A’s collection.
But be prepared to become a bit star-struck when you encounter the iconic 1947 Bar Suit, the look that launched Dior’s New Look and revolutionized fashion with its radical proportions that differed starkly from the boxy, masculine styles that dominated women’s fashion during the austerity that followed the Second World War.
After the necessarily narrow silhouettes of Depression-era 1930s and war-time rationing, the silhouette was controversial for its generous black pleated full wool skirt and the exquisitely sculpted off-white silk shantung jacket, and was immortalised in the mid-to-late-1950s image of Dior’s model Renèe Breton posing by the Seine in a copy of the Bar created for a talk given by Dior at the Sorbonne in 1955.
In 1960, Cecil Beaton helped the V&A acquire this original ensemble from the House of Dior. In pristine condition, and with a 19-inch waist, it is a quintessential example of the exaggerated upside-down corolla silhouette with which Dior changed the fashion world.
Other highlights of the exhibition include the spectacular Junon dress from the autumn/winter 1949 haute couture Milieu du Siècle collection, with its overlapping petals of tulle meticulously embroidered with thousands of shimmering sequins to create a gradient from white in the centre to deep blue at the edges; the gold J’adore dress by John Galliano (Dior’s creative director from 1996 to 2011) worn by Charlize Theron in the 2008 J’Adore campaign; and the section of the exhibition called The Ballroom, which celebrates the fantasy of the ball in a showcase of 70 year’s of stunning formal evening wear, with some of the house’s most famous dresses on display in a dramatic light installation.
V&A Museum, Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, SW7 2RL.