‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams‘ opens this weekend and it is a brilliant exhibition, one that impresses with its scope and a design that proves to be the perfect setting for the Haute Couture extravaganza. The ultimate Dior collection. This is a new version of the exhibition which drew over 700,000 visitors to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2017. It encompasses the whole of the company’s history, with an added focus on Christian Dior’s love affair with Britain, and the artistic directors who followed him.
Rather than describing the exhibition here (which I may attempt to do once I’ve seen it again), I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the man and the label he created.
A centrepiece of the British room is Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday Dress (on loan from the Museum of London), which she was photographed in by Cecil Beaton for her official birthday portrait. The Princess would later call it her ‘favourite dress of all’, and Dior was “delighted” to count Princess Margaret as a client. After he had shown his first collection at The Savoy in 1950, he presented the looks to the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Marina and Princess Olga of Greece at the French embassy. The models had no idea they were going to be walking for the royal family, they were told they were going there for lunch!
Christian Dior’s debut collection was called “Corolle” and “Huit”, and the lines were quickly christened the “New Look”, a phrase uttered by US Harper’s Bazaar magazine editor Carmel Snow, when she first saw the collection. The full-skirted romantic and flamboyant new silhouette was an exuberant and innovative response to wartime austerity. The average dress used 20 yards (18m) of fabric. King George V initially forbade the young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, from wearing the New Look in case it set a bad example at a time when rationing was still in force. After the runaway success of the ‘New Look,’ launched in 1947, it became a sport in the fashion press to speculate on where exactly Dior might think to place his waist, hem and bust lines next.
John Galliano became Artistic Director in 1996 and was there until 2011. During the period, he rejuvenated the Label with his exuberant and imaginative collections.
‘Galliano has a creative talent very close to that of Christian Dior. He has the same extraordinary mixture of romanticism, feminism and modernity that symbolised Monsieur Dior. In all of his creations – his suits, his dresses – one finds similarities to the Dior style.’ Dior chairman Bernard Arnault.
Breaking ground as both a designer and a businessman, Dior recognised the opportunity to curate a woman’s look – from her scent to her shoes. In 1949, Dior began pairing his fragrances with the nobleness of crystal and the expertise of Baccarat. The wasp wasted bottle created by the famous glassworks is redolent of the New Look’s feminine silhouette.
In the largest and final room of the show are the ball gowns. On a revolving central plinth are the golden creations, including the J’Adore dresses worn by Charlize Theron. She has been the face of J’Adore since 2004, and the famous gown from the 2008 J’Adore campaign glitters in all its Swarovski crystal-encrusted glamour.
The ‘Dior In Britain’ room looks at Dior’s fascination with British life and culture. Half of the exhibition is new, compared to the original Paris show, drawing on the V&A’s extensive collection. Dior had his suits made in Saville Row and he initiated collaborations with British manufacturers including Dents, the glovemaker, Lyle & Scott, the knitwear brand, and set up Christian Dior London.
“From the grandeur of the great houses and gardens and British-designed ocean liners to the food he ate, which, most found less than appealing in the ’50s, the culture became an endless pool of inspiration for him. And he loved British women – the way they wore their tweeds as well as their ballgowns.” Curator Oriole Cullen.
The Christian Dior exhibit is the most expensive show that the Victoria and Albert Museum has mounted since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. It become the V&A’s most visited exhibition at the time with 493,043 people seeing it in total during its 21-week run. The exhibition publication, edited by the show’s curator Claire Wilcox, became the museum’s most successful publication of all time, selling 80,000 copies since its publication at the start of the run, and over 2000m of Alexander McQueen scarves were sold.
Only time will tell whether Dior breaks these records, but I can’t recommend this show enough – visit the exhibition and experience the glamour and style, the femininity and risk-taking that is Dior. ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ opens today, February the second and runs through till July.
Text and images © Jonathan Dredge.