Fashion is about more than just image – it’s about telling a story. The V&A museum in London, with their phenomenally popular exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”, does exactly that in all the necessary and appropriate style.
The exhibition is led by fashion and textiles curator Oriole Cullen and set designer Nathalie Crinière. It’s the first fashion exhibition to be staged in the V&A’s new galleries designed by Amanda Levete, and also the largest one since the “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” in 2015. It’s proved so popular that even after being extended until 1 September 2019, the exhibition has been sold out entirely.
But worry not – there are still a handful of tickets available to be purchased on the door at 10am each day. You won’t be the only one lining up at the V&A’s Grand Entrance by 8am. Even so, we can promise you that this exhibition is worth getting up early to queue for. Need more persuading? Read on.
Upon entering the exhibition, we are cast back into time. Presenting the Dior House in a more literal sense, the exhibition is made up of several rooms that follow a narrative. We begin with Dior’s childhood growing up in Normandy, and get a strong sense of his early inspiration from nature. Already in the second sentence of his biographical introduction, we are told about his attachment to gardens and his love for flowers. This first room appropriately introduces the famed ‘Bar Suit’, with its stiffly tailored jacket and the dramatically cinched waist. This was one of the defining outfits of Dior‘s “The New Look”, the collection that launched the designer into the fashion spotlight back in 1947.
The following room continues to showcase “The Dior Line”, 10 definitive Dior looks that he created during his tenure between 1947 and 1957.
“Dior in Britain” tells us about the attraction Dior had to a country that, to him, represented freedom, natural beauty, and of course, good business. There are glorious pieces in cream, gold, and the periwinkle blue that was hugely fashionable amongst British royalty and high society at the time. Also displayed here is the special gown designed for Princess Margaret on her 21st birthday.
The exhibition then departs from the more personal narratives on Dior to explore the wider influences on and developments of his fashion house. The “Travels” room reminded us of the famous ‘It’s a Small World’ amusement ride at Disneyland – not just aesthetically, but by concept too. Presenting outfits inspired by China, Japan, Egypt, Mexico, and beyond, the display shows how significant travel and cultural appreciation was, and continues to be, to Dior .
In another room, we are taken on a journey through the designers who succeeded Dior at his fashion house. Starting from Yves Saint Laurent, we then see developments and changes through Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and the current creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri.
One of the most crowd-pleasing rooms is “The Garden”. This is a sensory delight with stunning overhanging wisteria, clematis, roses, and – Dior’s favourite – lily-of-the-valley. Underneath this fantastical canopy are equally gorgeous dresses, perfumes, and beauty products delicately crafted with florals and gardens in mind.
The centre-piece is a breathtaking gown with tiny hand-stitched feathers that form a floral pattern.
In contrast, there is the “Ateliers” room – a starkly plain white room that is awe-inspiring in it’s own way. Ghostly ‘toiles’ (cotton prototypes) of Dior pieces are displayed from floor to ceiling in glass cases. It’s a spectacular room in many ways, reminding us of the craftsmanship and the painstaking efforts of the skilled ‘petits mains’ that are involved in the making of these exquisite fashions
“Diorama” is just as fun and exciting as it sounds. This room features a wall-length transparent closet displaying colour-coded accessories and trinkets from across the decades. If the curation for this exhibition overall is masterful, it’s at its most impressive in this room. Opposite the wonderful vintage display is a stretch of 123 magazine covers from the 50s to the present that have featured looks by Dior.
Since all the rooms evoke amazement and wonder, the challenge is in designing the final room. But the V&A exhibitioners do not disappoint. How else to conclude the exhibition but with a grand “Ballroom”? This is an all-out celebration of Dior’s most extravagant creations, his passion for creating beauty and happiness for women, the fantasy-come-true that the house continues to promise. With a rotating central pedestal featuring some wondrous outfits, the room also surrounds guests with stunning haute couture gowns worn for lavish events from royal occasions to red carpet appearances. We see John Galliano’s liquid gold dress that Charlize Theron wore in the J’Adore Dior campaign. There are also the bespoke red carpet gowns worn by current celebrities such as Emma Watson, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lawrence. With enthralling music, a dynamic centre stage, and beautiful lighting effects, the “Ballroom” was a perfect depiction of the Dream that Christian Dior was – and still is.
Yes, fashion is about more than just image. But this exhibition at the V&A goes beyond simply telling the story of Christian Dior. This is an exhibition that presents Dior as a beautiful experience, a magical celebration, a dream that women all over the world can relish in together.
The V&A exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” is currently running until 1 September 2019. Having sold out its entire run, guests are invited to purchase the limited tickets that are available daily at the door on a first-come-first-serve basis. For more information, please click here.