Throwback Thursday: Christian Dior, Designer Of Dreams At The V&A In London – June 2019

The Dior Line, 1950s

I have always loved visiting London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and it is one of my all-time favorite museums because every season they hold great fashion retrospectives that are usually displayed in a very sophisticated and scenic way, like “Cristóbal Balenciaga” in 2017 and “Fashioned from Nature” in 2018 (also, it’s impossible not to mention Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” in 2015, one of the most popular and successful retrospectives ever held at the museum). I am grateful to have been able to attend some of these exhibitions throughout the years; “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” has definitely been my favorite so far.

Since it had already been showcased at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the exhibition was very much hyped even before opening at the V&A and it did not disappoint expectations. According to MF Fashion, “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” had a record number of spectators, selling almost 600,000 tickets in seven months. I was very lucky to be able to attend the exhibition because it was extended until September 2019 so I got to see it in the month of June during a trip to London.

The exhibition presented about 200 rare Haute Couture garments, starting from the birth of the House of Dior in 1946 and tracing the evolution of Dior’s signature style over the years. It allowed visitors to examine various illustrations, photographs, videos, magazines, accessories, vintage perfumes and make-up, for a total of about 500 objects extracted from the immense Dior Archives. It basically turned out to be one of London’s biggest cultural events in 2019 and I was happy to become a V&A member on the day I attended the exhibition. One of the first pieces displayed was the iconic Bar Suit, which is part of the V&A’s permanent collection, since it was gifted to the museum by the Maison Dior in 1960.

Christian Dior showcased his first haute couture collection in February 1947 at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. The designs offered a great alternative to the masculine style of women’s fashion after World War II and they were widely praised and highly acclaimed by the press, as Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Carmel Snow told the designer: “Your dresses have such a new look!”

The term New Look was chosen to name the collection and its two silhouettes, Corolle (featuring full skirts similar to flower petals) and En 8 (hip-hugging pencil skirts). The Bar suit was inspired by the bar at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris and became the symbol of the New Look, creating a new fashionable silhouette that was unprecedented for the time; the rounded shoulders and the flowing, elongated shapes made to highlight the waist, along with the voluminous corolla skirts, helped reshape women’s bodies by bringing back feminine beauty and reviving sensuality. At the same time, garments from the past such as corsets and guêpières were brought back into vogue so Dior found itself at the center of a fashion revolution thanks to his innovative spirit. The New Look designs on the walls of the V&A were presented in a majestical way, followed by a section that highlighted the looks from 1947 to 1957 that defined this revolutionary fashion era and a section dedicated to Christian Dior’s love for Great Britain.

Dior - The New Look.
The New Look – Dior
Dior Romanesque dress (1950)
Dior Ulysse coat (1952)
Dior Aladin dress (1953)
Christian Dior: Great Britain

The exhibition was divided in eleven different theme sections; the first one started with Christian Dior’s earlier years and was followed by the New Look section that showcased his groundbreaking approach to fashion.

The Historicism section showcased Monsieur Dior’s love for the Belle Époque, as the designer often referenced historical periods in his designs. He was particularly fascinated by the sumptuous silks and dramatic silhouettes of the 18th century, which often returned in his creations. This time period was also an inspiration for Dior’s atelier at 30 Avenue Montaigne, which had a neoclassical façade, medallion-backed chairs and white and grey paneling like the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The atelier’s décor also recalled Dior’s childhood home in Granville and his family’s Parisian apartment, which was in the style of Louis XVI.

Numerous references to the 18th century can be found in the fashion creations of Dior and his successors as well, like John Galliano. Most of these creations were inspired by the lavish style of the court dress worn at Versailles, along with the decorative arts of the period.

Christian Dior: Historicism (pale pink)
Christian Dior: Historicism (light blue)
Christian Dior: Historicism (white)
Christian Dior: Historicism (Dior by John Galliano S/S 2005)

The Travel section highlighted Christian Dior’s passion for traveling; he traveled a lot, especially in his twenties, when he visited London, Athens, Istanbul and Leningrad, so travel was a recurring theme in the designer’s creative work. He also spent a year in Mediterranean’s Balearic Islands to recover from an illness. Since the launching of his first collection, Dior took inspiration from landscapes, architecture, art and textiles of the various countries and cities he visited, naming his creations after the places that inspired them. His creative influences grew as his brand expanded worldwide, including places like Japan and South America. The gallery focused on five of the countries which have inspired Dior and his successors through the decades: Mexico, Egypt, China, Japan and India. Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is currently Dior’s creative director, has reflected about the changing role of the creative director; not only do they have to focus on designing clothes, but also on the current issues that reflect our times. She collaborated closely with the Mexican horsewomen (“escaramuzas”) that were beyond the inspiration for her Dior Cruise 2019 collection, inviting them to demonstrate their amazing rodeo skills during the fashion show.

Christian Dior: Travel (Mexico)
Christian Dior: Travel (Egypt)
Christian Dior: Travel (China)

The Garden section was dedicated to Dior’s fascination for gardens, as he stated in 1954: “After women, flowers are the most divine of creations.” He began to love gardens during his childhood; his mother Madeleine cultivated the family garden that overlooked the sea at Granville and he loved to study her plant catalogues.

Dior enjoyed sketching his dresses in the garden and flowers were a constant inspiration to him, both for his clothes and the floral accents of Dior perfumes. Flowers abound in his work, especially in the form of prints and intricate embroideries. They have been present from the very beginning of his career as a designer, since the New Look was inspired by the shape of an inverted flower.

The House of Dior’s successive designers have kept returning to the garden theme throughout the years. Yves Saint Laurent frequently added rose motifs to his designs for Dior. Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré and John Galliano would often adorn their collections with floral embroideries. The first Dior collection designed by Raf Simons saw the models walking down the runway against a backdrop of walls of fresh flowers. For her first Dior collection, Maria Grazia Chiuri created dresses with hand-dyed silk petals, caught like pressed flowers between the layers of silk tulle. The section was one of the most beautiful in the entire exhibition, with cascades of wisteria from the ceiling and twigs that were used for decorating the entire hall. There was a beautiful atmosphere in this room, very calm and relaxing.

Christian Dior: Garden (floral)
Christian Dior: Garden + Dior fragrances with floral notes
Dior fragrances
Christian Dior: Garden (pink)

The Designers for Dior section displayed a series of creations from the designers that have succeeded Monsieur Dior in the role of House of Dior’s creative director: Yves Saint Laurent (1958-1960), Marc Bohan (1960-89), Gianfranco Ferré (1989-1996), John Galliano (1996-2011), Raf Simons (2012-2015) and Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016-present). It included a wide range of beautiful garments and it was great to see each designer’s interpretation of the Dior universe, seeing the differences among the creative directors and what each of them brought to the House of Dior.

Christian Dior by Gianfranco Ferré
Christian Dior by Yves Saint Laurent
Christian Dior by Raf Simons
Christian Dior by John Galliano
Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri
Christian Dior: Designers for Dior (John Galliano)

The section titled Ateliers showcased tailoring work at its best, with the dresses prototypes neatly lined up along the white walls of the room. In 1954 Christian Dior said: “Everything created by human hands expresses something – above all the personality of the creator. The same thing is true with a dress. But since so many people are working on it, the real job is to get all the hands that cut, sew, try on and embroider to express all I have felt.” The designs are monochromatic white like everything else in the room and they are shown in a basic, minimal way, without any embellishment and with the addition of chalk marks that will be useful in the making of a dress. This room brilliantly showcases the work that goes on behind the scenes, accurately describing the different steps of the process, from the carbon sketches to the final result.

It was also very interesting to be able to have a look at the “savoir-faire” of the iconic Dior saddle bag in a video that was included in this section and to witness the creative process behind some of the items the House of Dior is known for.

The Diorama section was incredibly beautiful, consisting of a striking color corridor and including mini dresses and accessories like perfumes, hats and bags, all sorted by color. This was undoubtedly one of the areas with the most creative and sophisticated arrangements, characterized by a really striking explosion of color. The adjacent wall displayed a timeline of magazine issues from 1946 up to the time the exhibition was inaugurated, with celebrities wearing Dior on the cover or featured in the articles, vintage issues like Paris Match dedicated to Monsieur Dior and the latest ones dedicated to Maria Grazia Chiuri as Dior’s new creative director.

Dior in White.
Christian Dior: Ateliers
Christian Dior: Diorama (red)
Christian Dior: Diorama (yellow)
Christian Dior: Diorama (blue)
Fashion magazines featuring Dior through the years

The section that concluded the exhibition was called Ballroom and it was meant to recreate the atmosphere of a soirée through the music and lights that change colors from day to night in seven minutes. A revolving platform was placed at the center of the room and displayed a series of beautiful jewel-gowns created for the J’Adore perfume ads. Along the walls were gorgeous evening and party dresses, including some garments exclusively made for the red carpet (I recognized a dress worn by Jennifer Lawrence during a movie première and also a dress that was worn by a model in the promotional photos of the “Dior and I” documentary. If you are interested, it is a great fashion documentary from 2014 that focuses on the creation of Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection for Dior). The room enclosed 60 gowns and everything was displayed in a very elegant way. I was very moved by the end of the exhibition; actually, I didn’t want it to end because it was like being part of a magical universe. More than three years later, I still remember “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” as one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever attended in my life and I will cherish this experience for many years to come.

Christian Dior: Ballroom (pink)
Christian Dior: Ballroom (golden)
Christian Dior: Ballroom (pastel colors)
Christian Dior: the Ballroom section

“In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvelous.”

Christian Dior, 1957

Additional notes:

Thank you to the Victoria & Albert Museum for giving me the opportunity to become a member of the museum and have access to their exclusive artistic events. I hope to be back in London soon to renew my membership card and am also looking forward to seeing the exhibition dedicated to Gabrielle Chanel, which will open in September 2023. If you live in London or visit the city often, I suggest you become a V&A member because you will be allowed to freely access the amazing exhibitions the museum organizes every year, including some member perks like previews and priority booking. It is definitely worth it and they also provide packages for families and additional guest options. If you are lucky enough to live in London or are planning to visit the city soon, you should definitely check out the current exhibitions at the V&A (I would love to see the one about Africa Fashion, which is on until April 2023).

All pictures are my own.


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