On Wednesday I fell into a dream. A Dior dream. Yes folks – I was lucky enough to secure one of the hottest tickets in town. I visited the new Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Spanning 1947 to the present day, Dior: Designer of Dreams traces the history of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers – Christian Dior. Its based on the 2017 Dior exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris – but with a twist. It also explores Dior’s fascination with Britain. If that wasn’t enough, this show is the largest Dior exhibition in UK history.
Its a fitting tribute to a man that literally changed fashion history. When Dior launched his New Look in 1947 to an unsuspecting world it was revolutionary. For years, WWII meant women had had to make do – including when it came to fashion. Nothing could be wasted, and there was no room for excess fabric or frivolous detail.
But Dior was having none of this. He offered a radical alternative to the boxy, masculine style that dominated women’s wartime wear, with full skirts and nipped in waists. His style was christened the New Look and made Dior an overnight sensation.
If you can’t get to London to see this excellent exhibition – don’t worry! I took plenty of pics, and you can join me in an online tour of Dior: Designer of Dreams from the comfort of your armchair.
The New Look
You are greeted at the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition entrance by the iconic Bar suit, first designed for the 1947 S/S Haute Couture Collection.
The Bar suit is iconic because it became emblematic of the entire New Look. The full, pleated skirt epitomized the fashionable new silhouette. It was a great way to start the exhibition.
The Dior Line
You then move into a darkened room dedicated to exhibits showing off the different shapes developed by Dior in the early years of his career. Dior chose names for his designs to reflect the dominant silhouette for each new look he created.
The contrast of the outfits against the black background was a great choice by the curators – it really emphasised the different shapes of the garment.
Dior in Britain
You then move into a space devoted to Dior’s interest in Britain and all things British.
The focal point in this room had to be the Dior ballgown which was worn by Princess Margaret in her famous 21st birthday portrait by Cecil Beaton.
The cream-colored silk gown features a full skirt, tiny waist, off-the-shoulder chiffon sleeves, and gold embroidery detail. Apparently the princess referred to the dreamy Dior dress as “my favorite dress of all”. I can totally see why.
After starting the exhibition in a series of dark rooms you move into a light-filled classical room devoted to historical influences in Dior design. Dior often cited historic periods in his designs, and this trend continued with designers who took up the mantle after him.
The staging of the room creates echoes of Versailles and 18th Century France. Given the historic influences in both the setting and outfits featured it is no surprised I loved this room.
I particularly liked the Gourah ensemble from the 1952 A/W Haute Couture collection. The pale pink satin ensemble features a coat with voluminous sleeves which reminded me a lot of the sack-back style of gown.
The next stop is a room devoted to Christian Dior garments inspired by countries from around the world. I must admit this was one of my least favourite parts of the exhibition as many of the outfits were so far removed from what I recognise as Dior, especially the really wacky Egyptian outfits by John Galliano.
Moving swiftly on.
I loved this part of the exhibition! It contained dresses inspired by Dior’s love of garden and flowers. Fake blossoms trailed from the ceiling and a heavenly floral scent filled the room, creating a truly sensory experience.
The room contained one of my favourite Dior pieces – the Muget dress from the 1957 S/S Haute Couture Collection. It is inspired by the Lily of the valley, Christian Dior’s favourite flower. He always wore a sprig of it in his buttonhole, and often asked seamstresses to sew sprigs of the flower into the hems of his dresses for good luck. The craftmanship of the dress is exquisite, making the flowers on the dress look real.
Designers for Dior
The next part of the exhibition was dedicated to the designers that headed up the House of Dior after its eponymous founder. These include other well-known names such as Yves Saint Laurent and and John Galliano. However, I did feel a bit annoyed with the exhibition’s curators for whitewashing over the anti-semitic controversy associated with the latter designer.
Being more of a classic Dior fan, I was surprised at how much I liked some of the work by Raf Simons. I especially love this iconic red cashmere coat by him. It just screams Dior!
From the dark you enter a light box of a room, full to the ceiling with plain white toiles. Toiles are test garments, usually made in white cotton fabric, that Dior ateliers use to check the fit, construction and shape of a design before constructing it in the final fabric.
Seeing these constructions up close really made me appreciate the design and artistry behind the final results. The toiles are truly a work of art in themselves.
The grand finale – the ballroom was a large circular room displaying the many spectacular evening dresses and ball gowns from the history of Dior.
Every single gown was stunning in its own way, but when combined with the visual effects it literally took your breath away. The walls and ceiling of the room played host to some spectacular projections and lighting. One minute you were standing in a shower of golden glitter, the next you were under a starry night sky watching shooting stars.
The changing light and colours highlighted the different tones and textures of the outfits. I went around this room several times, as every time the light changed I noticed a dress I hadn’t really payed much attention to the first time round.
This room also contained what is my favourite Dior piece of all time – the iconic Junon dress from the 1949 A/W Haute Couture collection. It is a triumph of tulle and sequins, and you can see the floral inspiration in the multi-layered ‘petals’ of the dress skirt.
You are bid farewell by a 2018 pink pleated creation that is heavily influenced by the history of the House of Dior – it was actually inspired by an original 1950s hand-painted promotional fan. The pleated fan is translated into cascades of pleated tulle, and the skirt is embroidered with Christian Dior’s signature.
Tickets are still available for the exhibition, but on a limited basis. It’s best to regularly check the V&A website for up to date details.
If you do get the chance to go, I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve been lucky enough to see a few fashion history exhibitions at the V&A but this one outshines them all – the museum really needed the (relatively) new addition of the Sainsbury Gallery in order to house an exhibition of this scale and quality.
Dior: Designer of Dreams and all the delicious dresses will be haunting my dreams for weeks to come.
If you liked this post why not check out my post all about the best fashion history books for the stylish historian? Or what about this one all about the best fashion history accounts to follow on Instagram?