“I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body," Christian Dior once said. Spanning the runaway success of his ‘New Look’ in 1947 and iconic royal appointment to present day, the V&A’s ground-breaking Dior exhibit (the museum's biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015) traces the history and impact of the designer who sparked a new era in fashion. Oriole Cullen, Curator of 'Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams', talks us through what to expect.
The New Look that sparked a new era in fashion
“In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion with his New Look, which redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-war Parisian fashion industry. Both nostalgic in aesthetic and forward-thinking in approach, the influence of Christian Dior’s innovative and experimental design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era. Championing the artistry and craftsmanship of haute couture against a backdrop of ever-increasing mass manufacture, Dior combined astute business acumen and commercial opportunism with astounding creative talent. In the 1950s, the V&A was keen to acquire an original garment from Christian Dior’s first New Look collection, of which the Bar suit [pictured] was the quintessential emblem. With the help of Cecil Beaton we approached the House, and in 1960 the Bar suit was gifted to the museum.”
Celebrating the art of colour
“Colour was incredibly important to Christian Dior. For him, each colour had a significant meaning. He saw black as the emblem of elegance; white as the colour of purity; pink as evocative of his childhood home in Granville, Normandy; pearl grey recalled the eighteenth century which he was fascinated by, while red was of the utmost importance and became synonymous with the House.”
…and the dreamiest couture gowns
“The Dior in Britain section explores Dior’s fascination with British culture. He loved the grandeur of the great houses and gardens of Britain, as well as British-designed ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He also wore Savile Row suits. His first UK fashion show took place at London’s Savoy Hotel in 1950 and in 1952 he established his London business, CD Models, later known as Christian Dior London. In this section, we also take a closer look at Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers, including Dents (gloves), Rayne (shoes) Lyle & Scott (knitwear) and Mitchel Maer (costume jewellery), and his most notable early British clients, from author Nancy Mitford to ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn.
We’re so excited to be able to display the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations [above], on loan from the Museum of London following conservation work. We are also evoking Dior’s series of spectacular fashion shows staged in some of the UK’s most luxurious stately homes, including Blenheim Palace in 1954, from which several garments are now part of the V&A’s collection.”
Getting up, close and personal with Dior details
“For Dior, style went beyond a specific dress. Instead he wanted to create a total look. For him, hats, shoes, bags, gloves, belts, scarves, jewellery, make-up and perfume all contributed to a coherent signature style.”
Dior’s new direction
“From the daring designs of Yves Saint Laurent to the rational style of Marc Bohan, the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the exuberance of John Galliano, the minimalism of Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion, the exhibition shows how each successive artistic director has stayed true to Dior’s vision of haute couture, while bringing their own creative sensibilities to the House to ensure it remains at the forefront of fashion today.”
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is at the V&A from 2 February – 14 July 2019 vam.ac.uk
4 February 2019