Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams – new exhibition review

The French designer Christian Dior revolutionized fashion by launching the New Look in 1947 and it stayed back in everyone’s mind, making it a remarkable era in the history of fashion. Although that is not the only moment Dior made a statement in making high-quality couture pieces, and the latest exhibition at Victoria & Albert, which documents the 71-year history of the couture house proves that. It consists of over 500 pieces including 200 garments, photography, videos, perfume, makeup, illustrations, magazines, and process pictures. This exhibition is reimagined from the ‘Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve’, organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris with adding 50% new material, by the fashion and textiles curator Oriole Cullen.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

The exhibition spans throughout 11 rooms, all with different categories such as –

  1. Christian Dior
  2. The New Look
  3. The Dior Line
  4. Dior in Britain
  5. Historicism
  6. Travels
  7. The Garden
  8. Designers for Dior
  9. The Atelier
  10. Diorama
  11. The Ballroom

“It’s quite phenomenal to think that every single garment in the show is handmade. Throughout the 70 years of the house, we see the high points and the amazing imagination of the designers at the helm. The garments themselves speak volumes, so this is very much a show that focuses on the fashion.” – Oriole Cullen.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

The dress made for Princess Margaret, which she wore for her 21st birthday is on display as well, taken on loan from the Museum of London. Cullen also informs Vogue that Princess Margaret visited his boutique in 1949 and Dior has often done secret shows exclusively for the royal family. Dior had a profound connection with Britain as he fell in love with the huge houses with gardens, the food and the women clad in tweeds and ballgowns.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

Post his death in 1957, the couture house has been under the leadership of varied artistic directors like Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and the current Maria Grazia Chiuri. The difference between how every designer envisioned the label can be noticed very clearly as for example, the jacket and skirt suits by Yves Saint Laurent were elegant, minimal and more focused on the silhouette, cut of the garment.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

Whereas, the extravagant and heavily detailed gowns by John Galliano appears completely different from the designers before him. This states that even though Christian Dior had a very distinct style of dressmaking, the later designers bought their own aesthetics and sensibilities in fashion and kept the label thriving throughout the decades.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

One of the other noticeable rooms is The Atelier which has toilets (trial garments made in muslin or calico to test the fit and fall of the garment before final garment is constructed), an important aspect of the process of couture garment construction. Minute details like the cut of the neckline or the fall of the sleeve make a huge difference when the garment is constructed in high-quality expensive fabrics like 100% silk. It shows the unglamorous and crucial side of couture dressmaking where garments are exquisitely handmade.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

The visual graphics of glitter rain and night sky and a painting in the Ballroom displaying over 20 ballgowns is breathtaking and experiential. The changing colours of the graphic film transform the whole ambience and also change perspectives on the dress under different lights by highlighting certain details that were not visible under other lightings. Mirrors have been used vastly throughout the exhibition, which creates eye-grasping visual effects and also gives different viewpoints of a dress that the viewer cannot see from far.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - exhibition at the V&A - backstage tales

The exhibition runs from 2nd February to 14th July 2019 in the V&A, London.


Images & Text: Pinanki Shah

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