‘In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous’ said Christian Dior in 1957. This quote can be read on the wall at the exit of the new exhibition of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, and seems to be a beautiful illustration of it. Curated by Oriole Cullen, the exhibition is divided into eleven sections celebrating the house of French haute-couture Dior from its foundation in 1947 to the present day. This show is the largest ever staged in the United Kingdom about the House of Dior, offering a poetic and diverse retrospective of the sensible and distinctive work of one of the most influential designer of the twentieth century, Christian Dior, as well as the six artistic directors who succeeded him.
More than 500 objects and 200 dresses are exposed, which allows a genuine retrospective of the evolution of the brand throughout the twentieth century. Each room correlates to a different world and atmosphere, allowing visitors to enjoy the meticulousness and classiness of the dresses and accessories. This places the ensemble as real pieces of art, making the experience enjoyable even for people not familiar with Dior or haute-couture in general. For the way it also emphasizes on the importance of accessories, perfume and attitude, the exhibition really confirms the brand as a complete and total design vision, revolving around refinement and an appreciation for natural and distinguished beauty. Indeed, a strong emphasis is made on Dior’s love for gardens, flowers, architecture and history, and how these interests influenced collections such as the well-known New Look in 1947. Oriole Cullen, the curator of the retrospective, noted how this was a genuine ‘redefinition of the female silhouette, reinvigorating the post-War Parisian fashion industry’. to ‘have redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-War Parisian fashion industry’.
My favourite part of the exhibition was the room ‘Travels’, for it showed how the journeys of Christian Dior around the world influenced his work and creative vision. Many looks inspired by countries such as Japan, Mexico or India are exposed, embodying how the experience of a distinctive culture, landscape and art can be translated into dresses and garments. From the red dresses reminding China and its symbolism to the incorporation of Japanese motives into the pieces, the diversity and precision of craftsmanship this room offers are strongly compelling.
On top of this, the V&A insisted on how this exhibition was distinctive for it focused on Dior’s obsession and admiration with Britain and its culture. Therefore, many interesting additions are observable – the most striking one being the dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations. This graceful and complex piece, on loan from the Museum of London, highlights how the delicacy and elegance of Dior was admired and recognised by the highest members of British society at the time. It is also possible to learn more about the importance of the collaborations between British manufacturers and the House of Dior, such as Dents (for gloves) or Lyle & Scott (for knitwear).
The section ‘Ballroom’, at the end of the exhibition, is the most impressing one in terms of scenery. Relying on a virtual animation on the walls and the ceiling, it focuses on evening dresses and ball-gowns, combining extravagance with luxury. The lights and colours keep on changing, and falling-stars animations are moving on the walls – their reflections is appreciable on the diamonds and ornaments of the looks. This room concludes the exhibition and beautifully assert Haute Couture as a true art form. It is indeed proven here as a medium of expression, a historical tool allowing a retrospective on concepts and distinctive artistic understandings.
Therefore, I strongly recommend visiting the exhibition, running from the 2nd of February to the 14th of July. Even if I am not very familiar with fashion and Haute Couture, I was completely mesmerised by the way Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams allows to indulge into such a delicate way of thinking and understanding beauty, going far beyond fashion ensembles. Indeed, all the accessories, photographies, film, perfume, makeup and personal possessions of Christian Dior exposed to give a profound insight and knowledge about a name that is likely to remain for a long time one of the most influential of the fashion industry.
For more coverage of this fabulous event, please look out for our upcoming February Print Edition, soon coming to a Kings College campus near you…