Designer of Dreams
“In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous,” said the late Christian Dior back in 1957
Article by Charlotte Kan
The quote, solemnly inscribed in white letters on a black wall as you leave the ‘Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams’ exhibition, perfectly epitomises the spirit of what is, essentially, a spectacle.
Spanning 1947 to today, the V&A exhibition is an excursion into the designer’s world and his craft. A reconfiguration of the 2017 Paris show, Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, it traces the history and enduring influence of one of the 20th century’s most significant couturiers. However, it does it with a twist: throughout the exhibition serves as an ode to Dior’s love of Britain. The Frenchman, born in Granville, Normandie, to an industrialist family, was infatuated with the Kingdom across the channel – its tweed, flower prints, English roses and artistic freedom. Princess Margaret’s iconic 21st birthday gown is on display: one of more than 200 rare Haute Couture garments drawn from the V&A’s own couture collection and the extensive Dior Archives.
Alongside fairy-tale dresses, visitors are treated to an array of colourful and sparkling accessories, vintage perfume, original make-up, fashion photography, film, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions.
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The exhibition is a real labour of love. Carefully crafted by Oriole Cullen, the V&A’s fashion and textiles curator, it was put together in a matter of months rather than the customary couple of years. It’s a show, an immersive and multisensory experience – courtesy of set designer Nathalie Crinière and her subtle use of cutting-edge technology throughout. This includes the ethereal cascade of laser-cut paper wisteria, roses and lilies adorning the ‘Garden Room’ or the projection of spacescapes and golden glitter rain on the ceiling and walls in the piece de resistance, the breath-taking ballroom (spot the golden dress number Charlize Theron wore in the infamous J’adore fragrance advert).
There are many nods to the artistic directors who succeeded Dior at the helm of his maison: the modernist Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, as well as the boundary-pushing John Galliano, Raf Simons and, of course, Dior’s current creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
‘Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams’ is a voyage to a different dimension, an enchanting travel back to a time and place that never quite existed but somewhat captures the mood of the post-war era: the Silent Generation’s need for glamour and escapism – an alternate reality of airy and breezy flowery taffeta, tulle and sequin dresses, of parties where the conversation was light, where life was kind, soft and sparkly.
The V&A exhibition is an extravaganza, an enchanting tour de force, an alluring collection of elegant, carefully crafted, timeless silhouettes. In the most British of understatements, it is all rather charming.
Enquiries: now on until September 1st 2019 / www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/dior-designer-of-dreams