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'Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams' Review - V&A

2 February - 14 July 2019

Tickets Sold Out (Monthly releases around the 15th)


‘In the world today, haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous, and couturiers the last possessors of the wand of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother,’ declared Christian Dior in 1957. Over fifty years later, the Victoria and Albert museums proves the enduring veracity of this statement by staging a Dior retrospective that captures the designer’s dream-like vision: lavish, spectacular and thrillingly glamorous.

Photo: © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is a British take on the Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve exhibition, organised at the Parisian Musée des Arts décoratifs in honour of the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior. Although the curator Oriole Cullen has introduced new themes, such as the designer’s relationship with Britain (he was a self-professed Anglophile), the show is still a celebration of Monsieur Dior, his successors, and the art of haute couture.

It opens with the famous "New Look", an ensemble which divided society in 1947. After the ground-breaking collections of Coco Chanel and years of wartime privation, which reduced fashion to utility, the flower-like woman Dior brought into being was shocking in more ways than one: the cinched waist was redolent of the corsets women had only just rejected; the full, pleated skirt represented excess that some rejoiced in and others condemned. For Dior himself, it was quite simply a reaction against the ‘death of imagination’ that characterised fashion in the wartime years of 1939-45. Whether retrograde or youthfully vivacious, the "New Look" certainly left an indelible mark on fashion history and defined the distinctive Dior silhouette, which the succeeding artistic directors of the House continue to reconfigure in their own work.

Photo: © Dior

Though Christian Dior is the star of the show, the exhibition also encapsulates the history of the label he established, providing a visually resplendent insight into the way Dior’s successors have reinterpreted his key themes: history, travel, the garden and the ball. The latter – indisputably the show’s pièce de la résistance – is a fairy-tale fashion fantasy: a circular room full of dazzling evening wear which uses light, projection and sound to create a total work of art. Admittedly, Dior’s garments would look no less stunning lined up against a plain background. The exhibition, however, seeks to do more than display beautiful clothing; by arranging the rooms with such theatrical flair, Cullen has created an immersive spectacle that mirrors the ethereality and drama of Dior’s designs.

The show is also a salute to the artistry of haute couture. Each of the garments produced by the House of Dior is testament to the extraordinary skill of couturiers, which is what ‘The Atelier’ section is concerned with. One of the most striking rooms in the exhibition is the floor-to-ceiling glass cases holding toiles – prototypes usually made in white cotton fabric. Though, from a distance, the ones on display have the appearance of finished pieces, a closer look reveals pins and visible stitching, which mark them as work-in-progress. The toiles demonstrate the fastidious care that goes into every single piece of clothing, even at the initial stages of manufacture. They also reveal the crucial role the cut plays in Dior’s designs. Though it is easy to get carried away by the luxurious fabrics and elaborate embellishments of the final product, a plain white toile proves that Dior is, perhaps above all, an architect of the female body.

Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Astonishing in scope and breathtaking in execution, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is fashion like you have never seen it before – a dream you will not want to wake up from.

Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor


'Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams'

At the Victoria and Albert Museum until 14th July 2019

Same day tickets available at 10am at the Grand Entrance on a first-come-first-served basis

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