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What to expect from the V&A's Christian Dior exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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London - The Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), which will mark the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the house of Dior, will feature a dress worn by Princess Margaret, as well couture gowns worn by actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, and Lupita Nyong’o.

Opening on February 2, 2019, the exhibition based on the hugely popular Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve exhibition which ran at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris will mark the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015, and will span across 11 theatrical sections, tracing the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential luxury fashion houses from 1947 to the present day.

Curated by Oriole Cullen, the V&A revelled at a press preview for the up-coming exhibition, that the show will offer an in-depth and wide-ranging study of Haute Couture garments since 1947, with a particular focus on Dior’s love of Britain, and will trace not only the history and impact of the couturier himself, but the skill and craftsmanship of the six artistic directors who have succeeded him at his namesake brand, which the museum states will showcase the “enduring influence” of the French fashion house.

Image: Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948 - courtesy of Christian Dior

While based on the exhibition held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the V&A will present 50 percent new content, with Dior’s obsession with British Royalty, the aristocracy, and British culture sitting at the heart of the exhibition, with a major highlight being Princess Margaret’s off-the-shoulder Christian Dior couture gown wore to her 21st birthday party in 1951 on loan from the Museum of London following conservation work.

The exhibition will also explore the private shows arranged for the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret at the French Embassy in London, as well as bring to life Dior’s spectacular fashion shows staged in the UK’s most luxurious stately homes, including Blenheim Palace in 1954.

Oriole Cullen, fashion and textiles curator at the V&A, said in a statement: “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. The V&A recognised Dior’s important contribution to design history early-on in his career, acquiring his sketches and garments from the 1950s onwards.

“The influence of Christian Dior’s design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era. In their own individual ways, each of the House’s successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted Dior’s own designs and continued the legacy of the founder, ensuring that the House of Christian Dior is at the forefront of fashion today. More than seventy years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition celebrates the enduring influence of the House of Dior and reveals Dior’s relationship with Britain.”

The Dior in Britain section also investigates Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers, including Dents (gloves), Rayne (shoes) Lyle and Scott (knitwear) and Mitchel Maer (costume jewellery), as well as his most notable early British clients, including author Nancy Mitford and ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, and also his preference for Savile Row suits.

Image: Christian Dior (1905-57), Fête joyeuse, Evening Dress, Haute Couture. SpringSummer 1955, A Line by Laziz Hamani

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams to open at V&A in 2019

Within the 11 sections, the exhibition will presents more than 500 objects, with over 200 rare Haute Couture garments, drawn from the extensive Dior archives, featuring the work of not only Dior himself, but all of Dior’s womenswear creative directors, including Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Bill Gaytten, Raf Simons and the current designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri, with the museum expressing that the exhibition will show how “each successive artistic director has stayed true to Dior’s vision of Haute Couture, while bringing their own creative sensibilities to the House.”

These couture pieces will be shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions, said the museum.

A major highlight of the display will be the famed Bar Suit from Dior’s ground-breaking first collection in 1947, which was gifted to the museum by the House of Dior in 1960 with the help of Cecil Beaton. This revolutionary silhouette will feature as part of the “New Look’ section, which considers how subsequent Dior designers have reinterpreted it over the years.

Christian Dior Bar Suit, Haute Couture spring/ summer 1947 - by Laziz Hamani

There is also a section dedicated to Dior himself, his family life, early career as a gallery owner, as well as the founding of the House of Dior in 1946. It encompasses Dior’s extensive travel, the global success of his couture house and the development of Miss Dior in 1947, the first fragrance created alongside the very first show.

The ‘Dior Line’ showcases ten defining looks made between 1947 and 1957, Christian Dior’s own tenure at the House, while ‘Historicism’ examines the influence of historic dress and decorative arts in the House of Dior’s designs from 1947 to today, featuring Dior’s love of the 18th century, and the Belle Époque fashions worn by his mother, Madeleine Dior.

V&A to stage largest Christian Dior exhibition in the UK

Image: A paper toile at the Dior ateliers by Sophie Carre from Dior Héritage collection, Paris

There are also sections dedicated to travel, and how different countries and cultures have consistently inspired the various designers, as well as the importance of flowers and gardens as a source of inspiration to the House, from garments to perfume, as well as a ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style installation showcasing toiles from the Dior Ateliers and a diorama examining the breadth of the House of Dior, from accessories including costume jewellery, hats, shoes and bags, to illustrations, miniature dresses and archive lipstick and perfume, bottles, collected in a kaleidoscopic display.

The finale will be ‘The Ballroom’ celebrating the fantasy of the Ball, and Dior’s 70 year love affair with a fairytale evening gown. This section will feature gowns by all six artistic directors, as well as Dior’s original designs, including pieces worn by celebrities Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as a silk tulle fan pleated dress created by current creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri.

The Dior exhibition is the latest in the V&A’s series of major fashion exhibitions, including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty; The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014; The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957. In 2017, the V&A staged a retrospective on Cristóbal Balenciaga, and current exhibition, Fashioned From Nature, is on show until 27 January, 2019.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will run from February 2 to July 14, 2019 at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Sainsbury Gallery.

Image: Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dress, Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 2018 by Laziz Hamani

Images: courtesy of V&A

Main Image: Royal Portrait of Princess Margaret on her 21st birthday by Cecil Beaton

Christian Dior
Victoria and Albert