Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams traces the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers

Today the V&A opens the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior. From 1947 to the present day, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams traces the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers, and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him, to explore the enduring influence of the fashion house.

Based on the major exhibition Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, the exhibition is reimagined for the V&A. A brand-new section explores, for the first time, the designer’s fascination with British culture. Dior admired the grandeur of the great houses and gardens of Britain, as well as British-designed ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He also had a preference for Savile Row suits. His first UK fashion show took place at London’s Savoy Hotel, and in 1952 he established Christian Dior London.

French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936 - 2008) in London, 11th November 1958. He is preparing for the following day's Dior Autumn collection show to an audience including Princess Margaret, at Blenheim Palace. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images
French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936 – 2008) in London, 11th November 1958. He is preparing for the following day’s Dior Autumn collection show to an audience including Princess Margaret, at Blenheim Palace. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The exhibition investigates Dior’s creative collaborations with British manufacturers, including Dents (gloves), Rayne (shoes) Lyle & Scott (knitwear) and Mitchel Maer (costume jewellery). It also focuses on his most notable early British clients, from author Nancy Mitford to ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn. A highlight is the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations, on loan from the Museum of London following conservation work. The exhibition also brings to life Dior’s spectacular fashion shows staged in the UK’s most luxurious stately homes, including Blenheim Palace in 1954, of which several ensembles are now in the V&A’s collection.

Drawn from the extensive Dior Archives, the exhibition presents over 500 objects, with over 200 rare Haute Couture garments shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions. It also showcases highlights from the V&A’s world-class Couture collections, including the iconic Bar Suit, gifted to the museum by the House of Dior in 1960 with the help of Cecil Beaton.

The exhibition highlights Christian Dior’s total design vision, encompassing garments, accessories and fragrances. Flowers are emblematic of the Couture House and have inspired silhouettes, embroidery and prints, but also the launch of Miss Dior in 1947, the first fragrance created alongside the very first show.

From horticulture to global travel and historicism, the show reveals the sources of inspiration that defined the House of Dior’s aesthetic. From the daring designs of Yves Saint Laurent to the rational style of Marc Bohan, the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the exuberance of John Galliano, the minimalism of Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion, the exhibition shows how each successive artistic director has stayed true to Dior’s vision of Haute Couture, while bringing their own creative sensibilities to the House.

Oriole Cullen, Fashion and Textiles Curator at the V&A, said:

“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 new research about Dior’s relationship with Britain.”

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams brings to the V&A an in-depth and wide-ranging study of the unique Haute Couture garments since 1947. Across 11 sections, the exhibition showcases the exquisite skill and craftsmanship of the ateliers and successive designers from the House of Dior:

Christian Dior offers an extended biography on Christian Dior (1905–57), from family life to his early career as a gallery owner and 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 Dior perfumes.
The New Look focuses on Dior’s famed Bar Suit from his ground-breaking first collection in 1947 and considers how subsequent Dior designers have reinterpreted it over the years.
The Dior Line showcases ten defining looks made between 1947 and 1957, Christian Dior’s own tenure at the House.

Dior in Britain uncovers Christian Dior’s personal love of England and his British client’s reciprocal love for his fashion. Focusing mostly on Dior’s lifetime, it highlights early Dior fashion shows staged in country houses and grand hotels around Britain, the Dior London company and British clients.
Historicism examines the influence of historic dress and decorative arts in the House of Dior’s designs from 1947 to today, encompassing Dior’s love of the 18th century, and the Belle Époque fashions worn by his mother, Madeleine Dior.

Travels explores how travel and different countries and cultures have consistently inspired the various designers at the House of Dior. The Garden highlights the importance of flowers and gardens as a source of inspiration to the House, from garments to perfume. Designers for Dior spotlights the work of the subsequent six key artistic directors since Christian Dior’s death in 1957. The Ateliers showcases toiles from the Dior Ateliers in a stunning ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style installation. Diorama examines 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. This section spotlights the key creative partners of the House from the past 70 years, including Roger Vivier Stephen Jones, René Gruau, Serge Lutens and Swarovski, Christian Dior’s first choice for crystals to embellish his creations.

The Ballroom celebrates the fantasy of the Ball, evoking the lavish interiors of the great houses of Britain. Showcasing 70 years of stunning formal evening wear, this section reveals the incredible skill of the Haute Couture ateliers.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams The Sainsbury Gallery 2nd February – 14th July 2019
vam.ac.uk | #DiorDesignerofDreams

V&A_Christian Dior Designer of Dreams exhibition_Travels section (c) ADRIEN DIRAND

V&A_Christian Dior Designer of Dreams exhibition_Diorama section (c) ADRIEN DIRAND (15)

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper' AofC - Issue 1 Autumn 2018