Christian Dior – his very name conjures up images of elegance, style and beautiful clothes.
This was a man who was a giant of French couture whose clothes were renowned for being jaw droppingly gorgeous, but beyond most people’s means.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t admire them, even drool over them – which is exactly what thousands of fashion lovers have been doing for the last few weeks in London.
The ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ fashion show at London’s V & A Museum lives up to the hype surrounding it. There are countless ‘wow’ moments with stunning clothes displayed on gorgeous sets. This is fashion as theatre.
I went along to admire the iconic designs and knockout frocks.
A Passion for Fashion
‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged about the House of Dior in the UK.
It traces the history and impact of one of the 20th Century’s most influential couturiers. Also featured in the show is the work of the six artistic directors who succeeded Dior, illustrating the enduring influence of the fashion house.
It turns out that our passion for fashion by Christian Dior is greater than anyone could have dreamed of.
The V & A’s blockbuster sold out tickets for its entire run only days after opening in February, 2019. Now the show has been extended till 1 September 2019 to satisfy demand.
But you’ll need to be quick if you want to bag a ticket for the last remaining dates of the show.
Showtime for High Couture
There’s definitely as sense of ‘showtime’ about the Dior blockbuster. A lot of the visitors to the exhibition looked like they’d come straight off one of his catwalks. I’m not kidding.
For the first time in a British museum, I felt ashamed that I’d not made the effort to tart myself up. A quick glance revealed women in impossibly gorgeous A-line dresses and sculpted suits with designer hats and accessories.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Perhaps it was the day for fashion college students, but the array of outfits was amazing.
Even the museum staff had been re-styled in designer suits to mark the occasion. And there I was in my scruffy jeans and sensible London walking shoes!
This is fashion as pure spectacle. It’s hard not to be blown away by the sheer scale of the show and its presentation.
From the moment you enter the show, the visual journey begins. Look up and there’s a massive monochrome set that could be from a theatrical production.
Once inside, there’s a stunning ‘garden’ filled with sensational floral dresses. Designed to show how Dior was inspired by horticulture and floral motifs, the designs are out of this world.
I felt like I’d arrived in heaven.
Couture at its best
‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ draws heavily from the extensive Dior Archives which give the show depth – the collection of designs is remarkably comprehensive.
With over 500 rare ‘Haute Couture’ garments and accessories, there’s a real sense of opulence and beauty.
There’s also vintage Dior perfumes, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, photographs, films and Christian Dior’s personal possessions. Like his famous Miss Dior perfume, this show left me heady and almost overwhelmed.
Trying to choose a favourite Dior dress is like trying to pick a favourite from a box of chocolates. It’s almost impossible! This is probably my favourite piece – a simple but elegant red dress with a stylish bow. Pure Dior…
Among the show’s highlights are Dior’s iconic Bar Suit, the dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations, and his ‘New Look’ collections.
In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion, creating a legacy that continues to inspire today.
The ‘New Look’ is one of my favourite Dior styles, and I was delighted to see his famous ‘Bar Suit’ from his ground-breaking first collection in 1947. Designers continue to reinterpret it even today.
I love Dior’s dresses their with boned, bustier-style bodices, wasp-waisted corsets, and petticoats. They have great definition and ooze with elegance.
But I was surprised by his evening dresses especially this monochrome collection (pictured below) which seem to pull off the impossible feat of being structured but diaphanous’.
Dior’s love of historicism and decorative arts is also on display with examples of designs influenced by the history of costume.
Dior loved the 18th Century, and the Belle Époque fashions worn by his mother, Madeleine Dior. It’s easy to lose yourself in the ‘powder puff’ world of this period of fashion.
The ‘Ballroom gallery’ celebrates the fantasy of the Ball, evoking the lavish interiors of the great houses of Britain. It’s like stepping into a ballroom full of the most wonderful dresses that you could ever dream of.
‘The Diorama’ is a breathtaking look at House of Dior accessories including costume jewellery, hats, shoes and bags, miniature dresses and perfume, bottles in a kaleidoscopic display.
It highlights the 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.
Fashion wouldn’t be fashion without some foibles. The later House of Dior collaborators were a wacky bunch and weren’t afraid to experiment.
This was perhaps my least favourite section of the show, but it’s entertaining and revelatory in many ways. It’s a side of Dior and his associates that I was less familiar with.
Ethnic costumes, different countries and their cultures were influences on the House of Dior in its later years. I’m not 100% convinced about the peasant costumes nor the Egyptian ‘Cleopatra’ styles personally.
Life’s a ball
Christian Dior had a privileged upbringing in France, having been born into a rich family . Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that his fashions were essentially for the lucky few.
His late 1940s designs – the ‘golden age’ of Dior – were a world away from post-war rationing and austerity.
He brought luxury to women’s fashion and couture, but not to mass fashion. In some ways he belonged to an earlier world of elegance and excess.
Today Dior’s designs seems quite formal but I love his styling and the timeless elegance of his pieces.
The devil is also in the detail which – like most couture fashion – is immaculate. Every single piece in the show is handmade from Dior’s early creations to the later pieces by his designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano.
Take this highly decorated, bejewelled piece. It’s sensational in its styling – and would make anyone wearing it feel like a powerful princess.
Interesting that it’s a design that doesn’t seem to objectify women. It shows them as strong and in control of their body image – like a warrior leader.
There’s something timeless about Dior’s less structured evening gowns which have a universal quality. Their enviable beauty and perfection is sheer genius.
I adore these sequinned, pink creations which ooze glamour and sophistication.
Equally, I also love Dior’s more defined shapes, perhaps exemplified in the lovely, sheer black creation (pictured below). One of my favourite pieces in the show.
Although the show is about the ‘House of Dior’, the Yves Saint Laurent pieces are my favourites with their unbeatable chic quality.
They have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality about them. They look effortless, but we know they took hundreds of hours to create.
I’m less keen on the Galliano designs which are instantly show-off and dramatic, perhaps too much so on occasion.
And then there’s my problem with Galliano’s politics and the controversy surrounding his anti-Semitism – when he left House of Dior under a cloud.
After the V&A’s sensational Alexander McQueen show a few years ago, it was a challenge to come up with an equally powerful fashion blockbuster.
But ‘Dior – Designer of Dreams’ is every bit as magical and mesmerising as a show.
Beautifully presented and designed with some of Haute Couture’s most gorgeous fashions, it remains long in the memory after you’ve swung back through the exit doors and returned to reality – with a bump.
In a nutshell, ‘J’Adore Dior”. I just wish I could afford to buy clothes like this!