The most extensive collection of the House of Christian Dior ever compiled has been made accessible to the public by way of a stunning new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
The “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibition showcases some of Christian Dior’s most iconic looks from 1947 to today, including the cream-colored, chiffon-sleeved confection Princess Margaret wore for her 21st birthday in 1951, Charlize Theron’s Swarovski crystal-encrusted gown from the 2008 J’Adore campaign, the sequined number Jennifer Lawrence graced us with at the 2018 Oscars, among hundreds of other jaw-dropping ensembles.
Comprising over 500 Dior pieces (200 of which are couture gowns and 157 of which are objects that have never been displayed in a museum before), the show traces Christian Dior’s work and obsessions, and showcases the ways in which Dior’s succeeding creative directors have been inspired by his legacy. For reference, this list chronologically includes Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri. (Bill Gaytten was the creative director between Galliano and Simons for two seasons, but his work hasn’t been represented, most likely because of his short tenure).
Christian Dior’s post-war debut came at a time when Europe was just beginning to emerge from being shattered financially, psychologically, and physically. Throughout World War II in the U.K. (the exhibition closely looks at the ways in which Christian Dior was inspired by British Culture, and vice versa), ‘fashion’ had been reduced to utility. After all, this was a time period when British citizens were advised to carry gas masks with them at all time and handbags were made to include gas tank compartments. Enter Christian Dior’s revolutionary Carolle line in 1947, which featured a full-skirted, feminine silhouette. It’s here that fantasy dared to be reintroduced into fashion.
It’s important to understand the significance of how groundbreaking Christian Dior’s New Look (as it would come to be known) was for its time, and it’s fascinating to consider how people responded. The British government, for one, was concerned at how the fabric-heavy couture creations would impact the country’s ration books. According to The Times, the Board of Trade even called a meeting for fashion editors in which the board’s president, Stafford Cripps, asked the British press to either give Dior’s debut collection bad reviews or ignore it completely. Nevertheless, Dior’s early looks, which saw the average dress use 20 yards of fabric, appealed to women who were ready to dream again. As Christian Dior famously told British fashion reporter Anne Edwards from the Daily Express in 1947: “I am giving women the dresses they want… They’re fed up with war restrictions. My full skirts are a release.”
Christian Dior’s New Look would go on to define the decade, reinvigorate the Parisian fashion industry, and inspire larger-than-life daydreams from fashion spectators that have endured throughout The House of Dior’s evolution. Expanding on the 2015 retrospective on Dior that occupied Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs with 60% more content, the V&A’s “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” show offers an otherworldly escape into pure fantasy.
Victoria & Albert’s “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” is up now through July 14, 2019.