A Dior Weekend In London Part 3: Dior Designer Of Dreams
As part of our weekend in London, my Mam and I visited the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it was so impressive! Like a dream sequence, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many beautiful pieces under one roof! As an avid lover of fashion exhibitions, I’ve been privileged enough to visit some amazing ones so far in my life (Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty being the one that sets the bar for all of the others) and Dior: Designer of Dreams certainly does not disappoint! I tried to capture some of my favourite parts of this beautiful Dior collection to share with you and to give you a taste of how amazing it is! Starting with the New Look and travelling through to the Ballroom, walk with me around the exhibition as I try to capture it’s essence for you. Whether you’ll be visiting yourself or not, I’ve tried to pull together some of my favourite pieces, without too many spoilers! Dear readers, here is A Dior Weekend In London Part 3: Dior Designer of Dreams.
The New Look
Kicking off with a mock up of Dior’s Avenue Montaigne store and the iconic New Look first championed by Monsieur Dior himself, I knew that this beautiful exhibition would be one to remember.
Christian Dior first unveiled his “New Look” in 1947, with his hotly anticipated first Haute Couture Collection. Such a break from the boxy and masculine post-war fashion of the time, the New Look was breathtakingly feminine. The Bar Suit above, is probably the most famous silhouette from that first collection and is synonymous with all things Dior. It has since been replicated many times by many of the successive creative directors of the house and remains an iconic piece of Dior’s history.
The Dior Line
Christian Dior really understood the female form; his designs anchored from the curves of the female figure and played with structure and proportion. Each design throughout his ten years as creative director before his untimely death in 1957 undertook meticulous construction and skilled workmanship. In twenty-two collections, each containing around ninety looks, Christian Dior chose names that reflected each collection’s most prominent silhouette (Zig-Zag, Flèche or arrow etc). His combination of continuity between collections whilst still being able to create something new and fresh, were what kept his clients coming back for more and allowed his popularity to rise and rise. Here are some of the looks from Christian Dior’s collections:
Dior in Britain
A self-confessed Anglophile, Christian Dior fell in love with England during his first visit in the 1920s. He frequently dressed Princess Margaret and English debutantes and showed his collections first at the Savoy and then in grand country house locations such as Blenheim Palace. His shows in England were met with a great reception, with crowds of guests eager to see his latest designs.
The Debussy Dress was one of my favourites from the exhibition. It was created for Dior’s first fashion show in England in 1950. The attention to detail of this dress is simply breathtaking, you couldn’t help but fall in love with it!
As any great designer often does, Christian Dior frequently referenced history in his designs and many of his successors have done the same. For Dior himself, it was the beautiful Belle Époque period of the late 1800s/early 1900s that he was greatly interested in recreating and sampling in his own work, with tight nipped-in waists and sumptuous silks. It was references to the 18th century that appeared in this section of the exhibition, both in Dior’s work and the work of those that followed him. Although I loved most of this section, it was John Galliano’s theatricality that really spoke to me.
Christian Dior was a lover of travel and that was referenced often in his work. He took inspiration from the architecture, landscapes and art and textiles of each country he visited or researched and often named dresses after each place of inspiration. Many of these original dresses have been interpreted further by his successors, and their own travels have also influenced many Dior pieces. The work of each of the creative directors was featured in the ‘travel’ section of the exhibition split into five sections; Mexico, India, Egypt, Japan and China.
Quite possibly one of the most beautiful sections of the exhibition, the garden was simply devine. Adorned with paper flowers and leaves hanging beautifully from the ceiling and all around, the room’s beauty was truly breathtaking. Christian Dior was inspired by beautiful gardens from a very young age, using floral designs and embellishments in much of his couture work. From childhood, he watched his mother Madeleine care for the family garden at their house in Granville and years later, he even designed a pergola for the garden to act as shelter from the sea breeze.
Flowers have always been an influential factor in Dior’s work. From sketching dresses outside in his garden at the Moulin du Coudret, to the purchase of La Collection Noir for its fields of jasmine and roses to make perfumes, floral inspiration can be found everywhere in Dior’s work and in the work of those that followed him at the house.
The Designers was the part of the exhibition that fully introduced the creative directors of Dior that existed after Monsieur Dior’s death, in chronological order of their tenure. Each designer in turn brought completely different elements to the house but what I found most interesting was for all their differences, the key codes of the Dior house laid down by Christian Dior himself were present in each of their works.
Yves Saint Laurent (1957-60)
At just 21, Yves Saint Laurent was appointed as creative director of Dior. As Dior’s former assistant, Yves seemed an obvious choice to fill his shoes after his sudden and untimely death. His first collection for the house was a roaring success; Laurent is also credited with changing the silhouette of the Dior house by shifting the emphasis away from the waistline in his designs. His AW ’60 couture collection was inspired by the street style of the time, black with elongated waistlines and turtlenecks worn with fitted hats and black leather coats. This collection was not well-received; couture had never been inspired by street-style before and was met with much criticism as a result. This was YSL’s final collection for the house; he was called up for National Army Service, thus ending his tenure immediately.
Marc Bohan (1961-89)
Marc Bohan is thus far, the longest serving Dior creative director. Initially taken on in 1958 to design the London collections, Bohan showed his first collection as creative director of Dior in Paris in 1961. The press loved him, and his first collection was adored by many of Hollywood’s glitterati of the time, including Elizabeth Taylor who ordered 12 of his dresses! Known for his elegant simplicity and mastery of cutting and embellishment, Bohan successfully steered the Dior house through the ever-changing moods of the sixties, seventies and eighties by continuing to design clothes that women loved to wear.
Gianfranco Ferré (1989-96)
Training originally an architect, Ferré launched his own successful fashion line in 1978 and was appointed as creative director of Dior in 1989. Heralded as one of the leading figures in the Milan fashion world, his appointment at Dior came as a surprise in a time when there was much competition between Italian and French fashion. A deep appreciation and understanding of textiles and materials, Ferré’s work was exuberant and successfully breathed new life into the world of Parisian Haute Couture.
John Galliano (1996-2011)
Galliano was by far Dior’s most eclectic and outrageous designer. A creative genius, Galliano was appointed in 1996 and his first collection fell on the fiftieth anniversary of Dior’s New Look. Drawing on many of Dior’s inspirations and designs, it was met with great acclaim and set the pace for a wild fifteen-year Haute Couture adventure. An avid researcher, Galliano pushed the boundaries of Haute Couture by creating eclectic narratives for his collections, made possible by the extensive knowledge and skill-set presented to him by Dior’s talented ateliers. Galliano gives couture a theatrical edge, full of drama and excitement.
Raf Simons (2012-15)
Raf Simons joined Dior as creative director in 2012. A master of minimalism and a lover of contemporary art, his work for Dior focused on cut and line whilst pushing the technical skills of the ateliers with his use of intricate bead-work, experimental pleating and immaculate tailoring. Referencing art and Christian Dior’s original style codes in his work, Simons made beautiful and wearable Haute Couture, attracting a younger audience to the house as a result. Simons left after just seven collections to focus on his own label. Simons’ first Haute Couture collection and appointment as creative director is the subject of the popular Dior fashion documentary ‘Dior and I’.
Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016-present)
The first female creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri refers to herself as a curator and feels that the role of a designer today is ‘an awareness of connecting people and having a voice’. Her debut collection in SS’17 referenced designs from across the history of the house of Dior, as an homage to their talent and work. Chiuri works with the modern woman in mind, reinterpreting traditional style codes of the house and addressing them to suit the needs and desires of her contemporary clients. Feminity as originally shaped by Christian Dior himself is reimagined through her mix of modern tailoring and ethereal evening gowns. With a more youthful attitude and approach, Chiuri thus far has allowed Dior to remain at the forefront of the world of haute couture. I’ve loved Chiuri’s work at Dior so far; I’m a massive fan of her work and always look forward to seeing her latest collections.
The heart of the Dior house, Haute Couture could not be possible without the work of the ateliers; they are the people responsible for turning ideas into an exquisite reality. Haute Couture is completely handmade, and each garment often takes hundreds of hours to complete. Once a Dior design has been selected, it is taken to the ateliers to be turned into a toile (a test garment made in a white cotton fabric, allowed for fit and construction of the design to be checked). Once the toile passes the test, the actual garment can be constructed. A room of toiles was part of Dior: Designer of Dreams and it was extraordinary. Couture should be ever thankful for the talents of the ateliers.
My favourite part of the whole exhibition was the ballroom. Full of elegant gowns from all of the eras of Dior, complete with a spinning floor and atmospheric lighting, this climatic ending to a wonderful exhibition epitomised everything Dior and Haute Couture and displayed the beauty and intricacy of the detail and work executed by the wonderful ateliers. There were so many dresses that I would love to wear and own; the room was simply stunning!
The evening is the time when you escape the realities of life-Christian Dior
The final dress, created by current creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri is a great example of how beautiful Dior Haute Couture is and how it’s still relevant in the fashion world. Inspired by this fan, from a 1950s Dior show, this garment fittingly displays how Christian Dior’s style codes are still present and relevant at the house today. One of my favourite dresses from the exhibition, the past is glittering, but the future is bright for the House of Dior.
‘Dior Designer of Dreams’ runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum until September 1st, 2019.