In February 2019, the V&A will open the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the house of Dior, who has dressed the most beautiful women, from Princess Margaret to Jennifer Lawrence.
Spanning 1947 to the present day, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will trace the history and impact of the couturier, and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him at his namesake brand, in what will be the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015.
Image courtesy: Christian Dior | Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948
Led by fashion and textiles curator Oriole Cullen and set designer Nathalie Crinière, the V&A team will reimagine the major exhibition Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, organised by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, for the iconic London gallery space. “We have about 50 per cent new content and it is all haute couture,” Cullen told Vogue. “It’s quite phenomenal to think that every single garment in the show is handmade. Throughout the 70 years of the house, we see the high points and the amazing imagination of the designers at the helm. The garments themselves speak volumes, so this is very much a show that focuses on the fashion.”
Image courtesy: Christian Dior | Christian Dior with model Lucky, circa 1955
There will be eleven sections, which include “The New Look” (a focus on Dior’s famed Bar suit) and “The Dior Line” (the designer’s ten defining looks from his 1947 and 1957 tenure at the house).
A new addition to the exhibition will include an installation exploring the designer’s fascination with Britain. “It’s a story that hasn’t really been told before,” Cullen says of her extensive research into what the 21-year-old man from Normandy connected with upon his first visit to the country to perfect his English. “It was a very formative moment, and something he really associates with freedom and falling in love. From the grandeur of the great houses and gardens and British-designed ocean liners to the food he ate, which, most found less than appealing in the ’50s, the culture became an endless pool of inspiration for him. “And he loved British women – the way they wore their tweeds as well as their ballgowns,” adds Cullen.
Of all the British female clients of note, Princess Margaret stands out. She paid his boutique a visit during her first European holiday in 1949. “He was very proud of the secret shows he staged for the royal family,” Cullen explains. After he had shown his first collection at The Savoy in 1950, he presented the looks to the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Marina and Princess Olga of Greece at the French embassy. “The models were told they were going there for lunch!,” Cullen laughs of the covert operation. Accordingly, a highlight of the exhibition will be the Dior dress Margaret wore for her 21st birthday celebrations on loan from the Museum of London.
Image courtesy: Getty Images | Princess Margaret presents Christian Dior with a scroll entitling him to Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross
One of the most striking personal possessions on display will be a portrait of Dior from the 1920s, notes Cullen. “He’s portrayed as a young, colourful figure, not the grey suited one that comes to mind,” she says. Another piece that piqued the interest of the curator was Dior’s lucky star – an old metal token the designer found outside the British embassy in Paris. “He spotted it just when he was being approached to set up his own house, saw it as a sign and retained it as a lucky charm throughout his life,” notes Cullen. “He was always very superstitious – he consulted a medium and believed in signs and symbols. What’s lovely, though, is that the star has survived and it’s something that his successors have referenced.”
Following on from the man himself, each successive artistic director, from Yves Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri, are given equal weight within the exhibition.
The exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” comprising the curation of 500 objects, will run from February 2 – July 14, 2019 in the V&A’s Sainsbury Gallery. Tickets will go on sale in autumn 2018.