Christian Dior | Designer of Dreams

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

This exhibition coos, in a voice like silk - because what other voice would a Dior exhibition have? - “it’s all a dream.”


A Designer of Dreams; the evening turns sweet like it’s sprayed from a perfume bottle, and from the pink sky he plucks stars and tears pieces from the clouds like candy floss. To fashion something a young woman might wear to the ball.



And here we are, 30 Avenue Montaigne, in 1947 and through the first ever Dior store front the exhibition begins…. Well, through a replica of what the store front looked like.


We are actually in the newly opened Sainsbury Wing in the V&A. But it’s a poignant greeting. The mannequins in, what one would call, a power stance - the ‘New Look.’ A power stance because the look is iconic. It's playfully meta reading the title ‘New Look’ yet this is the most famous look associated with Dior. It has gone from ‘new’ to ‘seeped in tradition’.



This is the first of Christian Dior’s collections - the layered skirts and tiny waists, with the excess of fabric causing scandal and excitement. This would define him as a designer, right from the start.


The silhouette is a signature of Dior. And silhouettes are echoed throughout his collections, Dior said in 1957 “I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body” and many of his collections are named after the shape the clothes form around the female body, for example ‘Tulipe, Fléche (meaning ‘Arrow) and ‘Fuseau (meaning ‘Spindle.’)



But this article is not about the ins and outs of Dior, but about how the exhibition showcases Dior. Does it live up to it’s ‘dreamy’ name?


Each room in this exhibition is designed as an important place in Christian Dior’s creative influence. Set Designer Natalie Crinere has made sure the gallery space allows the designs to have the best possible reception. By not just presenting these pieces, but telling the creative story of how they were dreamed up. And that is the exhibition title fulfilment right there - it’s not just about the designs but the imagination that goes along with them.



“I thank Heaven I lived in Paris in the last years of the Belle Époque” … And we thank heaven that he did too when looking at the collection in the Blenheim Palace… Actually, a suggestion of the Blenheim Palace. It’s easy to get swept away with this exhibition.

And then there is a lilac paper canopy of wisterias covering the ceiling as the piano patters, finger falling on the keys as rain would fall on the flowers. A showcase of his floral designs stand proudly beneath. An ode to his family garden in Normandy.



If this exhibition could be described in one word it would be ‘feminine.’ This exhibition bathes in the the swirling feminine haze that surrounds the Dior reputation; and that Dior are quick to up hold. If you’re attending an exhibition of this fashion brand, one would assume that is exactly what you’d want. This is the largest collection of Dior work ever to be displayed in the U.K and this collection includes clothes, perfumes, hats, shoes, sketches…. All manners of accessories.


The Atelier…. Oh The Atelier.

Now, we don’t want to compare Christian Dior with God…. That seems very far fetched and sycophantic. And starting a paragraph this way might seem like this exhibition has a hypnotic hold on those who visit it. The mirrored ceiling gives the illusion of toiles towering up into an infinity. Toiles waiting patiently in their glass compartments to be dyed, stitched and embellished. And all of that work is done by hand, Christian Dior working through those hands to express all he has felt.


This room of draft pieces, with pencil marks and safety pins, does have a feel of Genesis. A creation waiting to have life breathed into it. A work in progress, and what a magnitude of work it is. It’s like an Alice in Wonderland dream of a seamstress, locked in a room as the walls stretch impossibly upwards stacked with toiles. This exhibition is recommend for anyone studying fashion design - if you’re a fan of Dior or not, just for this room.



But even that room… is no match for the room to come… The Ballroom. “A ball gown is your dream, and it must make you feel like a dream.”


And that dream really begins now. The moment in a film when the title is said by a character, in fleeting conversation, or a poignant one liner, that cheer and point at the TV, this ballroom is that moment - when suddenly it all comes together. This is where the exhibition gets it’s name. There is a dazzling collection of ball gowns amongst an art installation which, although makes the dresses hard to view for a few minutes, makes you see them in a different way. This might seem extreme, but if you don’t want this part of the exhibition to be spoiled for you, then simply… Sit a while in the ballroom and see how the room changes.



The room, with projected windows and chandeliers is a ballroom. By all means of fairy tales and fantasies, complete with renaissance painting on the ceilings… This is a ballroom.


The music changes, gold glitter is splashes over the walls and the ceilings, a throw down - that this party is just beginning. Like being dropped into a simmering champagne glass. The room descends, into a blue tinged darkness, the ceiling swirls with a night sky. The dresses glisten in the… Moonlight? As constellations are traced above. Swarovski is a partner in this exhibition and in moment the crystals really take centre stage. And maybe that's the reason for this art installation, to showcase every aspect of beauty these dresses have, not just the obvious.



After a few minutes, a orange ball slowly rises over the walls until it rests in the very center of the ceiling… The sun. And it's a ballroom once again. An art installation that really brings to life the magic stitched into these dresses, and the glamorous evenings they are expected to be worn at. And to add even more glitz, many dresses worn by celebrities on red carpets are on display. As Christian Dior once enthused “the evening is the time when you escape from the realities of life.”


This seems to be a Dior Exhibition for Dior lovers. Who want to be soaked in that feminine (yes, that word once again) touch we all know and love from this brand, and see many designs up close. The exhibition is almost a continuation of the one last year in Paris at the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, but altered to express a big fondness with their new host: England. And now it's been extended until September 1st; a small selection of tickets are available every morning at the V&A, and members go free without booking.



This seems to be a Dior Exhibition for Dior lovers. Who want to be soaked in that feminine (yes, that word once again) touch we all know and love from this brand, and see many designs up close. The exhibition is almost a continuation of the one last year in Paris at the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, but altered to express a big fondness with their new host: England. And now it's been extended until September 1st; a small selection of tickets are available every morning at the V&A, and members go free without booking.



It is not a Dior history lesson, and it lacks many political and social realities… As well as a few scandals the brand has endured, but what do you expect? They are celebrating seven decades of Dior and want to showcase what is most loved about the brand.


The exhibition makes one think of the girl who takes off her glasses and put on that dress, and suddenly all head turn when she slowly makes her way down the staircase at the ball. A feeling many girls have, maybe every girl has at some point in their life - to be transformed through fashion. Everything inside you is an instrument, and fashion can be the symphony that makes people understand the true beauty you have.



Quotes taken from the exhibition.

Gallery images - Caroline Louise Hamar.

Written by Caroline Louise Hamar.


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