The Christian Dior exhibition has now closed its doors. But, much like awakening from a sartorial slumber it’s leaving a lot of people in either euphoria or sorrow. The exhibition was V&A’s most successful and lucrative shows in its history. Scheduled to run from the 2nd February until the 14th July, the show extended to the 1st of September, thanks to public demand.
Christian Dior: Designers of Dreams, told the tale of the courtier designer, from the start of the brand in 1947 through to the notable contributors such as Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan through to John Galliano and Raf Simons. Showcasing over 200 outfits – from daywear to the full opulent haute couture garments, the story starts with what was dubbed by Harper’s Bazaar’s then-editor Carmel Snow as New Look, his first couture collection.
It was a runaway success as it broke away from World War II’s boxy masculine style in women’s fashion. The look had two silhouettes that stood out: the Corolleand En 8. The Corolleshape featured a petal or corolla shape skirts. En 8 was an outline that enveloped the wearer – a hip-hugging pencil skirt. Both silhouettes presented with fuller bust and snugged waistline, rounded soft shoulders and shaped hips. These two contour choices carried on influencing the brand as well as other fashion houses, with each house doing their reinterpretation of the ensemble.
Despite courting a degree of controversy due to its striking nature, arguably, it re-established Paris as the world’s fashion capital. Following the successful release of the first collection, Dior’s acclaim stayed with him until his death in 1957 and beyond. His collections were always inspired by architecture, landscape, art and the textiles of the different countries and cities he visited in his earlier years.
It’s something you can still see today as his successors have always honoured it. As the current Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior states “…It’s no longer just about clothes, the designer must be receptive to current issues that reflect the time.”
This ideology is shown throughout the show and highlighted after the main introduction of Dior – the moment you stepped into his curator’s showroom. Each creative director brought a new perspective to the fundamental ideas of the couture house combined with a social commentary of the time. Looking at Yves Saint Laurent taking the reins in the late 50s, you could say that as the new era of 60s female independence turned from a notion into a movement, he used darker, more tailored lines. Some have stressed the Dior created more of a theatrical display and left practicality in the wings. Others have downplayed Dior’s glamourous, colourful notes and focused more on the dark and mysterious.
Dior was a man that saw women and flowers as delicate yet strong creatures. V&A’s nod to this was highlighted in the so-called Garden Room – hand-picked creations from the archive, which showcased the eye for detail he and his suiters had as designers. Right down to the smallest details, Dior achieved enough momentum to keep the whole haute couture circus going. Notably, his adoration of flora and fauna drove him to embellishment with unconventional fabrics, textiles and techniques.
Specialist work like the beading or pleating was commissioned from artisan craftspeople and the processes haven’t changed. The arts et métiers of Paris are still the same atelier as when Dior and Chanel were alive – such as Vermont and Gérard Lognon.
As you came to the end of the exhibition, you’re left daydreaming by the ballroom which housed dramatically-framed iconic creations from 1947 till today.
Dior escaped reality when he was crafting couture outfits and you can tell he loved it as much as the women who wore them, who in turn adored his elaborated creations. All of which were drawn by skilful draping, complex embroidery and by using luxurious materials that felt unearthly.
Christian Dior was a designer who saw that by bringing fairy tale notions into his creations, he could help an individual to have a break from reality. Perhaps the reason New Look was such a success was that he was able to move visual parameters away from the old silhouette. In doing so, he was inadvertently able to leave behind the dark, hard times the war brought with it and move into a more fantastical and optimistic reality.
TEXT by The Fashion Department