Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams
Princess Margaret, on her 21st birthday, sitting on a red tufted sofa, surrounded by layer upon layer of white tulle. It’s an iconic image, and there’s only one fashion designer who could have created this legendary dress – Christian Dior, the designer of dreams.
The much-anticipated exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum is an immersive experience, with the attention to detail and production values that the V&A has come to be known for. Special effects and dramatic sets abound, stopping just short of gimmicky. Dresses on lifeless mannequins can be static and boring, but this exhibition makes them come alive.
The focus of the show is pure beauty – ecstatically pretty or boldly sculptural creations that will make you want to wear couture for the rest of your life. It runs semi-chronologically, but frequently mixes old and new pieces to highlight the fashion house’s constant self-referencing and the brand’s development under different directors. There’s also a sub-plot here, drawing out Christian Dior’s interest in Britain and in English culture, highlighting his collaborations with British manufacturers and fashion shows in English country houses. The oldest outfits are, arguably, the most gorgeous: those post-War “New Look” flaring skirts, structured jackets, and – most notably of all – nipped-in tiny waists.
If we’re being honest, these silhouettes are problematic: restrictive, unrealistic for most wearers, and exaggerating women’s gendered characteristics. Dior’s outfits were undoubtedly part of a post-WWII backlash that saw women placed firmly back in the home, perched on high heels and waiting for their husbands to come home. The influence of his designs is captured in Disney’s animated Cinderella (1950), whose transformation from 1940s scullery girl to 1950s princess is at the heart of the film. This Dior girl is a conservative masculine dream – curvy arm candy who is still able to clean the house.
The V&A exhibition makes little reference to the sociocultural politics behind Dior’s success, and that’s a shame. However, what it does offer – sartorial history, visual spectacle and investigation into the creativity of clothing – is done beautifully. For lovers of fashion, this exhibition is a must.
Photos: Erol Birsen
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is at from 2nd February until 14th July 2019. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.