(c) ADRIEN DIRAND
Designer of Dreams
In just 10 years, Christian Dior’s style made an impact that would last generations. Here, we reveal how the designer’s love of Britain – including royalty – influenced his creations. "Never in the history of fashion had a single designer made such a revolution in his first showing,” Time magazine declared in 1957. On 12th February 1947, just two months after opening his couture house at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris, Christian Dior presented his debut Spring haute couture collection. (c) ADRIEN DIRAND
At the time, the world was suffering from the aftermath of World War II with poverty, rationing, clothing coupons. Dior reacted by looking back to styles from the 19th century and gave women a chance to dream again. His most famous creation, and one that sums up his style, was La Bar. A jacket with a corseted wasp waist, padded hips worn with a full pleated skirt made of yards or fabric, it exaggerated the female silhouette no matter what the body underneath looked like. “I design clothes for flower-like women,” Dior once said.
Carmel Snow, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, christened his first collection the ‘New Look’ and her words soon spread across the world. Seventy years after Christian Dior’s New Look, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum plays host to the UK’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition on the House of Dior entitled, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, based on the major retrospective in Paris, 2017.
It explains his relationship with Britain, and features not only the exquisite dress he designed for Princess Margaret, but also pictures of him with royalty.(c) ADRIEN DIRAND
Britain Christian Dior’s love affair with Britain began when he first visited in 1926 aged 21. “There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture,” the designer once said. When he returned in 1947, Britian was suffering fuel cuts, soap rations and two million unemployed. His ‘New Look’ gave hope.
He presented his second collection at the Savoy hotel and then the following afternoon at the French Embassy in front of the Queen, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Kent and her sister Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. “She was a real fairy princess, delicate, graceful, exquisite,” Dior wrote of first meeting with Princess Margaret. The Princess continued to champion the Parisian designer – her most iconic look was an ivory ballgown for her 21st birthday – which takes centre stage in the Dior In Britain section at the V&A alongside Cecil Beaton’s photo. She described it as “my most favourite dress of all.” In 1952 he opened Christian Dior London and established relationships with British manufactures including Lyle & Scott, Mitchel Maer, Rayne and Dents.
The V&A focuses a section of the exhibit on Dior’s successors. Christian Dior only lasted a decade after the ‘New Look’, and the next 60 years were headed by his six other designers – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, the first British designer to helm a French couture house, and Raf Simons. In July 2016, the House of Dior once again caused a revolution, by announcing Maria Grazia Chiuri – previously co-creative director at Valentino – as the first woman in its history to head Christian Dior. In her debut she added T-shirts printed with ‘We should all be feminists’, while the New Look’s padding and corsetry was replaced by strong fencing jackets and bustiers worn under sheer dresses.
Inside The Exhibition
The retrospective opens with the Bar suit; an ivory jacket with a nipped-in waist and padded hips and a black full pleated skirt made from wool – the key silhouette of the ‘New Look’, the 1947 collection that reintroduced women to femininity after the boxy, masculine clothing after World War II. Each room tells a story of the house. From ‘Historicism’, which shows how Dior often cited periods as inspiration, to ‘Travels’, which focuses on five countries referenced by Dior: Mexico, Japan, Egypt, China and India.
One of the visual highlights is the ‘Ballroom’ where gowns worn by Princess Diana, Jennifer Laurence, Charlize Theron, Rihanna and Nicole Kidman are displayed. As the lighting dims, the ceiling transforms into a galaxy with shooting stars. The show poses the question of whether Dior was the most romantic designer of them all. And with an exhibition that impresses on every level, the V&A proves that he was.
Things You Didn't Know About Dior
- His parents didn’t want Dior to become a fashion designer as it was beneath his social class
- Because Dior liked to draw his collections outside, you’ll find flowers feature in every one
- While he was at school, Dior sold fashion sketches for around 10 cents each
Christian Dior: Designer Of Dreams at the V&A Museum,
Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL.
Until September 1st, 2019. From £20. vam.ac.uk
Discover the history of Dior as Exquisite unveils the Parisian brand’s most iconic moments...
1946: After visiting a fortune teller, Christian Dior, 46, opens his couture house at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris
1947: Dior presents his debut collection, dubbed the ‘New Look’. He redefined feminine silhouettes – a departure from the masculine styles after World War II
1950: Dior presents to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at the French Embassy in London. A year later Princess Margaret wore an ivory chiffon Dior gown for her 21st Birthday portrait
1954: Dior hosts another charity fashion show at Blenheim Palace on 3rd November where Princess Margaret was guest of honour
1957: Dior dies after a heart attack on 24th October, and, granting the couturiers wishes, Yves Saint Laurent, 21, is appointed artistic director
1960-1995: Marc Bohan heads Dior til 1989, then Italian Gianfranco Ferré takes over. Under his leadership in 1995 Diana, Princess of Wales, is given a Dior bag during a visit to Paris
1996: British John Galliano is appointed artistic director with Princess Diana wearing his first ever design for the house to the MET Ball in New York
2004: Galliano creates theatrical fashion shows where his models transformed into characters. He looked to painter Egon Schiele, Empress Sisi and Russia.
2012: Raf Simons joins Creative Director in 2012 and focused on the silhouette’s cut and line, whilst following Christian Dior’s romantic and femininity style
2016: Following Simons’ departure, Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director. Her first collection included T-shirts ‘We Should All Be Feminists’
It’s not JUST about the clothes - Check out the Diorama room at the V&A exhibition which is dedicated to sparkling costumer jewellery, perfume bottles, and beaded shoes as well as magazines that featured Dior’s designs on their covers.