By Miranda Bud
The date is February 12th 1947, the location is 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris, and Christian Dior has just unveiled his new collection. Little did he know then that it was to be the beginning of a new era in fashion and the basis for a brand that would become internationally renowned and adored.
The collection featured cinched-in waists, pleated skirts and sloping shoulders that were revolutionary at the time, and was quickly given the slogan the ‘New Look’. Since then, Dior has dominated as a global leader in the fashion industry, being synonymous with glamour, femininity and luxury. The new exhibition “Designer of Dreams” at the V&A in London chronicles the main themes that inspired the great designer and the way in which the successive creative directors of the house have continued his legacy.
The exhibition opens with the juxtaposition of Dior’s original designs with creations from the house’s most infamous creative director: John Galliano. The original pieces from Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection take centre stage in this first part of the exhibition. In particular, the famous ‘Bar’ suit, consisting of a tightly fitted hip-length silk jacket over a voluminous pleated black wool crêpe skirt is in pride of place in the centre of the first room. We are introduced to Christian Dior as a designer and why his first collections where so groundbreaking. In the post-war period Dior celebrated the female figure. During WW2, women had participated in the war effort and they felt that they had lost their sense of femininity. Dior gave women the chance to celebrate their curves. The first rooms set the scene for the glamour and celebration of the female form that have come to characterise the Dior brand.
From the ‘New Look’ the exhibition moves through the key themes that inspired Dior and his successors over the years. These themes include history, travel and the garden. We are taken on a journey from London to Versailles, from Egypt to China and then through a garden made entirely out of paper flowers. We see the way the brand evolved from a fashion house to a brand encompassing, perfumes, cosmetics, jewellery and more.
Throughout the exhibition we see Dior’s original designs mixed with the works of the other creative directors. We begin to get a sense for the personality of each designer through their reinterpretation of Dior’s classic work. We see the evolution in the Dior brand and how it has adapted overtime to stay relevant. Most strikingly we see how John Galliano brought the excess and experimentation of the 90s and early 00s to the Dior brand, while today Maria Grazia Chiuri is updating the brand to make it appealing to a younger demographic and inclusive to all.
From Yves Saint Laurent to Maria Grazia Chiuri, the house of Dior has been largely built on the shoulders of the creative directors who came after the man himself. Most notable among these is Marc Bohan, who served as the creative force behind the brand for three decades. We see how Dior’s original sketches and designs have been re-imagined and interpreted by different skilled hands. What we see overwhelmingly in this exhibition is what it means to take up the mantle of another man’s legacy and to live in the shadow of a ghost.