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Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams: breath-taking but claustrophobic

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The V&A’s current exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” is the first time the UK has ever played host to such a detailed and immersive exhibition on the house of Dior. 

Unsurprisingly, then, expectations were high- particularly in the wake of the V&A’s brilliantly successful Alexander McQueen retrospective “Savage Beauty” back in 2015. 

Our fashion assistant Charli decided to go and take the experience in for herself, and in light of the recent news that its run has been extended and more tickets released, this is what she thought:  

What immediately caught my eye was the lack of glass boxes.  This may sound like a bizarre first impression given the iconicity of the exhibition’s contents, but having been to the V&A’s Balenciaga exhibition back in 2017 and being really disappointed by the boxed-in nature of the displays this was a huge difference. At Balenciaga, I felt like I was in a museum, and honestly I could’ve had a pretty similar experience looking at pictures of the dresses in books given the lack of intimacy that accompanies artefacts caged into boxes. 

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

This time, however, almost everything was open (except a couple of pieces including Princess Margaret’s dress, which, fair enough). Immediately, then, the experience felt more exclusive and personal.  With every stitch right there in front of my eyes, completely unobstructed, I was seeing details that I never could have appreciated before and may well never be able to again. This is what an exhibition should be: a one-off, inimitable chance to explore a subject in great depth, and the V&A definitely achieved this.

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

As a result, the rooms that made up the exhibition were thoroughly immersive. So much attention to detail had gone into making it a legitimate experience, with each room representing a different theme or era intrinsic to the brand’s DNA. With content spanning 1947 to the present day, it could have easily become overwhelming but the use of so many distinct rooms and spaces to organise and sub-categorise meant there was no chance of that happening. 

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

The easy option would’ve been to give each creative director their own space, but a huge part of the exhibition’s charm comes from having the work of such distinct creatives stand side-by-side, with emphasis placed on their similarities rather than their differences. After the bar suit, “Dior Line”, and “Dior in Britain” features that open the exhibition, there’s a beautiful blend of eras and aesthetics. 

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

The “Historicism” room echoes Versailles and 18th Century France and includes various pieces, with a candy-stripe jacket by Gianfranco Ferré looking perfectly at home next to a Marie Antoinette-esque dress by John Galliano. In the “Travels” room, Galliano’s eccentric Egyptian-inspired designs, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Escaramuza ensemble, and Dior’s China-inspired pieces complement, rather than compete with, each other.

 Image credit: Charlotte Torode

The (scented, no less!) room dedicated to Dior’s love of gardens and flowers and the atelier, which is packed floor-to-ceiling with white toiles, are breath-taking, and the section that celebrates all of the house’s creative directors is an enthusiastic nod to the very diverse, but equally as talented, creatives who have taken Dior’s helm. 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

For me, the highlight was the ballroom with its celestial ceiling and strategically-positioned mannequins, which truly felt like I had walked into the most fabulous party ever - I also finally got to see the Junon dress in person and it was as dazzling as anticipated, if not more so. 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

The exhibition, however, definitely cherry picks the aspects of Dior it wants us to remember. The New Look, as iconic as it was, could definitely be interpreted as a step back in womenswear given its emphasis on the tiny waist and traditional pre-war femininity. The John Galliano controversy hangs over the exhibition like an enormous elephant in the room. It’s incredible to me that such a monumental moment in fashion history, let alone Dior history - Galliano’s anti-Semitic outburst and subsequent dismissal - could be completely omitted from an exhibition that claims to present Britain’s most in-depth retrospective into this couturier.

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

To address these downfalls wouldn’t have taken away from the talent that these creative directors possessed; we’re capable of simultaneously appreciating beauty and acknowledging faults. The fashion industry has a bad habit of ignoring its controversies and shrouding them in beautiful dresses - we saw it just recently in the wake of Karl Lagerfeld’s death - and I think it could have garnered itself a lot more respect by identifying rather than ignoring its less admirable moments here.

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

I do also think that tickets have been far oversold; in addition to those purchased, V&A members can attend the exhibition at no extra cost, and it shows. I visited on a Friday night (8pm) and had to queue for pretty much every individual dress as it was so busy.  This definitely made the experience less immersive as I had to stop and start so much. Also, as I went to the last showing of the day, I was essentially kicked out at close but hadn’t finished properly taking it all in and felt I was slightly rushed. If they’re going to provide late-night entry, the V&A must ensure there is still plenty of time to fully appreciate what’s on show.

 

Image credit: Charlotte Torode

If you can go, I would definitely recommend doing so (there are student rates available!).  Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams has made a basement in Kensington a breath-taking refuge from the rainy, Brexit-y world outside - even if it did at times feel like a Northern Line platform during rush hour. 

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is on until September 1st and you can get your tickets here.

Lead image credit: Charlotte Torode

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