The V&A’s Next Big Fashion Exhibit Was Already A Hit In Paris

The next major fashion exhibition to open in London was announced this weekend with a cryptic message delivered via topiary hedges outside the British Embassy in Paris. In town for the haute couture shows this week, fashion editors would recognize the silhouette almost immediately — even in bush form: Christian Dior’s iconic Bar jacket, an essential component of his revolutionary 1947 collection The New Look.

The bushes told them that the rumor was true. The blockbuster Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition held at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris from last summer until January 2018 would travel across the channel to London. Opening in February 2019 at the V&A, the retrospective will be the museum’s largest show since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015, and the largest Dior exhibition ever staged in the United Kingdom.

Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images

More than 200 rare Dior couture garments will be shown, from Christian Dior’s original designs to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s contemporary feminist T-shirts, via the work of historic creative directors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons. The pieces will be shown alongside accessories, makeup, fragrance, photography, film, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions, with a special new Anglophile section exploring Monsieur Dior’s relationship with the UK.

“In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion with his ‘New Look,’ which redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-war Parisian fashion industry,” says Oriole Cullen, a fashion and textiles curator at the V&A. “The influence of Christian Dior’s design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era. In their own individual ways, each of the House’s successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted Dior’s own designs and continued the legacy of the founder, ensuring that the House of Christian Dior is at the forefront of fashion today. More than 70 years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition will celebrate the enduring influence of the House of Dior and uncover Dior’s relationship with Britain.”

Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948.Courtesy of Christian Dior

It will be interesting to note whether the V&A’s exhibit will explore the evolving politics of the House of Dior, from Christian Dior’s reactionary post-war vision of femininity to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s modern “We should all be feminists” mantra (taken, of course, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lecture and essay of the same name). Of his New Look, Christian Dior once wrote, “We were emerging from the period of war, of uniforms, of women-soldiers built like boxers. I drew women-flowers, soft shoulders, fine waists like liana and wide skirts like corolla.” That first sentence is generally cut from quotations, presumably to make the second read as a statement rather than as a judgement. In fact, some feminists blame Dior’s cinched-waist Bar jacket and swishing skirts for setting the revolution in gender roles back a decade to the pre-war period.

Écarlate afternoon dress, Autumn-Winter 1955 Haute Couture collection, Y line. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.Photo by Laziz Hamani

Soirée de décembre evening dress, Autumn-Winter 1954 Haute Couture collection, H line. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Gift of Dame Margot Fonteyn. Photo by Laziz Hamani

Dior’s experiences as a young man in Paris in the 1920s and his affinity with avant-garde artists contextualized the Paris exhibition, and demonstrated how later creative directors took inspiration from his life and interests. Similarly, the couturier’s passion for the aesthetics of foreign cultures will butt up against contemporary debates around cultural appropriation, but it would be a shame to bypass the opportunity to discuss how we value fashion statements from historic periods, when being woke simply meant you had been roused from sleeping. And with the V&A promising to create a blockbuster exhibition to follow Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, it will be thrilling to see how they recreate the stunning finale of the Paris exhibition, in which couture gowns — many worn by celebrities and royals — were presented in a spectacular Dior ballroom.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will open from 2nd February – 14th July 2019 at the V&A Museum. Tickets go on sale in autumn 2018.

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