Just over a year ago I visited the extraordinary Dior exhibition in Paris. Now Dior Designer of Dreams has opened at the V&A in London. How does this latest exhibition compare?
I had heard that this new exhibition would have elements of the Parisian show but it feels like a very different story is being told. 60% of the exhibits are unique to this show, many of them coming from the V&A's own archive.
The first of these is The Bar Suit, the famous cream hourglass jacket and full black skirt combination. It was gifted to the V&A by the couture house at the request of photographer, Cecil Beaton. It is surrounded by examples from subsequent designers who have held the creative director post at Dior.
It is a tradition for new designers to pay homage to the founder with their first collection for the house. Above are two examples on the left John Galliano from 1997 and on the right Maria Grazia Chiuri from 2017.
The exhibition tells the story of Christian Dior and his relationship with Britain which he first visited at the age of 21.
But more than that it provides an insight into how the six creative directors who followed him have bought their distinct design style to the house. From to the daring designs of Yves Saint Laurent (1957-60) to the rational style of Marc Bohan (1960-89), the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré (1989-96, the exuberance of John Galliano (1996-2011), the minimalism of Raf Simons (2011-16), and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion (2016 to now).
Above Chiuri on the left, Galliano on the right.
What is included from the Parisian show is the fabulous Atelier room, a floor to ceiling exhibit or toiles or concept garments. The toiles include corrections and workings in pen and pencil. I found this section most inspiring - to see the workings behind these fabulous haute couture creations.
The toile on the left shows the placement for the embellishment on one of the garments from the Diorama exhibit in the next room - its fascinating to see the interpretation worked through to the finish.
What surprised me most was how divine Maria Grazia Chiuri's work is. Her work was not included in the Parisian exhibition as she had only just started with Dior. But here it is fascinating to see a female designer's take on Dior. There is a subtlety, a discreteness that is refreshing and right for now. She has said in interview that fashion is no longer an exclusive club; catwalk shows being streamed live for all to view. For her this world platform means her message must be current and relevant. Her designs have retained the Dior silhouettes but she has removed the constricting internal garment structure and padding. The result is a softer, feminine look enhanced by stunning uses of ethereal fabrics. Even though I had seen her collections streamed online to see the garments for real is pure pleasure.
An extraordinary exhibition that culminates with a stunning ballroom of totally divine dresses. A must see exhibition.