‘Ultimately, everything I know, see, or hear, every part of my life, turns around the clothes which I create.’ Christian Dior
With only one week left until the opening our highly anticipated Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition, we caught up with Oriole Cullen, V&A curator of Modern Textiles and Fashion, to find out more.
Why is Christian Dior such an important designer in the history of fashion, and how do you see his legacy influencing the House as it exists today?
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. Championing the artistry and craftsmanship of haute couture, Dior combined astute business acumen and commercial opportunism with astounding creative talent. Starting with Dior’s own tenure at the helm of his company we examine the following decades of design at the house. From to the daring designs of Yves Saint Laurent to the rational style of Marc Bohan, the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the exuberance of John Galliano, the minimalism of Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist vision of fashion, the exhibition shows how each successive artistic director has stayed true to Dior’s vision of haute couture, while bringing their own creative sensibilities to the House to ensure it remains at the forefront of fashion today.
How did the V&A acquire its Bar suit?
When planning its first dedicated Fashion Gallery (the Costume Court) in the late 1950s, the V&A was keen to acquire an original garment from Christian Dior’s first New Look collection, of which the Bar suit was the quintessential emblem. With the help of Cecil Beaton, the Museum approached the house of Dior, and in 1960 the company gifted an original Bar suit to the museum.
Did your research uncover any particularly interesting or unknown stories about the House and its designers?
Our research revealed lots of interesting information on Dior, particularly about his British business, such as who was involved, which designers worked for the house and who the clients were. We also uncovered some interesting stories about previously unrecorded Christian Dior fashion shows held in numerous country houses around Britain. It also led us to acquiring for the V&A – via a generous donation – a beautiful 1950s musical brooch designed by London-based jeweller Mitchel Maer for Christian Dior. The small music box inside play the tune ‘La Vie en Rose’.
Do you have a favourite piece/section in the exhibition?
There are so many incredible stand-out examples of haute couture in the show, which makes it very difficult to choose. Yet there are also quieter pieces with wonderful stories behind them. The V&A was recently gifted an immaculately tailored navy wool suit which was made for the model Jean Dawnay, later Princess Galitzine, and modelled by her at Dior’s first London show at the Savoy in 1950. The Museum already held a John French photograph of Dawnay in the suit, taken on the day of the Savoy show. Through our research, we also uncovered a sketch of Dawnay modelling the suit by Francis Marshall Britain’s leading fashion illustrator of the time. Having the three different sources together offers different ways to consider the garment, the construction, fit and finish of the actual suit, the posed fashion photograph, an image to be replicated and the sketch of the wearer in movement as she models the garment.
What would you like visitors to take away from this exhibition?
We hope that our visitors will come away with a deeper understanding of Christian Dior himself, the man behind the successful couture house and how he changed fashion history. Also, how the Dior signature style has developed and evolved over the years since its founding and the rich heritage of incredibly talented designers who have held the role of artistic director. Most of all we would like our visitors to be transported by the show, to enjoy the opportunity of observing exquisitely worked handmade garments and to understand the extraordinary creativity, craft and skill that go into the creation an haute couture garment.