"There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking." Christian Dior
Spanning Christian Dior’s life and work from 1947 to the present, this is the most recent exhibition to focus on couturiers and fashion designers, exploring the enduring influence of the fashion house, and particularly relationship with Britain. Clearly an anglophile, from the quotation above, Dior was one of a number of designers to sell glamour as an aspirational concept for men and women, hence the subtitle ‘designer of dreams.’ Situated in the light-filled Sainsbury Gallery at the V&A, this is one of a long line of very impressive exhibitions to feature fashion and couture, including The Supremes, image and identity, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and David Bowie Is amongst the standout shows.
The exhibition begins with Christian Dior’s early life. Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, on the coast of Normandy, France. The second of five children, Christian was about five years old, when the family moved to Paris, returning to the Normandy in the summer. Christian’s father Maurice Dior, was a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer (the family firm was Dior Frères), and his wife, Madeleine inspired Christian’s interest in couture, as well as a love of gardens and aesthetics. By 1928, his parents had relented their original plan to require Christian to train as a diplomat and he had established a small art gallery. But, personal tragedy, in the forms of the death of his mother and brother, coincided with the Great Depression and Maurice lost control of his business and the gallery had to close. In 1937 Christian Dior became an employee and protégé of Robert Piguet, and remained there until called up for active service in World War Two. Dior left active service in 1942 and worked in Paris for Lucien Lelong, until 1946 when he established his own fashion house.
The New Look
Influenced by the simplicity and clean lines of Robert Piguet’s work, and the more whimsical and romantic creations of Lucien Lelong, Dior launched his first collection in 1947, and it was called The New Look, a refreshing change from ration-book designs of World War Two. The look accentuated the waist, using tulle to flare out skirts and shoulder designs that created an hourglass structured figure. Though the amount of fabric seemed excessive, the overall effect was of luxury and elegance, and, just when the two young British princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were becoming the world’s media most popular subjects, Margaret in particular began to champion Dior’s designs. Often referencing his mother’s interest in gardens and flora, subsequent collections became even more elaborate, using the finest fabrics, designs and accessories. Along with Royal support, and patronage from socialites, Dior designed for the film industry and the big screen made his clothing aspirational for those who could not afford them. He was, for instance, the exclusive designer of Marlene Dietrich's dresses in the Alfred Hitchcock film Stage Fright. This meant that the US market became the second most important source of income for the company. However, the British influence was as important for the glamour of the brand. In honour of Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Marlborough, a Dior fashion show was held at the Blenheim Palace in 1954, and Christian Dior Models Limited was created in London in 1952.
A Luxury Global Brand
Hence the diversification into perfumes in 1947, makeup, accessories, and a more realistic chance of buying a piece of what became known as Diorama. Opening in New York in 1949, and less successfully in Australia soon after, licensing branded goods enabled the company to export more widely. This extended to a kaleidoscopic range of kitsch, personal grooming and ornamental items including hosiery, furs, hats, gloves, scarves, handbags, jewellery, and lingerie. However, Christian Dior died suddenly of a heart attack whilst on holiday in 1957 in Italy. In some senses then, the main element of the exhibition is Dior’s legacy, as the fashion house that bore his name continued to grow, diversify and internationalise.
Conclusion: Dior’s Legacy
Dior currently designs and retails leather goods, fashion accessories, footwear, jewellery, watches, fragrance, makeup, and skin care products globally, while also maintaining its brands of cutting edge haute-couture, for men and women. In the 1950s, the house was headed by Dior’s first, and only, head assistant, Yves Saint-Laurent, who was just twenty-one when he became Artistic Director. Marc Bohan succeeded Saint-Laurent in 1960, instilling his conservative style on the collections until eventually replaced by Gianfranco Ferré in 1989, and then, more controversially John Galliano became Artistic Director in 1997. After his departure in 2011, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri have evolved the house design. So as well as creating a luxury brand, Dior provided a platform for some of the world’s most outstanding creative talents.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.