This time last week I was wandering around the V&A waiting for the time to (finally!) come to see the ‘Dior: Designer of Dreams’ exhibition. The anticipation had been building since my friend and I had booked it all the way back in December last year. Let me just answer a disclaimer/spoiler alert here; this blog post is going to consist of me gushing about the exhibition and showing off pictures and describing details, so if you have any plans to see the exhibition, please don’t ruin the surprise – just come back after you’ve been and see if you agree with me!
Of course, there was some apprehension about whether the exhibition would be as amazing as I wanted it to be – what can I say, I’m a bit of a fashion ‘geek’! All that apprehension pretty much disappeared as soon as I entered the first room and by the time I’d finished the exhibition I was just in awe! The whole thing was so well put together; with beautiful decor, and a huge array of intricate, amazing garments with original Dior garments threaded in and amongst pieces from more recent collections and creative directors. Each room topped the one before, and a week later I still can’t decide which one was my favourite. The centrepiece of the first room was an outfit from the original ‘New Look’; and showed how this one collection had not only changed women’s fashion at the time, but also how it had influenced future creative directors, including the current Maria Grazia Chiuri. My favourite piece in this room was actually only a small feature; a collection of original sketches by Dior. They just seemed so personal (as any sketch often does) and it was awesome to see something which had been created, solely, by his hand.
The thing that struck me most throughout the whole exhibition was how well all the outfits flowed together. In each room the garments were arranged by theme rather than collection, with dresses from the 1950’s placed next to an outfit from 2010, say, but each room and display could have been a modern day collection in itself. Some of the older garments looked more like something you would see on a couture runway today than some of the more recent looks. I think it confirmed something which I have thought about for a while, that, although fashion seems to be this ever changing trend machine that churns out look after look and trend after trend, the reality is that if a style works, it works forever. This season especially, I grew tired of looking at catwalk after catwalk after catwalk, and something I am keen to do is create capsule collections and investment pieces that take the focus off a ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ and emphasise the idea that a garment can last a lifetime and continue to move with the times with the addition of a little accessory or shoe. This exhibition was not only beautiful and, in some places, moving, it was also relevant to the key messages and discussions within the industry today, that fashion can be timeless and may be unnecessary to produce so much of it so frequently. Obviously, this exhibition only showcased a small amount of the clothing the Dior fashion house has produced over the decades, and they, like most others, still produce an astounding amount of clothing and show an unreal amount of collections a year, but this showcase did definitely provide food for thought.
One of my passions is embroidery and embellishment, and I am a sucker for sparkles, so one of my favourite things about this exhibition was that you could get up close with the garments and see the intricacies of the work on each sleeve or skirt. Some of the embellishment was absolutely astonishing, with thousands of tiny fabric flower buds hand sewn to create a fabric, or motifs embroidered with metallic threads, feathers and beads. It was sometimes difficult not to reach out and touch them, but in some ways it was engaging to feel like you could. Hardly any of the outfits were behind glass, which made the clothes and techniques feel much more accessible – instead of being an out of reach and far off concept. Being able to see the pieces in so much detail gave me so much inspiration for my own work and techniques that I want to try out and develop. Not only has Christian Dior inspired his past and current creative directors, he is also inspiring new and up and coming designers.
I am pretty much torn between two rooms when giving the title of favourite (although if I think about it too hard I can definitely add two or three more to the list) and I still can’t decide so I’m going to tell you about both – and maybe you can decide which one it should be! The first contender is the ‘flower room’ (my own, uncreative name). As soon as I walked into this room I was transported to a completely other world. The whole ceiling was covered in paper flowers, designed and created by Wanda Barcelona, which trailed down the walls and the room focused on garments which were complemented by the lilac installation. Each garment had a different interpretation of floral with couture dresses and one off pieces created for the fragrance adverts taking centre stage. The whole effect was breathtaking and this room house some of my favourite dresses (probably why it’s up there as a favourite) including an asymmetric flowing dress with blue floral embroidery.
The other room which took my breath away is the ‘day and night’ room (another self penned name). It was the biggest room and as soon as I walked into the entrance it was an ‘Oh Wow!’ moment. The lights and an animated ceiling changed; constantly moving from day to night, which allowed me to see the garments in different light and atmosphere. This was definitely the ball gown room and the quote used on the description board sums it up perfectly; “a ballgown is your dream, and it must make you a dream – Christian Dior, 1954“. I genuinely could have spent the rest of the day – and probably my life – in that room and we even did two walk arounds just to make sure we’d taken everything in. I, again, loved the combination of old and new, with some of the Saint Laurent designed dresses looking timeless next to a new creation from Grazia Chiuri. This room had another couple of my favourite outfits in, a beautiful, embroidered gown and a black, sequinned Galliano number with a dramatic skirt. There was also a section on the one of pieces created to walk the red carpets on the bodies of celebrities, with pieces worn by Jennifer Lawerence and Rihanna, amongst others. This room stunned me and I thought it had been so well curated and the design had been so well thought about – just enough drama to make an impact, but not enough to detract from the beautiful outfits I was surrounded by.
I could write forever, about every room and I haven’t even talked about the accessories – Stephen Jones’ millenary could’ve been an exhibition in itself but I will leave it here. Overall, this exhibition was beautiful and inspiring, and I really recommend a visit to everyone. It gave me lots of new ideas and will directly influence my work but even if you are not overly interested in fashion, it is still absolutely worth a look. If you do decide to go and if you’re worried that reading this blog has spoiled the experience, it definitely hasn’t. No words can do justice to the effect of seeing it in real life.
Want to read more reviews like this in your inbox? Get sustainable fashion advice and behind the brand updates by joining the Wild Times newsletter.