It was the happiest of coincidences, there was a major Dior exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum while I was in London. Alas, there were no tickets to be had. Unless! You were a member of the museum. Members could get in.
No problem! I signed right up and became a member of the V&A.
I wasn’t the only one, their membership has skyrocketed. A good thing. Museums need and thrive on their members.
Just after WWII, Christian Dior established his fashion house. Women were tired of the deprivations of the war years and were looking for something different. Dior’s pretty and feminine designs were the perfect antidote. His first collection, shown in 1947 was a success.
Ticket holders, new members and old, we all were there to see the exhibit.
The very first piece shown was the iconic ‘Bar’ suit. Unlike the boxy, masculine styles of the previous years, this piece, Dior’s fitted jacket over a full skirt, was indeed a ‘New Look’
I’d seen this outfit in photo after photo, what a thrill to see it in person.
Surrounding the original were interpretations by other Dior designers.
Including this one by the most recent head designer and first woman, Maria Grazia Chiuri. You can just see the tee shirt which reads ‘We should all be feminists.’
I love how Chiuri has used the elements of the original and updated them for women for today. I will say, that although I admire and love the original, I am grateful that we are no longer expected to squeeze into such a restricted silhouette.
Right from the beginning, the house of Dior was very successful. Whether the real thing or ‘inspired by’ [copied?] 1950’s fashion followed Christian Dior’s lead.
Ten years after its founding, in 1957, Dior died from a heart attack at age 52. He was replaced by his head assistant, Yves Saint Laurent.
Saint Laurent was only 21 when he became Artistic Designer. His designs were lighter, more youthful and easier to wear. After only three years he was drafted into the French Army and left the company.
After Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan was promoted to Artistic Designer. Unlike Saint Laurent, Bohan’s designs were reserved and subtle.
After almost 30 years, Bohan was replaced by Gianfranco Ferre.
I especially appreciated this part of the exhibit because I was not very familiar with Bohan or Ferre’s work at Dior.
Which was not like the next designer, John Galliano, who I was very familiar with. Galliano pushed the house to its highest level of intensity.
If you followed fashion at all, it was next to impossible to ignore Galliano. Wild designs and outrageous shows. Some his designs were so, so beautiful, others so crazy and over the top.
In 2011, after an unfortunate drunken rant, Galliano was let go and replaced by Raf Simons and his comparably quiet but oh so gorgeous designs.
I love his work. Beautiful and perfect.
Three years later Simons left and in 2015 Dior appointed its first woman creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
One of my favorite designers, Chiuri was previously at Valentino. She has a perfect sense of beauty, form, shape and, so important, an appreciation of a real body inside the clothes. She knows how to design for women.
It was so interesting to see the work of the 6 designers who followed Dior! Each so different, but all coming from the same source, their individual interpretations of classic Dior looks was fascinating.
The next room was beyond a treat. I was spellbound. Row upon row of working muslins.
How do you make a couture dress? First a sketch. Next you must interpret the drawing and make it up using an inexpensive fabric, usually muslin. The expert dressmakers, called ‘Les Petite Mains,’ [literally ‘the little hands’] cut and sew the muslin until the look, drape and shapes are right.
A room full of working muslins! Breathtaking!
Without the distractions of color and pattern, you could really see the construction. So cool.
In many cases the final gown was also on display.
The final gown , second from the right.
The muslin, still with pins and corrected stitching,
The final dress, looking refined and perfect.
Or this one, a paper drawing pinned in place, showing where the embroideries will go.
The finished jacket.
Needless to say, I was in there for quite a while.
The final rooms were magical, the light changing, cycling through dark evening colors to lighter warmer hues.
Gowns from Dior’s 70 plus years were shown side by side.
Hundreds and hundreds of hours of handwork
It’s unusual for exhibits to allow photos. The opportunity to take pictures, well… I’ll admit, I did go a bit overboard.
What a wonderful thing to see! Beautiful, beautiful work. All of it created by people who obviously love their work. The designers and so importantly, the technicians who together made all of this happen. Truly amazing.