The anticipation for this exhibition began way back in 2018 and was something that almost every fashion enthusiast was looking forward to. So much so that when I tried booking tickets in February of 2019, the earliest one available before 6 pm was in June! Although, after all the waiting and finding one single ticket for the odd 7:15 pm entry, I can happily say that it was worth every single penny and more. The exhibition was earlier held and presented in Paris and was later brought to the UK by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Curated by Orielle Cullen and Nathalie Criniére, it received such an overwhelming response that the museum had extended its stay until September 2019 from the initial date in July.
When you walk into the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, your first glimpse into the exhibition is the set of massive illustrations on the walls for different dresses and garments and a long wall with a detailed timeline of the fashion house’s progress to where it stands today. The first piece viewers are introduced to in the first room is the ‘New Look’, designed by Christian Dior in 1947. Featuring a cinched waist and a hip-hugging pencil skirt, even today, the silhouette can be found across all Dior collections. Following the success of this shape, Monsieur Dior would experiment with shape, structure and proportion and name each collection to reflect the dominant silhouettes. Some examples present in the exhibit included the Zig-Zag, Verticale and the H-Line.
The next section featured beautiful dresses from Dior’s presentations in the UK before he died, including the iconic dress designed for and worn by Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday. Encased in glass, opposite a blown-up photograph taken by Cecil Beaton – fans of the Crown get a chance to see the original photograph and dress the show was portraying in its second season. Designed specifically for the princess, it was an adaptation from the Spring/Summer 1951 Haute Couture Collection, with a buttoned bodice and full skirt, and was another nod to the ‘New Look’ silhouette.
The next room showcased various collections designed by the fashion house and how each of the creative directions took their inspiration from different parts of the world and from different cultures. Monsieur Dior’s collections were inspired by the architecture, landscapes, art and textiles from different countries, his successive creative directors followed his process and incorporated features from different countries into their subsequent collections. The most recent was Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Cruise 2019 collection where she looked toward the Mexican escaramuza horsewomen as the inspiration for her collection and invited rodeo riders to demonstrate their skills and talent while the models walked the runway wearing the new collection.
Each creative director for the fashion house has taken the template set forth by Christian Dior – with the ‘New Look’ silhouette, the architectural and floral inspirations, the layering of textiles, and recreated and represented it with their own signature styles. This is evident in one of the last rooms in the exhibition, where one sees the simplicity of the Yves Saint Laurent era, the presence of various fabrics in the collections by Marc Bohan, the nod to Dior’s fascination with his gardens in Raf Simon’s iconic Autumn/Winter 2012 Haute Couture show, and Maria Grazia’s recreation of a more relaxed fit for the ‘New Look’ (although some critics argue that her designs over the last few collections seem repetitive). As a luxury-fashion enthusiast who hasn’t had the chance to see these designs on a runway, it was very interesting to see the detailing of each piece, but also to learn more about the heritage of the brand and the research and references that become part of each collection.