Fashion has always been political. From Christian Dior’s post-war celebration of the female form through his New Look silhouette, to the striking Valentino Spring 2019 Couture show this January which featured 43 black models for the ﬁrst time in history. As the UK famously teeters away from the European Union this March, one cannot help but feel that the V&A’s latest exhibition arrives at a poignant time in the country’s history. London’s largest museum has chosen 2019 as the year to celebrate the life and work of one of the best French designers of all time – and in particular, his love affair with the UK.
This month saw the launch of the museum’s ﬁrst exhibition dedicated to Christian Dior, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams. Based on the 70th anniversary exhibition that was shown in 2017 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the new exhibition goes one step further, including many pieces that were not shown at the French show. Sixty per cent of the pieces on display at the V&A are unique to the exhibition, including an entirely new section called Dior in Britain, dedicated to the French designer’s love of the British Isles.
From growing up with views across the English Channel in his seaside hometown of Granville, to dressing some of the most proliﬁc British celebrities and Royals, Dior was a lifelong Anglophile. “There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much”, he once said. “I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.”
“The Dior in Britain section explores Dior’s fascination with British culture,” Oriole Cullen, the curator of the new exhibition tells Grazia. “Dior loved the grandeur of the great houses and gardens of Britain, as well as British-designed ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He also wore Savile Row suits.”
Central to the exhibition is the 21st birthday gown Dior designed for Queen Elizabeth’s sister, the late Princess Margaret. The gown went under intense restoration in order to be ready for the show, and the V&A exhibition is the ﬁrst time the public have the opportunity to see the fully repaired gown.
“We’re so excited to be able to display the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations,” Cullen says. The piece, which is on loan from the Museum of London, is a cream off-the-shoulder gown, embroidered with mother of pearl, beads, sequins and rafﬁa. The impressive piece is displayed beside a life-sized portrait of Princess Margaret pictured celebrating her 21st birthday in the incredible gown.
The designer however, was not just popular with the British Royals. During the 1950s, Dior found success with many of the country’s well-heeled circles and toured many of Britain’s great stately homes, holding fashion shows. One of the most famous to be put on by the burgeoning designer was his show at Blenheim Palace in 1954, which is brought to life again at the V&A exhibition.
The new exhibition reveals that depth of the designer’s relationship with Britain, choosing to work with British manufacturing companies during his career. The effect of this can still be seen today, with some of the ﬁne worsted cloths used by the fashion house still being sourced from a Huddersﬁeld-based textile company. As the UK counts down the days until it is no longer in Europe, the new exhibition seems a keen reminder to the country that even those who go it alone, rely on the help of good friends.
Photos: Courtesy of the V&A
- On now until Sunday 14 July 2019. The Sainsbury Gallery, V&A Museum, London, UK. For more info, visit vam.ac.uk