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Designer of Dreams: Celebrating 70 Years of Christian Dior at the V&A


A celebration of Christian Dior at the Victoria and Albert Museum displays more than 70 years of magical designs. Elizabeth Finney discovers more

In his book, The Little Dictionary of Fashion, the exemplary designer Christian Dior said: “Simplicity, grooming and good taste – the three fundamentals of fashion – cannot be bought. But they can be learnt, by rich and poor alike.”

In February 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum hosts the monumental exhibition, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams. This is based on the 2017 Paris exhibition, Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve, but given a significant twist – a section will be dedicated to his self-confessed fascination with British culture and the collaborations, fashion shows and clients he had in England. In his memoir, Dior wrote: “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. I dote on Yorkshire pudding, mince pies, stuffed chicken and, above all, I worship the English breakfast of tea, porridge, eggs and bacon.”

Elizabeth Finney


Since the spring of 1947, Dior has dressed the wealthy, from members of the Royal Family to stars of the silver screen. His legendary ‘New Look’ revolutionised the fashion industry, emphasising the curves of the female form rather than seeking to conceal them. His style was constructed and feminine, a trait that continues to appear throughout the Dior couture collections. “In 1947, Christian Dior redefined the female silhouette and reinvigorated the post-war Parisian fashion industry,” explains Oriole Cullen, fashion and textiles curator at the V&A. “The influence of Christian Dior’s design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era… In their own ways, each of the House’s successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted Dior’s own designs and continued the legacy of the founder.”


Pictured above L-R:Princess Margaret presents Christian Dior with a scroll entitling him to Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross © Popperfoto, Getty Images; Christian Dior with model Lucky, circa 1955. Courtesy of Christian Dior; Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948. Courtesy of Christian Dior.


Dior was extremely superstitious and always credited his success to good luck. His strong belief in magic and chance has acted thematically in his work and certain talismans can be found within collections throughout the past 70 years. “The most important feature of my life – I would be both ungrateful and untruthful if I failed to acknowledge it immediately – has been my good luck; and I must also acknowledge my debt to the fortune-tellers who have predicted it,” he wrote. The number eight was significant to him for numerous reasons, but the curvaceous shape beautifully represents his key couture outlines. He was also known to carry a four-leaf clover with him, among other trinkets, and would tuck a sprig of his good-luck flower, the lily of the valley, into the hem of his haute couture pieces.

“It has been interesting to find out just how superstitious Christian Dior was," says Cullen. "He regularly consulted a clairvoyant and would make important decisions on her advice. When he was debating whether or not to take on the offer to establish his own house from financial backer Marcel Boussac, he tripped on a metal star which had fallen from the centre of a cartwheel. He saw this five pointed star as an oman and decided to accept the challenge. For the rest of his career he kept this old piece of metal in his studio and had gold coloured medals made in it’s form to hand out to loyal staff.”



Pictured above, L-R: Christian Dior by John Galliano, J’adore, Dress, Haute Couture, 2008 (custom-made). Christian Dior Parfums collection, Paris; Christian Dior (1905–57), Bar Suit, Haute Couture, SpringSummer 1947, Corolle Line. Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Jardin fleuri bustier dress, SS17 Haute Couture collection. Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Dior Héritage collection, Paris. All photos © Laziz Hamani.


Dedicated to quality, sophistication and individuality, he upheld powerful values with regard to style and the industry. “Of course, the dream of every woman would be to change her clothes every day to look different always – but it is financially impossible and I don’t even think it would be nice,” he wrote: “It is much better to have few clothes but good ones.”

“Dior is one of the most important fashion houses in operation today," adds Cullen. "Most importantly, it retains its unique haute couture ateliers established with the founding of the house in 1946. The ateliers uphold the tradition of exquisitely hand made garments.”


Écarlate afternoon dress, AW55 Haute Couture collection, Y line. Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture, AW04; Soirée de décembre evening dress, AW54 Haute Couture collection, H line. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Gift of Dame Margot Fonteyn. All photos © Laziz Hamani

The exhibition is a welcome celebration of the man who molded the roots of the brand. Dior described himself in duality – there was the public figure, the revered couturier and the private individual, who loved the simple things in life. Dior encouraged simplicity, assuring the masses that money didn’t necessarily buy style and that elegance was an option for all women. “Until the time we are converted into robots – and I hope this time will never come individuality will always be one of the conditions of real elegance,” Dior wrote. “Never forget that individuality does not mean eccentricity. No elegant woman follows fashion slavishly.”

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, running until July 14, 2019. Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL, 020 7942 2000. Nearest Tube: South Kensington (Piccadilly, Circle & District Lines.) /

Hero Image: Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dress, Haute Couture, SS18. Photo © Laziz Hamani. Dior Héritage collection, Paris



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