“Everything I know, see or hear; every part of my life is transformed into dresses. They are my dreams, but they have passed from dreamland into the world of everyday items to wear…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
From growing up as an aspiring architect and artist, studying to be a diplomat, becoming a gallery owner and finally transforming into a world-renowned couturier, Christian Dior’s life could have taken an array of different paths.
Fate and chance have not only woven themselves into the precious garments Dior dreamed into reality, they have also sewn themselves into the fabric of Monsieur Dior’s life.
Brought up by bourgeois industrialists in Granville, Normandy, Christian Dior had his life mapped out for him. His parents encouraged a career in diplomacy but his degree in political science was left incomplete. Maybe this change in course was a blessing in disguise as later he would become instrumental in stimulating the revival of a couture world which had been ravaged by two world wars.
During this period there was dependence on international investment (particularly from America.) This meant that individuality was forgotten as the Americans produced more affordable duplicates of French couture.
The tale of Dior is one of triumph against adversity; it was from illness and financial ruin that Christian Dior rose like a phoenix from the ashes. He began his ascent into the industry by selling fashion sketches to reputable designers of the period (eg. Balenciaga, Nina Ricci and Schiaparelli.) Later on he would work in the design studio at Lucien Lelong, alongside the young Pierre Balmain.
“Chance always comes to the aid of those who really want something…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
The stars aligned for Christian on the evening of 18th April 1946…
“Whilst walking up the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Christian Dior hit his foot on an object on the ground and almost tripped, as though it was the object itself that wished to attract his attention. He… realised that he was in front of the British Embassy and this made him think of his childhood in Granville, Normandy…Dior picked up the object that had nearly made him fall over: it was a star, the one that was to propel him into the upper echelons of haute couture and luxury, his evening star indicating the path to follow… he knew at that very moment he could no longer escape his destiny…the next day, Dior announced to Marcel Boussac that he would not take over Philippe de Gaston. Instead, he was ready to open a fashion house in his own name.”
Dior emerged onto the couture scene in 1947 with his infamous “New Look.” This spellbinding collection revolutionised couture and has impacted womenswear up to the present day.
“We were emerging from the period of war, of uniforms…I drew flower women, with soft shoulders, full busts, willowy waists and wide skirts like flowers in bloom…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
The “New Look” closed the chapter on utilitarian design which had dominated the war years.
Silhouettes were transformed through an iconic jacket called “le bar” which, with its clean lines and hourglass structure, re-emphasised what femininity could be. The jacket was intended to be worn during cocktail hour in the bars of grand hotels.
Dior would go on to influence Parisian couture until his untimely death in 1957; just as Dior found his lucky star two decades previously, we lost ours too soon…
After watching the Dior & I documentary which follows Raf Simons as the brands new creative director in 2011, I became fascinated with Dior as a fashion house and the intricate assembly of haute couture. Consequently, when I heard about the V&A’s exhibition dedicated to Dior, I knew I had to purchase tickets.
Named after his whimsical, artistic character, the ‘Dior: Designer of Dreams’, label encapsulates him perfectly. Dior’s sketches and creations entrance and bewitch the mind.
In this post, I would like to share some of my favourite pieces from the exhibition and my thoughts on the structure of each display…
Dior’s New Look ♡
Dior In Britain ♡
Dior’s love affair with British culture was extensive; he worked closely with Princess Margaret to design classic and regal pieces for her wardrobe. My favourite would have to be this elegant ballgown created for her 21st birthday…
A Touch of Historicism ~ Very Versailles ♡
The passing of Dior in 1957 brought a new set of designers to the helm of this influential fashion house; this includes… Yves Saint Laurent (1957-1960), Marc Bohan (1960-1989), Gianfranco Ferré (1989–1997), John Galliano (1997-2011), Bill Gaytten (2011-2012), Raf Simons (2011-2015), Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier (2015-2016), Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016-present)
“A ballgown is your dream, and it must make you a dream… wearing a beautiful ballgown you become a real woman; all femininity, daintiness and sweetness.” ~ Christian Dior ♡
I particularly adore the intricate floral embroidery on both the dusty pink satin gown and tulle belt dress; they both remind me of something from a fairytale…
Next we turn to a chapter which expands Dior’s influence further back in time; in particular we see regal pieces of Versailles reimagined into modern masterpieces with pastel blues and decadent brocade.
The lightness I encountered in this room made me feel like I was floating on a cloud of couture dreams.
Everything about this section of the exhibition was ostentatious but the candy stripe jacket and the white lace embroidered bodices took my breath away…
Pastel, dusty blues are in abundance and the structure of gowns break the boundaries with flounced sleeves and ruffled corsets.
Travelling in Style ♡
If you want to experience the terrains of far flung global treasures, all you need is a piece of haute couture to take you there. Although many of these ensembles appear distant from the vision of Dior in 1947, I also recognise that both attempt to break the moulds of convention. My favourite dress in this part of the exhibition was the ethereal tulle cherry blossom gown from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s SS17 collection. The words, “Jardin Japonais, Christian Dior, 1953”, were stitched whimsically onto one of the garments. It references a dress in the founder’s own haute couture collection from that year, which featured a motif of a bird in a cherry tree.
Sweet Scents & Marvellous Miniatures♡
Perfumery is a significant feature of Dior’s heritage. Christian had a penchant for flowers and launched Miss Dior, the brand’s first perfume, in 1947. The perfume was named after Dior’s sister, Catherine and is my most treasured scent.
“Perfume is the indispensable complement to the personality of women, the finishing touch of a dress…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
Alongside delicate bottles of the original perfumes were beautiful photographs and clippings from perfume ads. Dior was particularly fond of swans and I adore the fact that he decided to use the swan as a symbol for his Miss Dior perfume; encompassing elegance, poise and grace.
It was also such a joy to see this miniature of the Miss Dior 1949 dress. How pretty are the mini organza flowers?
“A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
The Flower Garden ♡
“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world. But being so sweet and charming they must be used with care…” ~ Christian Dior ♡
It’s no secret that Dior felt content whilst being immersed in nature. He chose to implement this time as a ritual for inspiration and dreamed up most of his collections amongst the flowers. I feel an affinity with flowers too; their delicate but ever blossoming beauty inspires me to try my best to accept change as a constant aspect of life.
Cascading from the ceiling of “The Garden” were an array of paper lilac blossoms which appeared to glow in the light. I encountered the dresses of my dreams in this room. The first three were an elegant, mermaid-inspired gown covered in feather-like petals, a sweet green and rosebud ensemble with a dainty bow collar and a dreamy white and pink rose dress.
The next assortment of dresses embodied the flower motif perfectly. They appeared as though they had just emerged from the “Think Pink” scene in Funny Face (1957.) Coated in stunning fuchsia pinks with bold pleats, I was awe-struck by the central gown which is embellished with a delicate rose; it looks as though the fabric is blooming like a flower…
This sweet, lace frill dress with a soft satin sash is too cute for words! It is very Audrey and mirrors some of the pieces she wore in Paris When It Sizzles (1963)
“Christian Dior adored his mother, who loved flowers. Her favourite was lily of the valley, so he created Diorissimo”
Dior always wore a sprig of lily-of-the-valley in his button hole and requested that his seamstresses sew the flower into the hems of his dresses for good luck.
I fell in love the ‘Muguet’ dress (lily-of-the-valley.) It was made for the spring/summer collection in 1957 and is made from cotton (organdie.)
The strapless, white organza dress from Raf Simons’ A/W 2012 collection for Dior is utterly perfect.
It is adorned with a pointillist degrade chiffon which looks as though it has been sprinkled with an array of flowers.
The dress is even more special as it was worn by Natalie Portman in the Miss Dior campaign. I adore Natalie and every time I see the advert I imagine myself wandering around Paris with a box of macarons, twirling around like a modern Marie Antoinette.
The Perfect Fit ~ The Atelier ♡
This room is dedicated to the “petite mains” (seamstresses) who turn Dior’s dreams (and his many successors) and ideas, into reality. They are integral to every inch of couture and I was delighted to experience this display of original toiles which are the beginning of any garment…
Belle of the Ball ♡
You are cordially invited to Monsieur Dior’s ball…
In this section of the exhibition we soared amongst the stars of couture. Every gown gleamed like diamonds and glistened like the stars above….
Soft pinks, ruffles, flower embroidery and feathers… what more can a girl want?
“Deep in every heart slumbers a dream, and the couturier knows it: every woman is a princess…” ~ Christian Dior
The final gown we were graced with was a show-stopping piece from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s SS18 collection. Although we are left with a dress which symbolises modernity and appears quite distant from Dior’s “New Look” 1947, we must remember Dior’s three fundamentals to good dressing ~ “simplicity, good taste and grooming.”
Chiuri’s grand, tulle angel wing feature is flamboyant and the dress acquires an otherworldly disposition. However, we must appreciate that the piece incorporates these three foundations. The lines of the garment are clean, well-placed and balanced, the waist and shoulders are emphasised, the skirt flows out and blooms like a beautiful flower and the colours are neutral; Dior diligently gravitated towards white, nude tones and black which are all timeless shades. It is simple yet utterly mesmerising. Sewn along the front of the frock in black cursive script is ‘Christian Dior’; they will always be his creations, the predecessors know this in their hearts, the couturier of the past is their guiding star…
After experiencing the wonders of the exhibition I couldn’t resist purchasing two books from the gift-shop.
The Little Dictionary of Fashion is a book filled with words of wisdom from Christian Dior. On each page there is something to take away and remember; most of the quotations I have included in this blog post are from this little book and I thought I would share another one of my favourites with you.
“Pink is the sweetest of all colours. Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe. It is the colour of happiness and of femininity…”
Dior: A New Look, A New Enterprise 1947-57 is such a beautiful book; it is encased in a soft pink cover and filled with stunning sketches and photographs from Dior’s early creations. I have only read a few chapters so far but the book begins by discussing Christian’s journey into the world of haute couture which I found very fascinating.
On a shopping trip with my mum I purchased a few dreamy items from various Dior boutiques. This included the Miss Dior eau de toilette which is scented with sweet citrus aromas like blood orange and coated with base notes of patchouli. At the heart of the eau de toilette is the Grasse Centifolia rose which is unique to Dior’s heritage. When Christian Dior purchased the Colle Noir estate, he cultivated that exceptional terroir’s emblematic flower: the centifolia rose.
The soft, blush pink liquid is encased in an elegant glass bottle which is adorned with a dainty bow. Whenever I wear Miss Dior I feel like a princess wandering amongst the rose bushes in a secret, enchanted garden…
If you would like to see my other Dior purchases, just let me know and I’ll share them in a future post. I’d also love to know if you have visited the Dior exhibition and who your favourite designer is?
Lots of love,