If you’re not a stranger to my Instagram stories, you might remember I recently visited the vintage Christian Dior exhibit at the Victoria&Albert museum. The Designer of Dreams is what they call him, a portrayal that could not be more accurate!
As a lover of the outstandingly feminine 50’s silhouettes, my appreciation for Dior can’t be exaggerated.
One of my earliest exposures to him was in high school. Shuffling through a Harper’s Bazaar, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a then recent Dior collection. Chock full of floral prints, full skirts and tea length dresses- it felt like a dream come true!
And I chuckle remembering how at the time I thought merely “Great! Someone’s finally designing 50’s inspired items.” Fast forward a couple years later, imagine my shock and delight when I found out Christian Dior actually invented this style I revere!
Creator of the New Look in 1947, he brought the hourglass silhouette back in fashion. He made feminine details, classic cuts and sumptuous fabrics de riguer after the penury of World War II. And it all reverberated through decades of fashion, well into the present.
So to say that I was thrilled when the possibility of viewing some of Dior’s most iconic dresses was mine to grab, is an understatement! I had already missed the Paris exhibition, and was not about to do the same with the London one.
And all I can say is that my expectations were far exceeded… The exhibit was a dream!
Which is why I wanted to share what I saw and learned from visiting the V&A vintage Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exposition. Maybe it will help you navigate your future visit.
And if not, hopefully it at least provides some beautiful visual inspiration!
Getting in is a feat in itself- prepare accordingly
The exhibition is notoriously hard to gain access to. When I knew we were planning our visit in March, I tried getting tickets at the end of January.
They were already sold out… Naturally, I was a bit heartbroken, because I’d really wanted to see those beautiful, unique creations.
Luckily, I tried the website again about mid Feb, and what would you know? A few extra tickets were put online for precisely those days! So of course, I grabbed a couple on the spot.
Currently, the exhibition appears sold out until 1st September on the V&A website. With one mention: members may still get tickets!
So if that’s an option for you, if you live in London- or are just that determined to see the Designer of Dreams- consider purchasing a membership.
Another solution for the truly determined is queuing outside the museum’s Main Entrance. There are a few extra tickets sold every day at 10 am, on a first come, first served basis. So one might just be for you.
But a word to the wise:
You need to be there early. And I mean Early.
Our tickets were for 9:30 (you gain access based on time slots), so we were there around 9:20. And the que was already long past the signage announcing that from that point onwards, you were very unlikely to gain access on that particular day.
So make sure you’re getting out of the tube no later than 07:30 am!
Grab an almond croissant and flat white at Paul (there’s one open at 7:00 am on Gloucester Road, at the tube exit) on your way to the museum. If you manage to get a friend in tow, it’s even better- and if the weather is also nice, then you can already say you’re lucky!
Especially if you also manage to get your hands on the precious tickets.
Think twice about your camera!
And once you do get in, keep in mind that the spaces are quite busy and often narrow. It’s not completely cramped, thanks to the admittance based on time slots, but it will certainly be tight.
So if you’re planning on taking some awesome pics to fawn over later- or if you’re a content creator wanting to share the beauty of Dior with the world- plan accordingly.
My photography tips:
- If using a DSLR, bring a versatile standard lens (eg. Nikon 18-35) rather than a prime one meant for closer details. I silently patted myself on the back for not bringing my 50 mm Canon 80D! Because as much as I love it, the space simply would not have allowed me enough distance to fully frame the dresses.
- Account for strong contrasts. Consider that the backgrounds will often be very dark, with quite strong lighting in some areas. Also, a lot of the items on display are very colourful. And while this can create a very beautiful, strong mood for your image, you also need to be careful not to end up with a too harsh contrast.
- A few must-see items are displayed behind glass. Which means you need to pay attention to how surrounding objects and people may be reflected in it, and distort your photo.
And speaking of these key styles that have marked the evolution of the brand, and are “not-to-be-missed”, you can see:
More than dresses: the Maison Christian Dior vision
The whole exhibit is organized as an immersive experience, to get you into the spirit of Dior. Next to the dresses themselves, you will find pictures of Christian in his younger years, his sketches, swatches of fabric etc.
There are also films projected on the walls from place to place, as well as plaques detailing the journey of this iconic designer and his brand. The exhibit is as much educative as it is a joy for the senses.
You see how Dior’s love of flowers really shaped his creative process:
“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.”
And it really helps you understand how the House of Dior was imagined and shaped- both by the creator and his employees.
Speaking of which: another aspect I really enjoyed was getting to see the toiles of the Dior ateliers. These are basically the blank canvases that the House would test patterns and cuts on. And they are a testament to the creativity and vision shown by the designer, and the precision and talent of the seamstresses.
The Parisian haute couture petites mains (the small hands) are a very highly skilled, and respected group of craftsmen and women. They are central to maintaining the tradition and the spirit of a couture house.
And seeing the tangible results of their work in the form of the toiles was as humbling as it was awe-inducing.
Finally, another side of the brand that I was so happy to see at the exhibit is the succession of designers that have carried on the name of the House of Dior.
It was so interesting to see how each of them carried on Christian’s legacy, at the same time leaving their own individual print on the collections.
I really enjoyed photographing this section, structuring the images under the concept of each designer et ses femmes. From Yves Saint Laurent to Maria Grazia Chiuri, I attempted to capture their individual creative spirits:
The scale of Diorama will overwhelm you
Those of you familiar with haute couture history, or who have read Marius Gabriel’s “The Designer” already know this. But at the end of World War II, when fabrics were rationed, fashion didn’t dare be anything but strict and utilitarian.
Because of this, it was hard to put together a true fashion show, as resources were scarce. But Dior was a non-conformist.
While still working for the House of Lelong- the biggest in Paris at the time- Dior, with the help of friends Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard, put together Le Petit Théâtre de la Mode. In other words: The Small Theatre of Fashion.
It was a ground breaking idea!
All the dresses were cut and sewn to fit tiny doll mannequins. And they were set up and lit as if in a small theatre- a symbol of Dior’s ingenious fighter spirit. He may have had many obstacles, but did not stop until he revolutionized the world of fashion.
Which is exactly what the Diorama section pays homage to. I love how they blended each colour section into the next, going trough dresses, bags, shoes, perfume bottles, jewelry, items of decor… a whole universe of beauty and femininity.
A brilliant vision from a brilliant creator.
See why Christian Dior is truly The Designer of Dreams
The last room is mind-boggling. A tribute to the most regal, ball-room worthy of Dior creations, the gowns are extravagant and the set up is extraordinary. You will really not even know where to look, and what to “Ooh” and “Aaah” at first.
Going from imposing, architectural dresses to glamorous, feathered creations that would be at home at a masqued ball, your senses will be continuously overwhelmed. A spectacle of colour and texture, this room is pure fantasy.
And the best part?
The ever-changing lights, showcasing more and more valences of each garment, the closer and longer you look. The fabrics seem to come alive with the glimmer of a myriad stones, metallic threads and pearls embroidered on them.
And as a picture is worth 1000 words, I will conclude with just one for this exposition:
I hope you’ve enjoyed going on this journey through the House of Dior with me. And I’m very curious to hear from you now: Have you have visited this exhibit, or experienced vintage Christian Dior in another context? Are you a fan of Dior (old or current)?
To me, this exhibit is not only a memory to cherish, but an endless source of inspiration. And not only in a fashion sense, but also for Christian Dior’s entire vision. A man who truly loved women and sought to help them showcase their most beautiful traits.
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