If you’re looking for a one-word review of the V&A’s Christian Dior exhibition then here it is: fantasy. As spelled out by its own subtitle – ‘Designer of Dreams’ – this blockbuster showcase of a globally famous fashion label is about clothes and the imagination.
Because the Dior brand has, from its birth, traded on being the kindling of sartorial fairytales. This show, the biggest fashion exhibition held at the V&A since 2015’s ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’, returns repeatedly to the threads that link together the fashion house’s seven artistic directors and their unique methods of fuelling the dream machine.
There are displays of Dior-related paraphernalia such as sketches, mag covers and super-structured undergarments, but in honesty, visitors are here for one thing and one thing only: the dresses.
And the exhibition delivers. Long dresses, short dresses, slinky dresses, massive blooming huge dresses. Dresses the size of dollies to dresses like towering statues to bow down and worship. A whole rainbow of sparkly, showy, sexy, sensuous dresses. Just so many dresses.
It’s beautiful. I mean, really beautiful. Walking through this show is like being sucked inside a little girl’s daydream that she conjured up while trying on mummy’s high-heels and red lipstick, each flamboyantly decorated room more perfect princess partyland than the last.
The Cinderella mirror, however, isn’t without its cracks. The exit of designer John Galliano from the company for anti-Semitism is notably never mentioned. And the room devoted to travel, collecting together instances where Dior designs have been ‘inspired’ by other cultures, sits slightly awkwardly with current discussions about cultural appropriation.
It’s a shame the curators have shied away from these more thorny issues and instead presented a rather stainless history of the brand. Even the best fantasies sometimes require a pinch of reality.