Dior and fashion fans were still zig-zagging round the block 48 hours before the show closed at Albertopolis on 1 September. The V&A’ s most popular show in history had had its equivalent of an encore after it was extended for a further seven weeks. A first run at Paris’ Musee des Arts Decoratifs which closed in early 2018, had also become one of the city’s most visited of all time.
Even sales of the specially designed tote bag to commemorate the show at £25 a pop had been limited to three per customer. A sophisticated queuing system was operational and stopped right at the first room of curated exhibits. But Monsieur Dior had not always been a darling of the masses, sparking protests in fashion capitals with his radical reinvention of the hemline in 1949. Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor bemoaned the fate of some thirty of her most striking dresses after Dior lowered the hemline to 15 1/2 inches, but agreed with Dior’s new revolutionary length dresses.
The designer felt that skirt lengths should not be prescriptive, but rather a question of the wearer’s proportions, avoiding all exaggeration. Dior was unruffled by the worldwide furore which his ‘shock look’ caused stressing that his new collection was aimed at giving women greater freedom of movement.
At the peak of his powers the French couturier, born in Normandy, believed fashion should be utilitarian and purposeful creating left and right pumps that fit either foot interchangeably, harking back to a period when shoemakers did not bother to distinguish. He was credited for creating the ‘New Look’ as embodied in the Bar Suit inspired by the bar at the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris. Its exquisitely sculpted jacket and generously pleated skirt epitomised in the new silhouette. Dior later observed: “I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body.”
From launch in 1947 to his death 10 years later in 1957, Dior’s output was prolific, comprising 22 collections, each often consisted over 150 looks. The descriptions of the outfits often reflected the dominant silhouette; from Zig-zag, Verticale; Sinueuse; Tulip; Flèche (arrow) and Fuseau (spindle). The Blenheim was a satin evening gown named after Blenheim Palace in England where the designer staged some of his spectacular catwalks; the Liszt was another Dior evening dress made from white organza trimmed with black satin ribbon; the Offenbach was a Dior evening dress.
Product extensions started with Dior’s quest to create the total look for consumers. Hence there was always that affordable bottle of perfume for that client who could splash out on that expensive dress. The critically acclaimed showcase also formed a vital inspiration for creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri when designing Dior’s AW19 Ready-to-Wear Collection. The Italian even put slogan tee-shirts on the catwalk with author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s seminal TED lecture title: “We should all be feminists”, emblazoned on them. It’s recent J’adior campaign shows the label’s continuing influence in today’s cultural milieu.
Dior, a confirmed Anglophile staged his first catwalk show at The Savoy in 1950 with a full house and it appeared nothing much had changed in 2019 with another critically acclaimed show in his favourite city.