Dedicated to Dior: Inside the New V&A Retrospective Exhibition

The Victoria & Albert Museum celebrates seven decades of haute couture in the largest Dior retrospective in UK history, with a thoroughly British twist 

The new Dior exhibition delves into the history of the revered fashion house, from the birth of Dior's iconic New Look in 1947 and the opening of his couturier at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, until today

Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948, Courtesy of Christian Dior

Picture this: it’s 1950 and you’re a model who’s been handpicked by the house of Dior to walk in its first ever London show at The Savoy, a charity event in aid of the Museum of Costume (now the Fashion Museum in Bath). Runway wrapped, the designer informs the team that he’s taking you all for a celebratory lunch at the French embassy. So far, so perfect. On arrival, however, there are no sandwiches, no glasses of champagne nor any sign of lunch at all, liquid or otherwise. Instead, there’s another runway, another rail of clothes and an expectant audience of four: HRH The Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Marina of Greece and Princess Olga of Greece.

It’s no secret that Christian Dior was a master of haute couture who harboured a plethora of royal and aristocratic fans, but his love of England, and indeed the English royal family, has been explored less. This February, the largest UK exhibition focused on the house of Dior will open at the Victoria & Albert Museum, modelled on the sell-out exhibition of the same name at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, but with an additional section on the apparent anglophile and his obsession with our island.

Princess Margaret presents Christian Dior with a scroll entitling him to Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross on 3rd November 1954, ©Popperfoto / Getty Images

“There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much,” Dior once said. “I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.”

He first visited our country aged 21, arriving with a view to perfect his English. It was the start of a flourishing relationship and throughout his life the designer connected visits to England with “a sensation of happiness and great personal freedom” — indeed, in his autobiography, he dedicated a special chapter to London and the London-based branch of his brand. His label was immediately a hit with British aristocrats, and in 1949 he was delighted to receive a visit from Princess Margaret at his boutique in Paris. On return home, she commissioned him to create a gown, and from that moment remained a staunch Dior fan for the rest of her life.

Christian Dior with model Lucky, circa 1955, courtesy of Christian Dior

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams – and an accompanying book, written by exhibition curators Oriole Cullen and Connie Karol Burks – will chart seven decades of the fashion house, exploring the ephemeral influence of its founder and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. More than 500 objects will go on display, telling the story of the couturier and his brand using clothes from the Dior archive and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s own personal collection. Look out for the ballgown Dior designed for Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday, on loan from the Museum of London — her “favourite dress of all”.

Royal Portrait of Princess Margaret on her 21st birthday, Photo ©Cecil Beaton (1904–1980)

The ten thematic Dior exhibition rooms

Dior New Look room

Dior Line room 

Dior in Britain 

Dior historicism room

Dior Travel room

Dior Garden room 

Designers for Dior

The Dior atelier 

Diorama room

The Dior ballroom room 

Photography by Adrian Dirand

2 February – 14 July, from £20, Cromwell Road, SW7; Christian Dior by Oriole Cullen and Connie Karol Burks, £35, vam.ac.uk