(Photo: Cecil Beaton, V&A Museum, London)

by Amit Roy

BRITISH-ASIAN visitors going to the V&A for the Christian Dior exhibition – it’s the London museum’s best for many years and much more fun than the dark Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015 – should skip a few rooms and head for his sari dress.

On his travels, Dior picked up ideas, most notably from India, as a label makes clear: “From embellishment techniques to the vibrant fabrics of the sari, the rich textile traditions of India inspired Christian Dior. Saris and draped fabrics of the Indian subcontinent are evoked in his 1953 evening dresses, some named after cities, such as Agra and Soirée de Lahore. The intricately embroidered surface of his Grand Mogol evening dresses uses the Indian buta motif, rendering it with braid around a central crystal.

“In 1962 under the direction of Marc Bohan, the House of Dior staged its first fashion show in Mumbai and Delhi. Bolan would later create the Indian Year collection at Dior, including saris in silk gazar and printed silk chiffon and sariskirts and blouses. Gianfranco Ferré, who
had lived in India, paid homage to a country he loved in his Indian Passion collection of 1996. The following year John Galliano featured dresses inspired by the jewels of the Maharajahs.”

Indians will note that Dior founded his fashion house in 1947 – coincidently, the year India became independent. So extravagant was he with fabric, in short supply after the war, that in Britain the president of the Board of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, called in fashion journalists and urged them “to ignore or report unfavourably on the new fashions, but the
war-weary public were hungry for this luxurious new style”.

Seventy years on, it is also worth noting that India, for all its drawbacks, is established
as the world’s largest democracy, while Dior is a sought-after global brand.

The V&A acknowledges: “In the 21st century, as online access opened up the fashion world and provided a platform for all voices, the question of the line between appropriation and appreciation has called for a more conscious use of influences from different cultures.”

One can be assured, though, that V&A’s magnificent exhibition, Christian Dior: Designer
of Dreams, will add to its lustre.

Sadly, Dior died aged only 52 from a heart attack in 1957, but he was succeeded as creative director – as he had wished – by his 21-yearold assistant, Yves Saint Laurent,
and subsequently by “the rational style of Marc Bohan, the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the exuberance of John Galliano, the minimalism of Raf Simons, and Maria
Grazia Chiuri”.

Oriole Cullen, fashion and textiles curator at the V&A, said: “In 1947, Christian Dior changed the face of fashion with his ‘New Look’, which redefined the female silhouette and
reinvigorated the post-war Parisian fashion industry.

“More than 70 years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition celebrates the enduring influence.”

There is a lot to see in the exhibition’s 11 sections, which showcase “the exquisite skill and
craftsmanship of the ateliers and successive designers from the House of Dior.

“Drawn from the extensive Dior archives, the exhibition presents over 500 objects, with over 200 rare haute couture garments shown alongside accessories, fashion photography, film, vintage perfume, original make-up, illustrations, magazines, and Christian Dior’s personal possessions.

“The exhibition highlights Dior’s total design vision, encompassing garments, accessories
and fragrances.

“Flowers are emblematic of the couture house and have inspired silhouettes, embroidery
and prints, but also the launch of Miss Dior in 1947, the first fragrance created alongside the very first show.”

If there is one image which captures the imagination and the exhibition, it is that of Princess Margaret, photographed by Cecil Beaton in a ballgown in organza, mother of pearl and sequins made for her 21st birthday.

Dior “loved designing dresses and ball gowns that would be worn at balls and fancy dress parties”. He said, “Evening clothes are the most glamorous and fascinating things a woman can have. It is no wonder that such striking creations have graced numerous red carpets as the choice of film stars and prominent personalities over the past 70 years.”

Among those thanked by the V&A for their financial support is an intriguing one – the Pakistani oil trader, Murtaza Lakhani.

  • Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams runs at the V&A’s Sainsbury Gallery in London until July 14

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