While France is home to some of the most celebrated fashion houses in the world, one of its most influential designers had an affinity for somewhere else – the UK.
“There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much,” Christian Dior once enthused in the 1950s.
“I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking,” he declared.
So it’s no surprise the designer’s love for British culture was something the Victoria & Albert Museum was determined to highlight.
Based on the successful 2017 exhibition organised by Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris; the V&A’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition has been reimagined to uncover Dior’s personal love of England and is also filled with haute couture garments, fashion photography and the designer’s personal possessions.
Born into a wealthy family in Northern France in 1905, Dior was inspired by the English garden his mother created in their home when he was a child, which then went on to be a huge source of inspiration to the fashion house we see today, from its perfumes to the garments.
His love for Britain grew even bigger when he visited London for the very first time at the age of 21.
“He associated that time with great freedom and just had a really romantic notion of Britain,” Oriole Cullen, Fashion and Textiles curator at the V&A, tells the BBC.
“He loved the idea of British women in tweed and their ball gowns and he loved this idea of aristocracy and royalty.”
And the royals loved him right back.
In 1947, Dior’s ground-breaking first collection – affectionately called New Look – provided the luxury that British women had been craving.
“He really changed the face of fashion in the post-war period, being a very austere time,” said Cullen.
“He brought a very wonderful sort of femininity into his designs and at the time it was really something people were longing for.
“They wanted change and his clothes were a sort of hopeful approach to the future,” she added.
This collection was such a hit that it attracted attention from the British Royal Family with the designer’s salon was on the first placed Princess Margaret visited during her European tour in 1949.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is a white ball gown that Dior designed for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations, which is displayed alongside the official royal portrait of the dress in its full splendour.
“She crystallised the whole popular frantic interest in royalty,” the designer wrote.
“She was a real fairy-tale princess, delicate, graceful, exquisite.”
Lady Antonia Fraser, biographer and historian, told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row that she was 15 years old when Dior revealed the revolutionary collection and described wearing one of his creations as “a thrilling experience”.
“At last, clothes were enjoyable, we’d been around the suppressed generation and because of the war and suddenly we were all vying with each other for long skirts,” she said. “It was so much fun!”
Across 11 sections, the exhibition showcases the exquisite skill and craftsmanship of the ateliers as well as the six key artistic directors since Dior’s death in 1957, from Yves Saint Laurent to Maria Grazia Chiuri, the label’s first female director, who was appointed in 2016.
More than 70 years after its founding, the V&A’s exhibition not only celebrates Christian Dior’s enduring legacy but beautifully captures his relationship with Britain and his passion for fantasy and luxury.
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams runs from 2 February to 14 July 2019 at the V&A.