“Designer of Dreams” is the biggest Dior retrospective ever staged, and the first in France in 30 years, but it’s about much more than fashion and the celebrities, past and present, who wore it, from Princess Grace, Lady Diana, and Elizabeth Taylor to Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, and Rihanna. The layout is both chronological and thematic, offering up the story of the man, his house, and fashion within the broader context of art and culture. It’s a story so broad it fills both the museum’s fashion floor and the nave opposite—more than 32,000 square feet in all.
From a starting point in the archives, with letters, photographs, and other never-before-seen documents from Dior’s early childhood, the show moves quickly to his early days as a gallerist (Dior and the then-unknown Salvador Dalí used to go flea-marketing for Art Nouveau together). In one room, a rainbow palette of clothes, shoes by Roger Vivier, and other accessories shows how the designer was the first to strive for a 360-degree approach. Elsewhere, exceptional art objects and paintings, including by Monet, Renoir, and Vigée Le Brun, give the clothes further context.
There are also real-life aspects to the show: The nave has been transformed to replicate the facade of the house’s headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The clothes in its front windows, however, are not by Dior: They show how the New Look has influenced designers in Paris and abroad, through pieces by Pierre Cardin, Lucien Lelong, Alber Elbaz, Thom Browne, Louis Vuitton, Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, and more.
Further along, petites mains from the Dior atelier take turns creating prototypes in toile. And for the big finale, a towering installation of gowns worn by famous women sits under an elaborate light projection that replicates the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, the scene of many a Dior campaign starring Charlize Theron. The meeting of past and present ends in a shower of gold.
“Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams” – Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts) Paris