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Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams

Episode 1

September 03, 2021

From Gallerist to Couturier

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” opens on September 10 at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. On view through February 20, 2022, the stunning retrospective looks at over 70 years of fashion history by the couturier, showcasing unforgettable installations of photographs, archival videos, sketches, vintage perfume, accessories, hundreds of haute couture garments, and more. 

Dior

Dior by Yves Saint Laurent, Ingres dress, Haute Couture Spring-Summer 1958, Trapèze line; © Dior

Creations by Monsieur Dior and the artistic directors who succeeded him—like Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri—create exceptional dialogue with artworks from the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection. Of note is Dior’s Fashion Doll 1880 (Afternoon Ensemble), which the museum acquired in 1949, making it the first Dior work a U.S. museum ever acquired.

Dior

Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Long Museum West Bound, this section is about Dior’s passion for Art; © Dirk Weiblen

Previously debuting at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai, the exhibition revisits key moments in the maison’s story, beginning with Christian Dior’s upbringing and inspirations, including his early work as a gallerist that led to the foundation of his iconic fashion house.

Dior

© Musée Christian Dior collection, Granville.


Monsieur Dior’s artistic beginnings flourished in Granville, France, with his early days surrounded by lush rose gardens, ponds, and countryside culture. There he had space to dream, express his inner creativity, and build a relationship with nature—an experience he continued to draw upon for years to come. The dreamy destination provided immense inspiration for the fashion, art, culture, and couture that followed, unraveling through unforgettable illustrations, designs, and moments in time. Today, guests can explore Dior’s childhood home in Granville, which acts as a museum for his creations.

Dior

© Musée Christian Dior collection, Granville.

As the story goes, the couturier’s first affinity for design and desires to become an architect were met by his parents’ wish for him to become a diplomat. Perhaps inspired by a circle of friends in his youth that included names like Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, Monsieur Dior instead, in 1928, at the young age of 23, opened an art gallery with a dealer and friend, Jacques Bonjean, cementing his place in the cultural circles of Paris.

With friend Pierre Colle, Monsieur Dior ran a second gallery from 1932­–1934, showing works by artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Christian Bérard, and Alexander Calder.

Dior

© All rights reserved. Christian Bérard.

Just two years later, in 1936, Monsieur Dior’s life drastically changed when he met and was hired by the famous couturier Robert Piguet. With an eye for art and an appreciation for creative expression, he quickly developed a keen vision for design in fashion.

During World War II, Monsieur Dior continued to find his footing in fashion, working as Lucien Lelong’s assistant for his Couture House, creating costume designs for plays and movies, and where he met textile producers and fashion designers like Pierre Balmain and Marcel Boussac. These connections led him to the opportunity of a lifetime, prompted by Boussac—establishing his own couture brand and designing his very own collection. 

Dior

© Association Willy Maywald / ADAGP, Paris, 2021

Premiering in 1947, the “New Look” collection by Christian Dior seamlessly blended art and couture. At 42 years old, the designer debuted his first pieces, imbued with a sense of freedom and hope for the future that felt revolutionary in post-war France. Illustrations turned reality in the form of suits, skirts, dresses, and more. Iconic upon first impression was Dior’s Bar suit, a cinched-waisted jacket paired with an A-line skirt. Gone were the days of austere silhouettes, punctuated with restrictive corsets and conservative neck and hemlines. Dior’s “New Look” brought independence to women, and offered exaggerated proportions by way of padding, pleats, and embellishments for added flair.

Christian Dior

© All rights reserved. Dior Héritage collection, Paris.

“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” at the Brooklyn Museum continues Monsieur Dior’s story, and the iconic fashion house built. Unique to this iteration in the U.S. is a focus on Dior’s connection to the country, and specifically New York. Just months after the success of his inaugural collection, Monsieur Dior flew to America and established a New York subsidiary the following year.

Dior

© All rights reserved, courtesy of Dior.

In his early collections, he put sketch to stitch, weaving inspirations from gardens, art, Versailles, constellations, and more into sumptuous materials, resulting in virtuoso passion and timeless collections. For the exhibition’s reveal at the Brooklyn Museum, in its magnificent 20,000-square-feet Beaux-Arts Court space, visitors will be dazzled with a selection of enchanting artifacts, mementos, and unforgettable designs that have never publicly been seen before.

Christian Dior’s preparation his first collection in New York in 1948. © Fernand Fonssagrives; courtesy of Mia Fonssagrives Solow.

Curated by Florence Müller in collaboration with Matthew Yokobosky,“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” showcases the maison’s unique art and fashion history through extravagant vignettes, reimagined atelier workshops, and immersive installations of design objects, photographs and videos, sketches and paintings, and more.

“As early as 1947, with his famous ‘New Look’ collection, Christian Dior transformed the sudden fame surrounding his name into the international expansion of his House, becoming a precursor of contemporary globalized fashion,” said Müller, Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion at the Denver Art Museum. “The opening of the first New York branch in 1948 served as a prelude to this world conquest.”

Christian Dior

CourtesyaChristian Dior (French, 1905–1957). Bar suit, afternoon ensemble with an ecru natural shantung jacket and black pleated wool crepe skirt. Haute Christian Dior (French, 1905–1957). Bar suit, afternoon ensemble with an ecru natural shantung jacket and black pleated wool crepe skirt. Haute Couture Spring–Summer 1947, Corolle line. Dior Héritage collection, Paris. Composite scan by Katerina Jebb.

“Christian Dior exemplifies the power of fashion to influence and shift culture at large. After World War II, and with the introduction of his much-heralded ‘New Look’ silhouettes, Dior’s voluminous creations eschewed the government-determined fashions, repositioning fashion from utilitarian drudgery to dream spheres,” said Yokobosky, Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture, Brooklyn Museum. “Today, the work of Maria Grazia Chiuri has reshaped the Dior dream for a new generation, with a worldview that brings with it inclusivity and respect as key philosophical directives. We couldn’t be more excited to present these innovative, beguiling—and technically outstanding—designs to our audiences.”

Stay tuned for Whitewall’s next chapter on “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” as we guide you further through the exhibition with its curators. 

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