Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
February 14, 2022
“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” at the Brooklyn Museum, on view through February 20, 2022, takes visitors on a journey of the senses. As the show’s designer of scenography Nathalie Crinière describes it, it was important to give a taste of what comes next, teasing what lies beyond in the next room to encourage forward movement and curiosity.
In the New York edition of the international show, that is certainly the case. Slivers of sight, flashes of moving image, reflections in mirrors, and bits of sound offer hints of the magic beyond. Beginning with Christian Dior’s first foray to the United States and New York, history is unpacked via archival garments, artwork that corresponds to the period from the Brooklyn Museum’s own collection, and ephemera—like sketches, notes, and invitations—marking moments in time.
Each subsequent gallery becomes more and more elaborate and immersive, colorful and downright dreamy—like a length of colonnade showcasing designs inspired by the 18th century from Mr. Dior, John Galliano, and Raf Simons. The glamour of fashion photography and film is showcased in a dramatically lit space, followed by an explosion of color in the appropriately named “Colorama” gallery. Just after, the now-iconic all-white, atelier-inspired room is a dazzling hall of mirrors and maquettes, that readies viewers for the big reveal—one that’s been teased throughout the length of the exhibition.
The center atrium is utterly transportive, an ethereal garden embracing the mystical and magical. Gowns tower to extreme heights in each corner, stand in tiers on opposite walls, or encircle a temple-like structure befitting some ancient goddess. A carpet of clouds is complemented by dynamic video projections of flowers and stars that sweep around the room, dancing in time with a symphony of sound. It’s a finale not unlike the final moments of a fireworks display on Bastille Day.
Whitewall Presents spoke with Dior’s set designer, Crinière, who has been behind several international editions of the exhibition, to learn about her specific approach in New York and at the Brooklyn Museum.
WHITEWALL: How do you approach the scenography for each iteration of “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”?
NATHALIE CRINIÈRE: Each time, I would say, there are two starting points. First, we have to take care of the culture of the country in which it’s held. If we do an exhibition in America or in Russia or in China—people will receive it differently because their cultures are different.
And the other is the place. Every time we do the scenography, we must take care of the space. We need to understand it before we draw anything. Once we understand the space, we can begin.
WW: How did the site of the Brooklyn Museum and the space’s historic atrium inspire what you wanted to do?
NC: What was important in the Brooklyn Museum was to understand where people go in and where people go out. At the Brooklyn Museum, in the existing space, you can go in the center in different ways. But we needed the end to be very powerful, so we didn’t want people to see everything at the beginning. That’s why we made this journey around in the space that will bring them finally to this beautiful center. It was the best effect to surprise everyone.
WW: What is interesting, though, is that as you move through the show, there are glimpses of that center room. Was that a choice?
NC: It’s like a teaser. In every exhibition, we show something of the space that will come next so visitors will wonder, what is happening in the next room? It’s good to see a little bit, not too much, to have the impression that something will happen.
WW: Fashion is so dynamic and full of movement. But it can feel static when it’s not on a body. How do you aim to keep that dynamism with an exhibition design?
NC: We always try to play with video and light in the exhibitions we do. Even the light is always in motion. It brings life to the exhibition.
WW: And what about objects? How do you approach showcasing something like a fragrance, which is small, and meant to be experienced?
NC: It’s always a question of scale. You can manage to have small pieces in conversation with larger pieces. After that, it's a question of light. With the light, you can give more intention to smaller pieces. For this fragrance bottle, it was a more intimate space, so you can really take care to look at it.
WW: It was in the 18th-century court life gallery. What was your idea for the dramatic colonnade structure there?
NC: When I see a colonnade in a space, I always try to play with it. Here, I wanted to express an idea of the 18th century. The space was a little bit narrow, so we had to find a way to make it feel less so. As I was drawing, I found this idea of using mirrors to give a big impression within a narrow space.
WW: The Atelier gallery, with the all-white maquettes, has become a signature of the show. How did you adapt this idea to the Brooklyn Museum?
NC: When you go to the Dior atelier in Paris, it’s all white. They are working with natural light and with white light from the ceiling. Everything is very white—the tables are white, the clothes are white. The idea is to give that impression. At the Brooklyn Museum, we arrive in the atrium just after the Atelier.
WW: Finally in the atrium, there is this big reveal. What was it like to work with that space and its height?
NC: When you have the height you need to use it. We made small models to understand how we can play with the space to make it magical. Our graphic designer made a special floor, which is part of the dream, with printed clouds.
In the middle, there is a big showcase, but it’s also the support for the video projector. We needed to be able to integrate the audio-visual and lighting, so we worked with the lighting designer, audio-visual designer, and graphic designer all at the same time to be sure that everything fits together.
WW: Ah, so that center temple-like structure is very functional.
NC: Yes, very functional.
WW: And after such a big moment, how did you want to end the show with this much quieter, poetic final note of Mr. Dior’s star?
NC: It’s good to think at the beginning of where you are going to end. The end is very important. And if you look at the star, you have the reflection of the portrait of Mr. Dior. There is really a beautiful connection between the star and the portrait. For the visitors, they now know all the work of the house of Dior, and they finish with Christian Dior the person.