What Does it Take To Curate a Major V&A Exhibition?

ORIOLE CULLEN, Fashion and Textiles Curator at the V&A museum, discusses the upcoming exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” …

Christian Dior with model Lucky, circa 1955. 

The V&A’s forthcoming exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”, has been reconfigured from the Christian Dior exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. With some 60 per cent new content, the London show also includes an entirely new section exploring Dior in Britain, the London business he established in 1952, the firms who supplied him, and British clients such as ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, author Nancy Mitford and the young Princess Margaret whom Dior delighted in dressing.

The V&A has a collection of dress and textiles, nearly 100,000 items, stored in the Clothworker’s Centre for the study and conservation of dress and textiles. When working on an exhibition, our first port of call is these archives to research the garments and associated items which relate to the show. In order to find the pieces for the show, we also spent days buried in the impressive archives of the Dior heritage collections in France, looking at 1950s cocktail dresses alongside vast showpiece ballgowns from the early 2000s, some so large they require five people to lift onto a mannequin. We’ve borrowed items from a private collector in New York and have sifted through the impressive wardrobe of ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn at the Fashion Museum in Bath. We’ve attended haute couture shows, going backstage to choose garments for the exhibition, before they were whisked away to Dior’s avenue Montaigne showroom for private clients to try.

Écarlate afternoon dress, Dior Haute Couture, 1955.

There is a real joy in working alongside textiles conservators, exhibition designers and project teams in order to take these garments from their various homes and present them together in an exhibition context. The exhibition transforms disparate and unique garments into a narrative of dynamic design, exquisite tailoring and decorative techniques. It renders the history of the House of Dior accessible for a large and diverse audience, anyone and everyone with an interest in fashion, and preserves them for generations to come.

Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition is on at the V&A Museum from February 2 to July 14; www.vam.ac.uk.

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