The V&A is set to stage the largest and most comprehensive Dior exhibition in UK history. The show – which is entitled Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams – is also the biggest fashion exhibition to be put on by the museum since the hugely popular Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

The exhibit will span from 1947 to present day, tracing the history and impact of the founder and the six other artistic directors to have helmed the house.

Of course, taking such a deep look at one fashion house’s evolution, it also serves as a case study for the changing nature of the industry. By viewing the collections through the lens of a historian, audiences are able to clearly see exactly how different of a climate each creative director has been faced with. We are reminded that in 1947, following his famed first show, 10,000 women attended a week-long preview at Harrods of the second collection. This proves the immediate mass obsession with Dior, as the world eagerly anticipated the revelation of what they’d wear that season. As he presented, he dictated how they’d dress and how they’d want to look for the next six months, thus changing the zeitgeist with each new collection.

Fast forward 70 years, looking at Maria Grazia Chiuri’s tenure at the house, the exhibition notes remind us that designers these days must be careful to toe the line “between appropriation and appreciation of cultures.” It’s an interesting note, not only proving the modernity and careful consideration of the exhibition, but also the contrast in environments in which Chiuri and Dior led the house, respectively. It’s doubtful that Dior himself had to consider such ideals when taking inspiration from India, Mexico or Egypt, nor did he likely face the vast commercial pressure so famously bestowed upon Raf Simons during his tenure.

A tour of the exhibit begins with Dior’s birth in 1905, leading into the inception of the house. Scattered throughout are rarely-seen personal effects, like family photographs of Dior’s younger sister Catherine (the namesake behind the famed Miss Dior perfume), a telegram announcing his death in 1957 and even the passports of the in-house models, littered with a stamp for every country in which Dior showed.

 

See Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday ball gown

Central in the room that will explore Dior as an anglophile will be the off-the-shoulder couture dress that Princess Margaret wore to her 21st birthday party in 1951. Dior staged a special show for the Queen, Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent at the French Embassy in London in April 1950. The Princess would later call it her ‘favourite dress of all’, its frothy, fun silhouette immortalised in Cecil Beaton’s official birthday portrait of her.

“We really wanted to have it, we had to pull lots of strings,” Cullen tells The Telegraph. “I know the dress very well because I used to work at the Museum of London [which is lending the dress to the V&A for the exhibition]. “To see it up close is very interesting as it has straw embroidery on it, which I think is not necessarily what you’d expect to see decorating a royal. I think for the story of Dior in Britain it’s such an important dress, and it’s a moment in the brand’s history that is still celebrated today.”

 

Which other famous dresses will be on display? Perhaps the most impressive section of the exhibition will be that which celebrates “the fantasy of the ball”. ‘The Ballroom’ will showcase 70 years of stunning formal evening wear, which is where some of the house’s most famous dresses will be on display in a dramatic light installation.

 

Charlize Theron’s J’adore gown

As the face of the J’Adore fragrance since 2004, Charlize Theron has worn a series of haute couture creations specially designed for the perfume identity, including this Swarovski crystal-encrusted gown from the 2008 J’Adore campaign.

 

Subsequent sections are divided into Travel, Garden and Historicism to show the common themes of the house, as interpreted by each of Dior’s successors (Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri). The garden room is particularly notable for its design: Lilac blooms spill from the ceiling, reminiscent of Simons’s inaugural Fall 2012 couture show, immortalized in the documentary “Dior and I”.

 

“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” opens to the public 2 February – 14 July at London’s V&A Museum.