Ball gowns galore: London's V&A Museum stages new Dior show

A Bar Suit and Hat made from silk, wool taffeta and straw, design by Christian Dior, Haute couture Spring/Summer 1947, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior designs on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by John Galliano Haute couture for Spring/Summer 2005 of snake skin Python, silk, cotton and plastic headpiece created by Stephen Jones, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior designs by Marc Bohan and John Galliano for the House of Dior, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Designs for Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri Haute couture Spring/Summer 2018, known as J'Adore Dress silk and sequins on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by Maria Grazia Chiuri Haute couture Spring/Summer 2018, silk and and embroidery Calico hairstyle created by Stephen Jones, Fan Christian Dior by Eventails Gane 1950-5 paper and wood, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by Maria Grazia Chiuri Haute couture Spring/Summer 2018, silk and and embroidery Calico hairstyle created by Stephen Jones, Fan Christian Dior by Eventails Gane 1950-5 paper and wood, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior Haute couture, creation 1951, evening dress of silk straw mother of pearl and sequins, designed specially for the 21st birthday of Princess Margaret, sister of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior shoes and boots by the House of Dior on, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior dresses designed by John Galliano, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, Haute couture Spring/Summer 2017, silk and feathers, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by John Galliano, Haute couture Spring/Summer 2005, silk, feathers, gilded thread and Swarovski crystals on display, during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Bar Suit and Hat made from silk, wool taffeta and straw, design by Christian Dior, Haute couture Spring/Summer 1947, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior dresses and artefacts, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior by designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, Haute couture Spring/Summer 2017, silk and feathers, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of designs by Christian Dior for the Haute couture Autumn/Winter 1950/1952 season including a Romanesque Dress (1950) and red Ulysse Coat (1952), on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A collection of artefacts including make-up created by Christian Dior, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of Christian Dior designs on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Artefacts designed and owned by Christian Dior including the blue vial of Miss Dior limited edition Baccarat blur crystal perfume bottle 1947, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Christian Dior design by Maria Grazia Chiuri Haute couture Spring/Summer 2018, silk and and embroidery Calico hairstyle created by Stephen Jones, Fan Christian Dior by Eventails Gane 1950-5 paper and wood, on display during a press preview of the largest exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Paris based fashion House of Dior at the V&A Museum in London, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in Britain on the revered fashion house, the exhibition traces the impact of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON — After the smashing success of its Alexander McQueen show, London's V&A Museum is looking to draw big crowds with another major fashion exhibition — this time focusing on Christian Dior.

Billed as the largest and most comprehensive museum display ever staged in Britain on the revered French fashion house, the V&A exhibit traces the influence of Dior over seven decades and showcases dozens of spectacular couture gowns.

First to greet visitors at the exhibit, which opens Saturday, is a sculpted cream-and-black jacket and skirt outfit from 1947 that features a dramatically nipped-in 19-inch waist offset with full, pleated skirts. The romantic, exaggerated hourglass silhouette is now recognized as Dior's famous "New Look," a redefinition of the feminine shape that defied the boxy styles of the postwar years and immediately made its mark in fashion history.

"The influence of Christian Dior's innovative and experimental design was all-pervasive and helped to define an era," curator Oriole Cullen said.

There's much here to dazzle, especially in the exhibition finale, "The Ballroom," which celebrates the designer's love for extravagant evening wear with aplomb. Dozens of handmade gowns in sumptuous silks, feathers and crystals are displayed in a mirrored room with lighting that simulates sparkling constellations and showers of gold dust.

"A ballgown is your dream, and it must make you a dream," Dior, a fan of lavish 18th-century court dress, once said.

The exhibition is based on a 2017 Dior show in Paris, but was expanded with a section devoted to Dior's fascination with British royalty and aristocracy. Among the highlights: a voluminous tulle gown designed for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations in 1951 and which she wore for her official birthday portrait. The stylish royal remained a Dior client for many years. The designer died in 1957.

Visitors get to see over 500 objects, including over 200 couture garments, and follow the House of Dior as it evolved under various artistic directors, from the wildly eccentric designs of John Galliano to the feminist vision of present-day director Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to helm the brand.

Cullen, the curator, mused about Christian Dior's unlikely beginnings in fashion as the son of a man in the fertilizer business. His parents didn't want him to be in trade, and had aspirations for him to train as a diplomat — but it wasn't to be.

"There he was in his 30s with no money, no profession and needing to train again. It's really interesting how he decided to become a fashion illustrator — and that's how he came to fashion," she said.

"Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams" opens to the public Saturday and runs until July 14.

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