By Esme Wright
Walking into the exhibition is how I imagine Cinderella would have felt had she gone to the ball without the help of her fairy godmother. You cannot help but feel awkwardly underdressed as you brush shoulders with the most exquisitely adorned mannequins.
The further into the forest of dresses you walk the more the feeling of self-consciousness is superceded by appreciation for not only Christian Dior and his successors but also the art of the gallery space, as curated by Oriole Cullen. It is not only the delicate classical music which surrounds every spectator but the beautiful decor of each room. Alternately light and dark, one towering with classical columns, another with a canopy of individually hand-cut paper flowers. The rooms have been beautifully and thoughtfully designed to compliment and elevate the couture in a way which feels adequately excessive. It would feel an injustice to experience the famous manifestations of The “New Look” within a lesser environment.
Stepping into the final room of the exhibition gives the bitter sweet feeling of reaching the end of a good play. It is the moment the entire performance has been leading up to, it marks, most likely, the last time you will see these designs (unless, like my aunt, you visit the exhibition three times). The space is like a celestial chapter house. A platform skirts around the edge of the room to raise up the more recent designs from the House of Dior. I am most excited to see the famous red carpet looks of Emma Watson and Rihanna. But what really captures my imagination is the lighting of the room. The ceiling is pricked with little stars which every few minutes cascade down the walls in a showering milky way. It is really a breath-taking experience, the scarce benches around the room are clustered with spectators absorbing the aesthetic and delaying their departure.
After the hypnotic experience of the gallery the shop is dangerous ground to tred. There is a sign above the Dior-themed tote bags which states that each customer is limited to purchasing a maximum of three. I watch as a fourth is confiscated from a woman at the checkout, saving her £25. I cannot help but smile at the irony that she will most likely use her tote bags to convey fast fashion purchases from high street to eventual charity shop.
I think the greatest thing I took from my visit to the Dior exhibition was not the inferiority of my own wardrobe, nor my new found boast that I had experienced high fashion, but that fashion can be art. When placed in a museum space and protected from the possibility of purchase, the eyes of the spectator are very different from the eyes of the shopper. When placed in the museum space we experience clothes as art. I certainly won’t be taking over a fashion house, but perhaps it would be worth dusting off my sewing machine to create some art of my own.