Christian Dior: Designer Of Dreams
VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
This is perhaps the finest exhibition celebrating a fashion designer ever staged in Britain and occupies new galleries at the V&A. It honours Christian Dior, a master of haute couture and a genius whose meteoric rise was legendary and whose vision redefined the female silhouette. His legacy has been continued by six artistic directors and numerous examples of their work are also on display.
Special attention is paid to his connection with Britain where he first launched his brand in 1950. A year later he designed a glorious dress for Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday and the photograph of her by Cecil Beaton wearing it against the backdrop of a magnificent tapestry is sublime. She became one of his most devoted clients and a series of artefacts celebrate his links with British manufacturers.
Dior was inspired by the lavish style of court dress worn at Versailles during the 18th Century. Here we see a model of the Temple of Love which he used to market his Miss Dior perfume and which contains examples of gorgeously embroidered outfits. Another section illustrates his love of flowers and how he was influenced by gardens. The sumptuousness of the décor heightens the beauty of his creations which are displayed under silvery foliage. He believed that “after women, flowers are the most divine of creations”. He loved the Belle Epoque and was seen internationally as the personification of French elegance.
Dior’s sumptuous ball gowns were synonymous with allure and opulence and are displayed in a sizeable room which constantly changes colour as if by magic and has a painted ceiling which does likewise. This fascinating, fairy tale world is mesmerizing.
The contributions of Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and the current director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who has a feminist vision of fashion, are specially recognised with examples of their work and with documentary footage to illustrate their different styles.
There is also film of the catwalk shows to illustrate the extraordinary talent of the House of Dior. Special sections show the influence of other cultures. The exquisite accessories on display are another example of the perfectionism which characterised everything by Dior and there is a section devoted to the ateliers who produced so much of beauty. A great many sketches, a pivotal part of the creative process, are also on show.
Unobtrusive piano music is the perfect accompaniment to a visit to this amazing exhibition which is an unforgettable example of unparalleled lavishness. It transports you into a fantasy world which is uniquely sybaritic and is also an example of truly wondrous talent.
All About Eve
NOEL COWARD THEATRE
“Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night” says Bette Davis’s Margo, in a memorable quote during the party scene in the film, scripted and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from which this is adapted. If only it had had the same impact, as it seeks to show the compelling and irresistible allure of stardom which both attracts and corrodes.
Eve is a star-struck nobody who becomes the assistant and then the understudy to Margo, an established actress, all the while intending to supplant her. She achieves this goal by ruthless scheming which includes a Faustian pact with an influential critic. This was unforgettable on screen when Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, both top Hollywood performers, played the leads.
Here Gillian Anderson plays Margo, but she is cynical rather than charismatic. Lily James as her fiendishly ambitious understudy is also all surface with little emotional range. As the manipulative critic Addison DeWitt, Stanley Townsend is perfectly adequate but not memorable.
The production is dominated by the device of having much of the action take place on a huge screen above the stage but what is shown is erratically chosen. It is a bold concept but instead of building up the tension, it only works occasionally. The set is gigantic but all too often the actors seem dwarfed by it.
It could be argued that in including so much film footage, all the action is filmed, adding a voyeuristic touch as its characters so covet the limelight, this play pays homage to the film. This bittersweet love letter to the theatre is rich in ambiguity. Its characters all inhabit a world of betrayal, rivalry, egotism and duplicity which nonetheless is outwardly so glamorous. This eagerly awaited production is often colourful and enjoyable and I certainly found much of it diverting. However it is also pretentious and director Ivo van Hove, who is famed for being innovative, might benefit from Polonius’s dictum in Hamlet, “more matter with less art”.
To convey the real glow of stardom it is obviously essential to use performers who have real star quality. The irony here is that though both the major parts require it, neither of the actors playing them possess it!