Christian Dior’s ‘Designer of Dreams’ exhibition takes viewers on nostalgic journey back in time

A Bar Suit and Hat made from silk, wool taffeta and straw, designed by Christian Dior, haute couture spring/summer 1947, on display in the ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exhibition runs until July. Photo: AP

When Odile Kern stepped into a Parisian lift some time in 1953, she found herself standing next to luxury couturier Christian Dior — and in an instant her life changed.

Now 88, Kern was already on the fashion designer’s payroll in the building on Avenue Montaigne. Dior asked her who she was.

Former model Odile Kern at the ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ exhibition in London. Photo: Reuters

“I said ‘Monsieur, my name is Odile and I work for you … in the boutique’. And he told me ‘No, now you work for me [as a model’].”

Founded in 1946 and at the core of a post-war revolution in womenswear, the brand remains among the most prestigious in the world.

The designer’s first collection in 1947 featured the Bar suit — a hip-length jacket cinched in at the waist, and worn with a long skirt — that was dubbed the “New Look”.

Designs trace Dior’s impact over seven decades and showcase dozens of couture gowns. Photo: AP

Speaking at a new London exhibition dedicated to the House of Dior, Kern recalled how private clients visited the Paris atelier to view and order bespoke creations.

“We worked for the House of Dior, no one else; we worked two hours a day to present the collection every day,” Kern said.

The exhibition features designs by the French fashion label and its artistic directors down the years. Photo: EPA-EFE

“For me it happened by accident but I think a lot of young women would have liked to work for Maison Dior … We weren’t paid very much but it was fun.”

Dior died in 1957 aged 52. He was succeeded by 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent.

“Monsieur Dior was not a normal boss, he was like family,” Kern said. “We loved him, admired him and respected him.”

Former model Svetlana Lloyd at the exhibition. Photo: Reuters

Svetlana Lloyd joined in 1956 when she walked into the store on a trip from London. She was promptly sent upstairs and began modelling the next day.

“There were 15 models, regular ones. We showed every day, something that doesn’t exist [now] of course,” she said. “He liked to have people of different shapes and heights and styles because that was his clientele.

Ballroom dresses on show at the exhibition. Photo: AFP

“Nowadays there are very few private orders for garments.”

A picture of Lloyd modelling a grey Dior dress in 1958 features in the exhibition, “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”, which runs at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum until July.

“There were many things that he was the first to do, for instance lining a mackintosh in fur,” she said. “It was just unusual little touches that made his couture more interesting.”

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Former models say ‘Mr Dior was like family’ and reflect on the unusual touches that made his couture more interesting