You'll have to forgive the cheesy and not so original post title because after a walk through of the new Dior experience at Harrods, which will be open to the public for a month, I couldn't help but be swept along the J'Adore Dior sentiment of this pale pink and grey world, which I got lost in. Whereas the Chanel at Harrods takeover in 2011 gave you a mini Chanel Disneyland of sorts, that was high on kitsch and product covetability, the turn of competitor luxury house Dior was to be emphasised by history, values and interestingly, its ties with Britain.
The front facade windows of Harrods therefore are currently invaded with the juxtaposed pairing of London's tourist attractions and icons – Big Ben, the London Eye, telephone and post boxes, the Queen's Guards, the Harrods bear – combined with Raf Simons' first ready to wear collection (S/S 12) for the house. It's testament to Raf Simons' vision and "looking back to look forward" approach which has underlined his work at Dior thus far, that his work doesn't look incongruous or out of place when dressed on a mannequin who is emerging out of a London telephone box or posing in amongst a pile of bears. You wouldn't have married up Simons with this sort of commercial fanfare five years ago but there seems to be an understanding that his creative freedom at the house can exist harmoniously with its corporate and retail strategy.
Up the escalators to fourth floor and we're given an experience to Dior essentials. If there was a visual tour of Dior 101, this would be it. First we're presented with a reconstruction of the facade of 30 avenue Montaigne with its New Look silhouettes all lit-up and a peek into the piles of glistening Dior perfumes, which for many people in the world is their sole physical grasp of the maison.
The first part of this Dior journey takes us through the savoir-faire, a phrase that we now hear often coming from all the French houses to emphasise what they make is human-led, priceless craft as opposed to stone-cold product. It's a point that I personally don't mind hearing over and over again. Especially when you get to see processes such as the toiles of haute couture pieces on display (toiles of designs by Raf Simons, Christian Dior and curiously John Galliano are being shown – glad to see Galliano hasn't been written out of the Dior history books). They're accompanied by Dior's original sketches as well as a giant electronic book where you use your arms to flick the pages through Dior's savoir-faire areas of expertise.
When you've been inundated of THAT Willy Maywald photograph of the 1947 'Bar' suit from Monsieur Dior's first ever collection, it's easy to only remember the image and not the technical details of this iconic silhouette. Here you get to be up close and personal with the hip-padding of the jacket and the yards and yards of fabric that went into the heavy pleated skirt.
The next section was definitely the most enlightening in terms of illustrating Monsieur Dior's relationship with Britain. The story spun is that as a child growing up in Normandy, looking across the Channel to these shores, he'd develop a lifelong admiration for all things English. This is supported by his autobiography: "'I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture, I even love English cooking!" The exhibition showcases the house of Dior's early English expansion with the Dior London label established in 1952 and fell back on elegant menswear fabrics such as Prince of Wales check and hound's tooth time and time again. Even the perfume Diorling, created in 1963 was a word play on Darling, an homage to that haughty way of saying that word, which you can imagine popping up in a Nancy Mitford novel. Speaking of Mitford, her own references to Dior in her novels and letters ("Now I'm nearly fifty I've decided to choose a style & stick to it, & I choose Dior's present collection" she writes in 1947 to her sister Diana), show that the love affair between the English and Dior definitely wasn't one-way.
There was of course a Royal angle as Dior privately showed his collection for Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in the autumn of 1947 and subsequently, Margaret chose to wear Dior for a portrait marking her 21st birthday. Dior also organised two shows at Blenheim Palace in aid of the Red Cross. For the first one in 1954, Monsieur Dior himself travelled to England with 14 models and 100 garments including a beautiful "la robe Blenheim" designed specificaly for the show. 1,600 guests paid 5 guineas each to watch the show and Princess Margaret was the guest of honour. I cite Justine Picardie's wonderful article in the Telegraph "Dior in England" for all this delightful minutiae, which really brings to life the significance of these cross-channel relations between Dior and England. The Blenheim show was staged again 1958, but by this time, Monsieur Dior had passed away and the Dior baton had been passed to a young Yves Saint Laurent.
Whilst Dior's history of creative directors from Saint Laurent to Marc Bohan to Gianfranco Ferre Galliano weren't ignored, the emphasis is of course on Simons and the parallels he is drawing from Monsieur Dior's work with his own, as seen in these ensembles side by side, one from the spring/summer collection of 1947 and one from Simons' first haute couture collection of A/W 12-3.
Monsieur Dior's favourite department store was reportedly Harrods, where he inaugurated the Dior room in 1953 and presented his London collections there in their fashion theatre.
A nod to the department's store fashion theatre is recreate here with Dior's creations from the decades miniaturised to perfection, with everything from Bar 1947 to Simons' designs all represented here. It's also a reference to the famous Th√©√¢tre de la Mode, an exhibition of French couture miniatures, which toured the United States after the war when fabric was scarce. Monsieur Dior wasn't a part of this initiative but it's a contrasting preamble to his New Look debut, which shockingly at the time, used an abundance and excess of fabric.
The house of Dior's connection with the famous is illustrated with a few famed frocks – worn by the likes of Rita Hayworth, Margot Fonteyn, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Princess Diana. The inclusion of that navy lingerie-inspired dress, from Galliano's debut collection for Dior, was also nice to see, lest you thought he was going to be written out of Dior's history books.
No Dior experience is complete without the mention of the perfumes and so we have a J'Adore golden installation with the gowns, which Charlize Theron wore for the campaign as well as a Miss Dior room, dedicated to the spirit of Dior's first ever perfume. Step inside a telephone booth and you'll be bathed in the scent.
I loved this gardens of Versaille installation where Simons' stunning pointillist dress from his debut haute couture collection, crafted from thousands of teensy tiny pieces of silk mousseline dots, is displayed in all its glory.
The Miss Dior bag, another recognisable icon gets its own section alongside some British artist interpretations of the bag.
How to round off this experience? Forgo the usual salt beef sarnie and soup combo (that's my favourite thing to get if I'm ever in Harrods) and sit enveloped in Dior grey at the adjoining Dior Caf√©. There are no reservations being accepted so expect a queue throughout the month. There's significance to the eatery as well. Monsieur Dior was an avid foodie and wrote a cookbook containing his favourite French classics. This fascinating New York Times article written by Tim Blanks, even suggests that Dior's unabashed gluttony may have contributed to his fatal heart attack and stroke. With a love of foie gras, dishes cooked with Dom Perignon and oysters, Dior's taste in food was as rich and full as his voluminous skirts. The menu at the cafe chooses a few of Dior's cookbook favourites such as a black truffle omelette (which I sampled – too rich even for my piggy tastes at 9.30am in the morning), a lobster club sandwich, filet of dover sole √† la meuni√®re and a peach and strawberry soup. Yumz.
The cafe is lined with Mat Gustafson's beautiful and spare illustrations of the current S/S 13 ready to wear collection.
Finally, whilst Dior hasn't gone all guns a blazing with having associated product with this Dior x Harrods collaboration ("This isn't a marketing tool" according to Dior's CEO Sidney Toledano), we still have some accessible merch that everyone can get onboard with such as a set of cupcakes featuring the icons of Dior and some specially created cosmetics such as a My Lady powder palette and nail polish in shades of Diorling pink and Windsor grey. With that, I can end with a quote from the Duke of Windsor, who once said of his wife Wallis "The Duchess loves Paris, for Paris is close to Dior." Now, Dior is anywhere you want it to be with its many, many points of sale around the world and in London right now, there's no better way of getting close to Dior by taking a gander around Harrods.