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  • Kelly Wetherille

Dior to Unveil ‘Designer of Dreams’ Exhibit in Tokyo

The Japanese capital is the seventh city to host the exhibit, which is very different from its previous iterations.

TOKYOOn Wednesday, the Japanese capital will become the seventh city worldwide to host the “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibit when it opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT). While the exhibit has made its way from Paris to cities such as London, Dallas and New York, roughly half of what is exhibited in the Tokyo iteration will be shown for the first time.

“For this exhibition, we discovered a lot of stories,” said the curator of the exhibition, Florence Muller. “We knew that Christian Dior was the first couturier to come to Japan, but we have discovered amazing documents telling the story in a very detailed way, with Japanese ladies that were very instrumental to this relationship.”

The deep ties between Dior and Japan are explored in the third room of the exhibition, which is designed by Japanese architect, OMA partner, and scenographer for the exhibit Shohei Shigematsu to resemble a traditional Japanese lantern. Naturally textured, translucent paper is stretched over frames to form curved, organic shapes upon which mannequins dressed in house archives stand. There are kimono-inspired designs by John Galliano, cherry blossom emblazoned pieces from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first couture collection for Dior, and more subtly influenced dresses by Marc Bohan and Raf Simons, all sharing space in the room. These are complemented and enhanced by documents and photographs that tell the story of Dior’s connection — dating back to the post-World War II period — with Japanese companies such as Kanebo and Daimaru.

“What is specific to the house of Dior is that it was the first house in the fashion business to explore the world. And each time it’s really interesting to try and understand how they did so,” Muller said. “For example, when the exhibition was in Brooklyn, we showed as much as we could, but I have to say that for Japan we found much more detailed sources and documents that enabled us to really tell a great story.”

Another space that is new to the Tokyo version of the exhibit is entitled “The Dior Ball,” which celebrates the house’s connection to high society and the epitome of glamour. To display the dozens of gowns in this section, Shigematsu constructed a dramatic, two-story, mirror-backed slope inspired by the steps that lead to a Japanese temple, as well as the platforms used to display dolls for Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, in Japan. Dozens of gowns are displayed in cubicles along the slope, which is decorated with projection mappings of rain, stars, falling water and more.

“This is a contemporary museum — the setup in Paris was in a classical setup — but also the space here is quite grand. And somehow we got to the point of thinking that couture always has amazing themes and stories behind it, and it’s not so much exhibition design but more like set or scenography design to really enhance the storytelling but also the beauty of each garment,” Shigematsu said.

The architect also said that before coming up with the slope concept, he studied how past exhibitions had made use of the vast space, while also considering what would make the most sense for Dior and this particular show. The slope can be viewed from two levels, and the opposite wall of each is decorated with photos by Yuriko Takagi, which are also published in the exhibition catalogue. The Japanese photographer spent three weeks in Paris shooting about 120 looks for the exhibit. Wanting to incorporate motion into her images, she employed ballet dancers as models and used a moving platform and a long exposure to bring to life pieces that were shot on mannequins.

In the “Miss Dior’s Garden” room of the exhibit, paper artist Ayumi Shibata has created a wonderland of false botanicals, with hundreds of hand- and laser-cut leaves and flowers suspended from the ceiling like a hanging garden. Shigematsu crafted a curved path through the space, like that of a Japanese garden, with mirrored floors on both sides resembling a reflective pond. This room took particular care to stage, as the mirrors mean that the dresses must look good even from below, and invisible dress forms had to be painted in exact colors and patterns to match the dresses they held.

Like previous iterations, the Tokyo exhibition ends with a section titled “Dior Around the World,” which explores the other cultures that have informed the fashion house’s collections in the past, from Africa to India. These pieces are complemented by paper lanterns in varying sizes, some of which are printed in patterns taken from the dresses themselves.

“The great thing about Dior is that they’re using this exhibition as a vehicle or platform to actually evolve the thinking themselves and I think that’s key. Because retrospectives are typically just looking back but they’re constantly using this as a means to create a connection with different artists, to create a connection with different local cultures, and I think that’s a very interesting thing that only maybe the fashion industry can do to kind of respect the design cultures and merge them into an exhibition,” Shigematsu said.

Pietro Beccari, chairman and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, said holding the “Designer of Dreams” exhibit in Tokyo is important because Japan is one of the house’s top five markets in the world and the brand continues to increase its market share here.

“There is no technical proof that what we do will transform into sales, but what I can say is that this exhibition is definitely firing up in terms of desirability. I think the brand will be more desirable after people see this exhibition,” Beccari said.

The executive said Dior was one of the few luxury brands to grow by double digits in Japan in the year 2020, and that it is currently the fastest-growing brand in the industry here, enjoying something of what he described as an “awakening.”

“We were very small in Japan [before], basically nonexistent, and I think the clients now have started to like Dior with the arrival of Maria Grazia [Chiuri], with the arrival of Kim Jones, who is also adored here in Japan, and I think that we are marking the spirit in general worldwide, but also in Japan,” Beccari concluded.


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