LONDON — Dior is making history at Harrods with a larger (and sometimes smaller) than life Christmas takeover that sees Monsieur Dior, his family and his atelier come to life in a world of gingerbread.
There’s no Santa’s Grotto at Harrods this year, but with the House of Dior in town, who needs the North Pole contingent anyway?
Dior has never had a collaboration on this scale with a department store, and this is Harrods’ biggest brand acquisition to date.
In and out of the store, Dior has replaced the season’s usual reds and greens with warm biscuit browns, caramel, cinnamon and icing sugar.
The acquisition encompasses 44 storefronts, the Knightsbridge storefront, a cafeteria and two pop-up stores.
The centerpiece is an immersive experience that traces the life of founder Christian Dior and the evolution of the couture house. Features animated squares made with large and small gingerbread cookies, piped icing and colored candies.
A 17 meter or almost 60 foot tall megastar hangs over the Brompton Road entrance and forms part of a lavish 3D display inspired by Roman artist Pietro Ruffo’s sketches for Dior’s 2023 cruise collection.
Just around the corner, on Hans Crescent, a small grove of gingerbread fir trees dusted with white sugar stands above the entrance to Door No. 5 of Harrods. Thursday night will be the first time the entire façade has been illuminated, as both brands mark the opening with an in-store cocktail party, followed by dinner.
London-based tennis star and Dior ambassador Emma Raducanu is ready to cut the ribbon.
“The Fabulous World of Dior” at Harrods, which runs from Thursday to January 3, is inspired by the brand’s new flagship, 30 Avenue Montaigne, which aims to highlight all facets of the brand, and some more.
It also fits in with Chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari’s desire to conjure up a sense of fantasy.
Dior certainly showed up at the right time.
Britain, like so many other countries, is facing economic difficulties, a cost-of-living crisis and possible fuel shortages this winter. London, in particular, is suffering from a decline in international tourism and has just seen the cancellation of tax breaks for buyers living outside the UK.
Beccari said the Harrods acquisition “comes at a time when people want to be distracted, when they want to have a moment of joy. At Dior we can’t change the world, but we can do our job, and our job is to make people dream. Here, I think we have accomplished that task.”
Asked why Dior chose London for the acquisition, Beccari said that the British capital is one of the most beautiful cities at Christmas. Dior chose Harrods because of its long history with the retailer.
Founder Christian Dior opened a store on the corner of Harrods in 1953 and, a few months later, chose it as the location for his spring 1954 collection.
Dior attended that show in person in a designated “Dior room” in the store. He adored British culture and went on to give future style names such as Dickens, London, Chelsea, Mayfair, Piccadilly and Cambridge.
Beccari said Dior was also inspired by Christmas window displays in American department stores and the ritual of taking children to see them.
“We wanted to get into this tradition and be a part of it. Mr. Dior had a very strong sense of family, and you will even see his mother in the exhibition. I think it’s nice to have that sense of family at Christmas,” he added.
Dior is also in London for other reasons. It has an expanded fan base here after its display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2019.
Tickets for “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” sold out less than three weeks after opening, welcoming almost 600,000 visitors. The exhibit ran from July to September 2019 and was one of the most successful in the museum’s history.
It was the largest and most comprehensive British show from the House of Dior, a grand display of glitter, wavy wool, sculpted jackets and floral prints and motifs. The show shed light on the designer’s fascination with Britain, its defining ‘lines’ and looks, and his international perspective and inspirations from history.
Telling the story of a brand, taking the time to expose its history and culture is clearly important to Beccari.
“Today, as a brand, sharing your set of values is almost mandatory,” said the CEO. “You don’t just sell products, you sell who you are. You sell your story, your savoir faire, and you have to talk about it. It’s retail 2.0,” Beccari said.
That’s one of the reasons the Paris flagship also has a café, restaurant, private apartment, and permanent exhibition space. That’s why the Harrods facility has a strong cultural element and also serves lunches and cakes inspired by Christian Dior’s history and love of food.
Beccari said she always keeps in mind the founder’s idea that Dior should never be “too traditional or too literal. He thought that traditions needed to be stimulated, pulled, stretched, to be relevant for today, and even to be tongue-in-cheek,” Beccari said.
The Dior team took that idea very seriously, especially for the exhibition, which is like stepping into the fusion of a puppet theater and a Pixar movie.
Dior worked with five creative companies on the screen. It features recreations of 30 Avenue Montaigne when Christian Dior worked there, as well as the designer’s childhood home in Granville, on the Normandy coast, and La Colle Noir, the designer’s manor house near Grasse.
The buildings are filled with animated gingerbread Dior figures, always with a tiny lily of the valley highlighted in white icing on their jacket. He appears with his gingerbread mother by the sea in Normandy, or sitting at her meticulously arranged desk dreaming of dress designs. His ideas appear in little clouds above his head.
Behind the illuminated windows of the Avenue Montaigne gingerbread shop, little shadows flicker here and there showing all the activity inside. On one floor, cookie-cutter seamstresses work on sewing machines made of gingerbread. In another part of the workshop, mechanical bees deliver small buttons and carry pieces of tape measure.
A gingerbread fairy godmother appears at one point, transforming the sugar into dresses and back into sugar again.
There are also digital effects, like colorful flowers cascading over a tall cookie house showcasing the brand’s historic fragrances. At the end of the show, digital fireworks and shooting stars explode over the sea in Normandy.
Biscuit trees, roses and other flora populate the space. They’re not edible, but Dior has that covered.
Authentic gingerbread cookies in the shape of the Bar jacket, Dior Book Tote and Lady Dior handbags are on sale at Le Café Dior, where diners can sit on chairs covered in Dior toile de Jouy and eat at tables of carved wood with toile designs
The installation also features two pop-up windows, one of which is a gift shop with walls, drawers, and units that look like iced gingerbread. Meanwhile, conveyor belts display Christmas cookies, cakes, and ready-to-wear Dior garments, accessories, sweaters, and housewares.
The second pop-up window is a gingerbread house that represents Monsieur Dior’s workshop and offers a look at how Lady Dior and other bags and accessories are made.
Beauty also has its moment, with two additional spaces. One is dedicated to the La Collection Privée Christian Dior fragrance collection. The other focuses on additional Dior makeup, skincare and fragrances.
There are collections dedicated to acquisition, including a capsule for men from Kim Jones. One piece is a double-breasted jacket crafted in a shade of Harrods green.
In womenswear, Dior’s Jardin d’Hiver print extends across silk scarves, shawls and a series of briefs. Pietro Ruffo’s Rêve d’Infini motif appears on the Dior Book Tote and silk twill scarves.
Other products on sale include the Miss Dior chair designed by Philippe Starck.