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Christian Dior, the New Sensation of Paris Fashion

As part of our continuing series What’s in a Label? we cover this month’s featured designer Christian Dior.

In a machine age, dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable.

                                                                                             . . . Christian Dior

Who Was Christian Dior

There are not many designers that have a moment that completely changes fashion.  Christian Dior was one of those lucky few.   A French fashion designer, he founded of one of the world’s top fashion houses. Dior was born in Granville, a seaside town on the coast of Normandy in 1905.  His family hoped he would become a diplomat, but Dior was artistic and wished to be involved in art.  To make money, he sold his fashion sketches outside his house for about 10 cents each.  In 1928,  Dior left school and received money from his father to finance a small art gallery. The gallery closed after three years

His Fashion Training

Starting in 1937, Dior worked for the fashion designer Robert Piguet, who allowed him to design for three collections. One of his original designs, a day dress with a short, full skirt called “Cafe Anglais” was a hit. At Piguet Dior worked alongside Pierre Balmain.

After leaving Piguet in 1942, Dior joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, where he and Balmain were the primary designers.   In 1946 Marcel Boussac, known as the richest man in France, invited Dior to revive Philippe et Gaston, a Paris fashion house launched in 1925. Dior refused, preferring to design under his own name. 

Opening His Own House

Eventually, Boussac supplied the financing and Dior founded his fashion house in 1946. His first collection created quite a stir.  The actual name of the line was Corolle (literally the botanical term corolla or circlet of flower petals in English), but the phrase New Look, coined by the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, stuck. 

Unlike other designers who were still creating boxy, fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II-style, Dior’s clothes were more voluptuous. A master at creating shapes and silhouettes, his look employed fabrics lined predominantly with percale, boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets, and petticoats making his dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very curvaceous form.  The “New Look” revolutionized women’s dress and reestablished Paris as the center of fashion.  His new look also revolutioned hat design with the dish hat, a flattering shape that set off the volumunous skirt.

 

Dior New Look 1947
The Dior New Look
Courtesy of SpiritedMichelle, CC BY-SA 4.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Christian Dior Photo
1950s Dish Hat, Brown Felt with Rhinestone Buckle, Hat Size 22
Dior Style Dish Hat available
MadgesHatbox

Unlike many designers then and now, Dior was a shy and reserved man,  short, balding and little dumpy.  Rather than creating a bigger than life persona he felt his clothes spoke for themselves. And, indeed they did.  

Dior was also one of one of the first to adjust his hemlines up and down.   He dropped them during his first season.  By 1953 hemlines were back up again.  Later designers took cues from him on how to keep collections fresh and women buying.

In 1955, 19-year-old Yves Saint Laurent became Dior’s design assistant.  Little did anyone know that history would soon be made again with this hire.

After Dior

Christian Dior died unexpectedly while on holiday in Italy in 1957, just nine years after he burst onto the scene.   The fashion press was abuzz on who would take his place.  Pierre Cardin and Guy Laroche were prominent names mentioned at the time.   Instead, the house made a bold choice and named the 22-year-old Laurent as principal designer.  His first collection introduced exactly three months after the death of Christian Dior, earned raves from both the press and buyers.   YSL’S trapeze dress took the world by storm just like the new look had years earlier.

1958 Yves Saint Laurent at Dior
1958 publicity photo of Yves Saint Laurent
HIstory of dior fashion

After six collections, designer Marc Bohan replaced Laurent in late 1960.  Dior perfumes, ready to wear, and a men’s line all debuted in the 1970s.  The parent company of Dior suffered financial difficulties and went into bankruptcy in 1978.  

After a second bankruptcy, Bernard Arnault purchased Dior in 1984 for a symbolic 1 Franc.  He revived the brand by ditching the lower-priced lines and strengthening couture.   Arnault went on to purchase many other luxury brands eventually forming LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE.

Italitan Gianfranco Ferré replaced Bohan in 1989.  The first designer to head the house that was not from France

Another designer, this time from England was named head designer in 1997.  John Galliano made a big impact in the house, particularly with his innovative advertising.  Unfortunately, his tenure was marred by anti-Semitic remarks that lead to his dismissal in 2011.

After all these years through the many changes in designers, Dior, named after the man who only helmed the firm for 11 years, continues to be one of the major fashion houses in the world.  In 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri became the women’s artistic director.  In 2018, Kim became the men’s artistic director for the house.

Christian Dior Jewelry

Christian Dior I magnin ad 1957
I Magnin ad from 1957. Dior died in Italy shortly after this personal appearance

Dior’s New Look was intended as a complete look and included hats, shoes, bags, perfumes, and jewelry.  The German company Grossé and Henkel started selling its jewelry in Dior’s Paris boutique in the early 1950s to complement the fashions.

Impressed with the quality of the jewelry, Dior entered a partnership with Grosse to design Dior-marked jewelry.  Over the next 50 years, Grossé produced Christian Dior.  Such long-term license cooperation was unprecedented.

Christian Dior Jewelry henkel & Grosse
DIor Bar Pin by Henkel and Grossé

Kramer also made jewelry for Dior in the 1950s and 60s.  The marks include “Christian Dior by Kramer”, “Dior by Kramer” or “Kramer for Dior”. 

This vintage Christian Dior by Kramer Baguette and Brillant Cut Diamante Link Necklace is available at VintageMeetModern.com

Kramer dior jewelry ad
1953 Dior by Kramer ad
Christian DIor necklace by Kramer
Vintage Christian Dior by Kramer
Courtesy of VintageMeeModern
Love & Hats Madge