|Birth date||January 21, 1905|
|Birth place||Granville, Manche, Normandy|
|Date of death||October 23, 1957|
|Label Name||Christian Dior|
Christian Dior (January 21, 1905 – October 23, 1957), was one of the most influential French fashion designers of the late 1940s and 1950s. After the stark dress apparel of the war years, women were seeking a more elegant and feminine look, which Dior created with his "New Look" line of clothing. His designs, which graced celebrities from actress Rita Hayworth, to former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to ballerina Margot Fonteyn, contributed much needed panache to an era of post-war prosperity. Although there were criticisms, particularly by feminists, of his extravagant use of fabric and his decorative use of restrictive corsets and crinoline, Dior himself described the "New Look" as "youth, hope, and the future."
Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue magazine from 1914-1952, said, "His clothes, while wearable gave women the feeling of being charmingly costumed. There was a saintly romantic flavor about them."
Dior, a successful businessman as well as a consummate designer, created licensing agreements that established a fashion empire which continues to market perfume, furs, and accessories around the world. Dior boutiques can be found in numerous cities nationwide with their main flagship stores located in New York, Beverly Hills, Waikiki, Boston, and San Francisco.
Dior was born in 1905, in Granville, a seaside town off of the coast of Normandy, France. Encouraged by his family, who harbored hopes that he would become a diplomat, Dior attended the Ecole des Sciences Politiques from 1923 to 1926. However, his real aspirations lay with studying Fine Art. In 1928, his father gave him the funds to open an art gallery on the condition that the family name not appear on the door. At his gallery, he displayed paintings by Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, and Jean Cocteau but two deaths in the family—that of his brother and mother—forced him to close.
In the 1930s, Dior made a living by doing sketches for the haute couture Houses of Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong where, initially, his hat designs were more popular than his dress designs. In 1945, he was hired by textile magnate Marcel Boussac, who was attracted to Dior's new fashion concept requiring layers of extravagant fabrics. The melding of the two; the luxurious fabrics of Boussac with the inspired designs of Dior, gave rise to his first collection, the Corolle Line, which premiered in 1947. In 1949, he established the eponymous fashion house, Christian Dior New York, Inc. and each new line of clothing that he introduced, such as "the Zig Zag line," and the "A Line," met with success.
Throughout the 1950s, Christian Dior was the largest, haute couture house in Paris. Although Dior was experiencing unparalleled success with his designs, he began to encounter competition from the more relaxed look promoted by designers such as Coco Chanel, whose philosophy of fashion stated that "clothes should be relaxed, ageless, dateless, and easy to wear." Dior's reaction was to introduce his most unstructured collection, the "Lily of the Valley" line with its casual jackets, pleated skirts and sailor-collared blouses.
With his new found wealth, Dior bought an old mill near Fontainebleau outside Paris and a flower farm at Montauroux in the heart of Provence, where he could indulge his love of art, antiques and gardening. Extremely shy by nature, he left socializing to Suzanne Luling, his effervescent sales director. As he grew older, he grew increasingly superstitious as well. Each Dior collection had to contain a coat called the “Granville,” named after his birthplace, and at least one model was required to wear a corsage containing his favorite flower, lily of the valley. Reportedly, he never opened a fashion show without first consulting with a clairvoyant.
In 1957, Dior went for a "rest cure" at a spa in northern Italy and died of a heart attack after choking on a fish bone at dinner. The French newspaper Le Monde hailed him as a man, “identified with good taste, the art of living and refined culture that epitomizes Paris to the outside world.” Marcel Boussac sent his private plane to Montecatini to bring Dior’s body back to Paris where some 2,500 people attended his funeral including staff and many world renowned celebrities, who were also favored clientele such as the Duchess of Windsor.
In 1958, at only 21 years of age, Yves Saint Laurent was named as Dior’s successor and unveiled his first collection which was an immediate success with its softer, lighter, easier to wear style. After he was conscripted into the French army, a succession of designers took over including Marc Bohan and John Galliano. The House of Dior continued to grow, along with its renown, into a fashion empire that sold furs, scarves, knitwear, lingerie, costume jewelry, and shoes.
The New Look
The actual phrase the "New Look" was coined by the powerful editor-in-chief of Harpers Bazaar, Carmel Snow. After the war women, who had been in uniform or wore the boxy shapes of the 1940s, responded to the classic elegance and femininity of the Dior line of clothing. The style was not completely new but was in fact reminiscent of the Belle epoque style, which Dior's mother had worn in the early 1900s, and which featured long skirts, tiny waists, and beautiful fabrics. Dior's dresses were lined predominantly with percale; they had bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made them flare out from the waist giving his models an hourglass shape. The "New Look" revolutionized women's dress and re-established war-ravaged Paris, as the center of the fashion world.
Dior's "New Look" also came under criticism for its emphasis on restrictive padding and corsets, and for its extravagant use of fabric at a time when clothes were still being rationed following World War II. However, as shortages became less of a problem the criticism of Dior's designs lessened. Dior himself was quoted as saying, "I have designed flower women."
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Benbow-Pfalzgraf, Taryn, and Richard Martin (eds.). Contemporary Fashion. St. James Press, 2002. ISBN 978-1558623484
- Giroud, Françoise, and Sacha Van Dorssen. Dior: Christian Dior, 1905-1957. New York: Rizzoli, 1987. ISBN 0847808602
- Mulvey, Kate, and Melissa Richards. Decades of Beauty: The Changing Image of Women, 1890s to 1990s. London: Hamlyn, 1998. ISBN 0600592073
- Pochna, Marie France. Christian Dior: The Man Who Made the World Look New. New York: Arcade Pub., 1996. ISBN 1559703407
All links retrieved November 4, 2023.
- "Christian Dior (1905–1957)" by Beth Duncuff Charleston, based on original work by Harold Koda. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- "Christian Dior: Fashion Designer (1905-1957)" The Design Museum.
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