Today would have been the Christian Dior’s 110th birthday. Given his tremendous impact on twentieth century fashion, I thought it only right to pay homage to him.
Christian Dior was born in Normandy in 1905, one of five children and the son of a wealthy fertiliser manufacturer. When he was five, the family moved to Paris. Although his parents wanted him to become a diplomat, Dior had artistic ambitions. After leaving school, he ran a small art gallery, which was forced to close with the onset of the Depression in 1929 and the collapse of his father’s business.
Dior began working for designer Robert Piguet in 1937. He later said that Piguet taught him ‘the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.’ (Piguet also trained Givenchy, but more about him in another post….)
Following military service, Dior joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong (alongside Pierre Balmain) in 1942. In December 1946, Dior founded his eponymous fashion house, backed by a cotton magnate. His first collection, originally called ‘Corolle’ and ‘Huit’, was launched in February 1947 and caused a global sensation. Carmel Snow, editor in chief of Harpers Bazaar in the US, christened it ‘New Look’, and the name stuck.
The ‘New Look’ was revolutionary. The designs were more voluptuous than the boxy shapes of the war (which of course were influenced by rationing of material). The look comprised a calf-length full skirt, a cinched waist and fuller bust than had been seen since the turn of the century. He completed the look with playful accessories including gloves, small hats and parasols. But not everyone loved it. Some criticised the opulence of the designs, others objected to the amount of material used – both were quite shocking after the austerity of the war years.
Ironically, the New Look could be seen as a return to the ‘old’, with its small waists, roll-on girdle and the need to wear padded and strapless bras. It heralded women’s return to traditional roles after the war ended.
The New Look heralded the promise of luxury and appealed to fantasies, and re-established Paris as the fashion capital of the world. Dior was also the first couturier to arrange licensed production of his designs. Sadly he died only 10 years after its launch, but the house would continue under Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano and today, Raf Simons.