History of fashion: Creator of dreams, Christian Dior and his “New Look”
Written by Sophie jones
From growing up as a budding architect and artist, studying to becoming a diplomat, becoming a gallery owner and finally turning into a world-renowned couturier, Christian Dior’s life could have taken a range of different paths.
Fate and chance weren’t just woven into precious clothes Dior dreamed of in reality, they are also sewn into the fabric of Monsieur Dior’s life.
Raised by the bourgeois industrialists of Granville in Normandy, Christian Dior has his life mapped out. His parents encouraged a career in diplomacy, but his degree in political science remained incomplete. Perhaps this change of course was a blessing in disguise as it would later become an instrument to stimulate the revival of a world of tailoring that had been ravaged by two world wars.
During this period, there was a dependence on international investment (especially from America). This meant that individuality was forgotten as Americans produced more affordable copies of French couture.
The story of Dior is that of a triumph over adversity; Christian Dior is reborn like a phoenix from his ashes from illness and financial ruin. He began his ascent in the industry by selling fashion sketches to well-known designers of the time (eg. Balenciaga, Nina Ricci and Schiaparelli.) Later he will work in the design studio in Lucien Lelong, alongside the young Pierre Balmain.
The stars aligned for Christian on the evening of April 18, 1946 …
Going up the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Christian Dior struck an object on the ground with his foot and almost tripped, as if it was the object itself that wanted to attract his attention. He… realized that he was in front of the British Embassy and it reminded him of his childhood in Granville, in Normandy… Dior picked up the object that had almost dropped him: it was a star, the one that was to propel him into the high spheres of haute couture and luxury, his evening star showing him the way forward … he knows at this precise moment that he will no longer be able to escape his fate … the next day, Dior announces to Marcel Boussac that he will not take over Philippe de Gaston. Instead, he was ready to open a fashion house in his own name. ‘
Dior appeared on the couture scene on February 12, 1947 with his infamous New look. This captivating collection revolutionized couture and marked women’s fashion until today. It was Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, who first coined the phrase “New Look”, a term that illustrates the significant trajectory in fashion history introduced by Dior’s first collection. .
‘ We were coming out of the war period, uniforms… I drew flower women, with soft shoulders, ample busts, slender waists and skirts as wide as flowers in bloom.…’ – Christian Dior
The silhouettes were transformed through an iconic jacket called “the bar” which, with its clean lines and hourglass structure, reaffirmed what femininity could be. This piece created by Dior was monochrome but accentuated the waist and hinted at the corset styles of the Victorian and Edwardian eras while maintaining a modernist touch. In this sense, Dior’s initial creations are reminiscent of miniature and material architectural pieces.
The jacket was intended to be worn at aperitif time in the bars of major hotels. By presenting this new way of styling, Dior moved away from the epaulettes and military silhouettes that were ubiquitous in the post-war years. Dior’s creations embody fluidity, elegance and also a hint of grandeur. The waists were well fitted, the skirts blossomed and unwound like delicate peonies and gave off a Parisian air of extravagance.
‘ When hearts were light, simple fabrics could not weigh down the body ‘ – Christian Dior
Nevertheless, Dior’s designs were not so easily received in a period of post-war austerity. Because how can you justify the expense and excess fabric used to create a Dior outfit? Parisians even began to tear the dresses of Dior models to protest against the rationing of fabrics between the wars.
Yet Dior’s influence did not turn into a lull in the 1950s, and its popularity was revitalized by Hollywood patrons. With actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor wearing Dior Couture for their roles and movie premieres, and Grace Kelly, future Princess of Monaco, wearing a Dior dress to announce her engagement to the prince. Rainier of Monaco in 1956, and Margot Fonteyn, dancer of the Royal Ballet actually wearing a Dior dress for her wedding in 1955, the glamor and allure of Dior continues to grow.
Dior would influence Parisian couture until his untimely death in 1957; just as Dior found its lucky star two decades earlier, we lost ours too soon …
After 1957, the fashion house fell into the hands of the very young apprentice of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent. At just 21 years old, it is now up to Saint Laurent to revitalize the brand between 1957-1960. His first collection, the
Trapeze, built on what Dior had designed in its “A-line” design. Nonetheless, while Saint Laurent continued to embrace groundbreaking designs that stood in stark contrast to Dior’s understated, feminine silhouettes, many of its collections were not as well received. Saint Laurent left Dior in 1960 to pursue the creation of his own brand which still remains at the top of the fashion industry.
Marc Bohan was the subsequent successor of the fashion houses. Bohan was already well acquainted with the fields of haute couture and became the perfect partner for the fashion house. Working at Dior for 29 years, Bohan helped shape the brand we meet today. Although he retained the elegance and feminine silhouettes of Dior’s original New Look, Bohan went beyond the realms of couture to produce ready-to-wear collections more suited to a wider clientele. This means that the brand has been able to exert an influence on a global scale, with more women being able to access the brand in the Christian Dior-New York and Christian-Dior London boutiques. Continuing Monsieur Dior’s tradition of dressing the most beautiful stars and royalty, Bohan worked closely with Princess Grace of Monaco to design her royal wardrobe, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren are all remained faithful to the creations of Bohan.
Since Bohan’s departure in 1989, Dior has been animated and revitalized by a flurry of artistic directors, from Gianfranco Ferre who introduced a touch of Italian inspiration and femininity to the brand, while evoking the theater with his Ascot collection. Cecil Beaton inspired by George 1964 from Cukor, Ma belle dame. After Ferre in 1996, John Galliano broke new ground for Dior, bringing the fashion house into the present moment with his bizarre but haunting designs. His most striking pieces draw from distant eras, such as the court of Versailles in his Fall / Winter 2007-2008 collection.
Since Galliano’s departure, Dior has met the artistic and fresh New Look of Raf Simons who took the brand in a completely original and unique direction while retaining the essential elements that Dior described in 1947.
Maria Grazia Chirui, the brand’s first female artistic director, responded to the strong need for a necessary feminist nuance in modern society. She took the bold step of not only doing her first show as ready-to-wear, as opposed to haute couture, but also featured t-shirts emblazoned with ‘ We should all be feminists ‘, the highly cited title of Chimanda Adiche Ngozi from 2014.
In 2019, the V&A created its own exhibition, Dream maker dedicated to Dior and its predecessors. It was truly fascinating and showcased the intricate details of the brand’s origins and showcased the fashion house’s most coveted pieces.
The influence of Dior’s creations is omnipresent, traceable and palpable since the emergence of its New look in 1947 – the floral skirt and the cinched waist are still present in the creations of Maria Grazia Chiuri. The final dress in the show was taken from Chiuri’s SS18 collection. Even if we end up with a dress that symbolizes modernity and seems quite distant from that of Dior New look 1947, you have to remember the three fundamentals of Dior to dress well – ‘ simplicity, good taste and grooming ‘.
Chiuri’s large tulle angel wing is flamboyant and the dress acquires an otherworldly disposition. However, we must appreciate that the play incorporates these three foundations. The lines of the garment are clean, well placed and balanced, the waist and shoulders are emphasized,
the skirt flows and blooms like a beautiful flower and the colors are neutral; Dior diligently gravitates towards white, nude tones and black which are all timeless undertones. It is simple but quite fascinating. “Christian Dior” sewn along the front of the dress in black cursive script; they will always be his creations, the predecessors know it in their hearts, the old fashion designer is their guiding star …
Written by Sophie jones
Fruzsina Vida is editor-in-chief of arts and culture at Yorker. If you have any questions or queries, please contact her at [email protected]