THROWBACK THURSDAY: Christian Dior and The New Look
The House of Dior today is synonymous with elegance and Parisian beauty.
His New Look ushered in a new era of ready to wear garments and fashion fit to the form of the women it was created for. An intent and diligent artist, Dior focused on cut, line, and texture to create pieces that would be beautiful on women all over the world and enhance their natural beauty. For Dior, it was clothing as it should be. Where did this iconic couture house begin and what impact does it have on the world of fashion today?
Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, a coastal city in Normandy, France. As a boy of 14, he had visited a fortune teller while at a market with his parents. She told him “You will suffer poverty, but women are lucky for you, and through them you will achieve success. You will make a great deal of money out of them, and you will travel widely”. Prior to starting his eponymous couture house, Monsieur Dior worked as a designer at Lucien Delong, where he worked alongside Marc Bohan and Pierre Balmain, who eventually left to start his own couture house. Through a friend from Normandy, he met Marcel Boussac, a wealthy businessman who owned and desired to resurrect the House of Gaston. After asking three times of Christian Dior knew of anyone capable of rejuvenating this antiquated fashion house, Dior suggested that he take the position.
At his first meeting with Marcel Boussac, Christian, as if in a dream, suggested his own couture house complete with an atelier in Paris that created garments they should be to make women as beautiful as possible. Boussac agreed and Christian Dior, couturier, was born from the ashes of Gaston.
Through his daily promenades about Paris, Christian Dior walked past the house at 30 avenue Montaigne and, jokingly, told his friend if he were to start a house, it would be in no other location. Much to his surprise in 1946, the lease for the house was available. He worked quickly and diligently to create a space that matched his idea of elegance that has now become synonymous with The New Look and the House of Dior. The house focused on early Parisian style, with Parquet floors and gilt wooden paneling. Multiple rooms were segregated to create salons where the garments were shown and work rooms where individual premiers worked with seamstresses to breathe life into Christian Dior’s ideation.
His process was long and arduous. It frequently involved late nights reviewing and re-reviewing toiles (or samples) of the garments he considered including in the current collection. His initial designs were intended to be a reaction to what he called the zazou fashion of Parisian society during World War II. As France continued to recover economically, Christian Dior dreamed of dressing women in clothing that fit well and enhanced their own natural attributes. Following showing his first collection of roughly 70 looks at the 30 avenue Montaigne, a friend told him to appreciate his success as now he must compete with the success he has achieved with his first collection.
For subsequent collections, Dior worked tirelessly for 4 months prior to showing his work to the press and public. He would spend a few days sketching hundreds of ideas on line, cut, and shape. After a night's rest, Dior reviewed his designs before discussing them with a team who would turn his rough sketches into a toile, or muslin sample. Fabrics were then chosen and 5-6 prototypes were made of each look before they were finalized.
In his autobiography, Christian Dior frequently speaks of his looks as his children, and isolates himself as couturier from himself as a man from Normandy. In his capacity as couturier, he made multiple foreign trips to expand Maison Dior to new markets where he would bring his trusted advisors at his Paris house and work to tailor his collections to the market he entered. While in New York, Dior scrutinized the American woman to be able to see her shapes, lines, and complexion as well as the way she carried herself so that he could design to enhance her own natural beauty, a persistent theme in all of Dior’s creations.
In 1957, Christian Dior passed away while on holiday in Montecatini, Italy. Though his house then passed to the hands to Yves Saint Laurent, the legacy of Christian Dior will always live on in Paris, where he revolutionized ready to wear and reaffirmed Paris as the center of the fashion world.