Christian Dior - Fashion Designer - Biography
It would have been the New Look creator's 111th birthday today - to celebrate, we look back at the French house's best-ever fashion moments. Prepare yourself, there are more than a few...
From corsets to full skirts to flowers, flowers, everywhere, it’s fair to say that Monsieur Dior’s influence on fashion has been fairly seismic.
Today is his birthday – 111 years ago, to be exact. Born in a seaside town on the Normandy coast, Monsieur Dior was in his 40s by the time he made fashion history – his modest, balding appearance (below, meeting Princess Margaret at Blenheim Palace in 1954) belied a dazzling talent for crafting exquisite clothes that ‘made women dream’.
Dior started sketching when he was a child and, ignoring his wealthy business-owning family’s attempts to force him into a more ‘suitable’ career, he started working at the house of Robert Piguet. After a spell of military service, he joined Lucien Lelong’s label, along with a certain Pierre Balmain.
It wasn’t until 1946 that he was approached by textile entrepreneur Marcel Boussac, who offered to back him in starting his own house. The impact on Paris fashion – and therefore the world’s – was earth-shattering.
Thumbing his nose at post-war austerity, he threw caution – and cash – to the wind and made his debut with a collection (below) he titled ‘Corolle’ (referring to flower petals). Using swathes and swathes of the richest fabrics to make huge full skirts, the models were nipped and tucked into tightly corseted, ultra-feminine silhouettes that looked back to another age.
The legendary editor Carmel Snow dubbed it the ‘New Look’ and women everywhere – desperate for some indulgence after the grim make-do-and-mend war period – fell for it hook, line and sinker. If they couldn’t afford the real thing (and no one could), they ran up their own DIY versions of the huge skirts – using curtains if all else failed.
Dior’s designs featured in films and on Hollywood starlets like Ava Gardner (below, with Dior) and Olivia de Havilland galore.
Marlene Dietrich, his neighbour on Avenue Montaigne, was at his first show and was a devoted fan forever after. “No Dior, no Dietrich!” was her famous quote regarding wardrobe for her films, including 1950’s Stage Fright, below
After Dior’s death in 1957, a nervous 21-year-old unknown from the atelier called Yves Saint Laurent was unexpectedly given the reins at the house. He caused couture chaos with his first collections, controversially putting black leather, Beatnik-inspired looks and ‘street-wear’ (well, in the Fifties sense of the word) on the catwalk. He was called up for military service in 1960 and was unceremoniously dumped while he was away. (Cue lawsuits and fashion history in the making as he went on to found his own house.)
Next up was a much safer pair of hands – designer Marc Bohan (below, with Britt Ekland) who was already designing for the house and went on to clock up 30 years at the helm. His chic, ladylike aesthetic was a favourite with Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Italian Gianfranco Ferre replaced Bohan in 1989 and an uneventful period of low-key, client-pleasing clothes followed (as seen on Linda Evangelista in 1991, below). On his watch, the house steered between its French couture heritage and a more Italian sensibility, with a grown-up feel.
That all changed with the appointment of one John Galliano in 1996. Already making waves at Givenchy (owned by the same parent company), Dior’s owners thought he was ready for the big move. He virtually singlehandedly invented the modern concept of the catwalk as a stage with his spectacles – and his famous finale bow (which he took in full costume, choreographed to a tee and complete with dramatic lighting effects).
Egyptian pharaohs, huge exaggerated takes on the Dior heritage of historical silhouettes, supermodels galore…the shows got ever grander and crazier and the sales got ever bigger.
Sadly the party was brought to an abrupt end by Galliano’s headline-making fall from grace in 2011, following an alleged drunken anti-Semitic rant in a Paris bar.
Belgian minimalist Raf Simons, appointed in 2012, was the perfect antidote to all the drama. His clean, modern take on the tailoring side of the Dior heritage – including ‘Bar’ jackets reworked as dresses and tunic tops – was a breath of fresh air.
Simons went down a storm with critics and celebs alike. But citing ‘personal reasons’, he announced his exit from Dior last season. Who will be next in the hotseat of France’s most important fashion house? Watch this space…
For more iconic fashion moments from Dior’s history, click through the gallery above