Christian Dior was born in Granville, a seaside town on the coast of Normandy, France, the second of the five children of Maurice Dior, a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer (the family firm was Dior Frères), and his wife, the former Isabelle Cardamone. He had four siblings: Raymond (father of Françoise Dior), Jacqueline, Bernard, and Ginette (aka Catherine). When Christian was about five years old, the family moved to Paris, France, but still returned to the Normandy coast for summer vacations.
Dior's family had hopes he would become a diplomat, but Dior was artistic and wished to be involved in art. He was gay, though not openly so. To make money, he sold his fashion sketches outside his house for about 10 cents each. In 1928, Dior left school and received money from his father to finance a small art gallery, where he and a friend sold art by the likes of Pablo Picasso. Three years later, after the death of Dior's mother and brother and a financial disaster in the family’s fertilizer business, during the Great Depression, that resulted in his father losing control of Dior Frères, the gallery had to be closed.
From then until about 1940 he worked with fashion designer Robert Piguet, when he was called up for military service.
In 1942, when Dior left the army, he joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, where he and Pierre Balmain were the primary designers. For the duration of World War II, Dior, as an employee of Lelong — who labored to preserve the French fashion industry during wartime for economic and artistic reasons — designed dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, as did other fashion houses that remained in business during the war, including Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci. While Dior dressed Nazi wives, his sister Catherine (1917—2008) served as a member of the French Resistance, was captured by the Gestapo, and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was incarcerated until she was liberated in May 1945.
Bar; La Ligne Corolle; The New Look (Jacket)
This 'Bar' suit was one of the most popular models in Dior's first collection, which he called 'La Ligne Corolle'. The press dubbed it the 'New Look' and the name endured. Dior (1905-1957) took the softer feminine shape - round, sloping shoulder-line, narrow waist and spreading skirts - to the extreme. Despite official complaints it was a resounding success. Harper's Bazaar published detailed line drawings of the New Look's construction, and 'Bar' was also illustrated in Vogue and L'Officiel. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O75379/bar-la-ligne-corolle-the-jacket-christian-dior/)
Zemire; La Ligne H (Evening ensemble)
By the mid 1950s Christian Dior (1905-57) was producing around 12,000 dresses a year. His fashion house was the most successful and widely known of the post-war era, and his international sales constituted over half the Paris couture exports.
The dress shown here is called Zemire and was part of Dior’s H-line collection of Autumn/winter 1954-5. It is one of his most historical designs, echoing the shape of riding-habits, and it was successful. The original model in grey silk satin was shown to Princess Margaret at Blenheim Palace in 1954, and it appears in several magazine features. A ready-to-wear version was licensed to Susan Small, a British company that made ‘line-for-line’ copies for Harrods. It sold for 22 guineas, a fraction of what a made-to-measure version would have cost.
This ensemble was commissioned by Lady Sekers, wife of the British textile manufacturer, and made in an innovative man-made fabric produced by the Sekers company. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O133440/zemire-la-ligne-h-evening-ensemble-dior-christian/)
La Ligne H; 'Perou' (Peru) (Evening ensemble)
This dress comes from Christian Dior's (1905-57) H-Line collection of autumn/winter 1954-55. The H-Line was one of Dior’s most controversial silhouettes, and the press debated whether it should stand for ‘Heavenly’ or ‘Horrid’.
The design of the H-Line deliberately flattened the bosom to create a moulded, elongated shape that many found unfeminine. Dior maintained that it was inspired by Tudor dress, this influence can be seen here in the rich geometric embroidery of this dress.
The dress was worn with a gold satin coat, originally designed with a dark fur lining.
Green; Corolle et en Huit; New Look (Day dress)
Christian Dior (1905-57) launched his couture house in February 1947. Although known for the heavy corsetting and complicated construction of his early collections, not all of Dior's designs relied on complex underpinnings.
This lightweight, unlined dress achieves volume through a draped skirt. Dior typically countered the close fitting bodice with Magyar sleeves, which gave ease of movement. The dress has no label and may have been a version of the original by Christian Dior New York, which Dior launched in 1948. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117680/green-corolle-et-en-huit-day-dress-christian-dior/)
Cygne Noir (Black Swan); La Ligne Milieu du Siecle (Evening dress), fall/winter 1949–50
This evening dress of silk satin and velvet, designed by Christian Dior (1905-57), is constructed in two parts. The tight-fitting top is attached to the skirt with a series of complex fastenings. The skirt itself is very full and heavy, with panels of integral silk velvet that create the appearance of a massive bow, which Dior described as the 'natural ornament' of a dress.
The dress is typical of Dior's collections of the time, which featured flying panels and protruding angles. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117683/cygne-noir-black-swan-la-evening-dress-christian-dior/ & http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83212?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=16)
Maxim's; La Ligne Corolle; New Look (Cocktail dress with choker and hat)
The spring 1947 collection of Christian Dior (1905-1957) caused a sensation and was christened 'The New Look' by Carmel Snow of Harper's Bazaar. Dior offered the glamour and romance of full skirts and nipped-in waists to women who were tired of utilitarian clothes with boxy silhouettes, mannish square shoulders and practical short skirts. This intricately cut afternoon dress of black wool, named 'Maxim's', was worn with a black tulle cartwheel hat, long black gloves and simple black court shoes. To emphasise the bust, a large silk velvet bow was set into the low, square neckline and the waist was compressed by a cummerbund-style lower bodice. A heavy ribbed silk petticoat supports and defines the skirt. The dress fastens with a zip down the back. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74754/maxims-la-ligne-corolle-new-cocktail-dress-with-christian-dior/)
'Ecarlate' (scarlet); La Ligne Y (Cocktail dress)
Christian Dior (1905-57) launched his couture house in 1947, and soon became one of the most sucessful fashion designers of the 20th century. The smooth silhouette of this dress is formed by underpinnings and petticoats. the draped fabric knot is inspired by 19th-century dress, and is typical of Dior's historicism.
Dior often named his collections after letters of the alphabet, and this particular dress comes from the 'Y line'. The deep v-neck of this dress typifies Dior's 'Y' motif, as does the inverted Y shape of the pleats of the skirt. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O139936/ecarlate-scarlet-la-ligne-y-cocktail-dress-dior-christian/)
Monte-Carlo; La Ligne Flèche (The 'Arrow' Line) (Evening dress)
This short dress was worn by Laurie Newton Sharp, News Editor for Harrods, for a 1956 goodwill tour to America to promote the store. It was said that she was 'the sort of impeccably elegant woman who carries an invisible mirror with her'.
In an interview with the News Chronicle just before her trip, she said: 'I prefer to have a few good basic clothes, and then to be extravagant with hats and gloves. I would not buy a material that creases; or an accessory which did not match; or a colour which did not suit me. This means that when I begin to dress I can’t go wrong'.
This dress, by Christian Dior (1905-57), was originally designed in plain white silk. Mrs Newton Sharp ordered it in this expensive floral print to suit her colouring. The outfit was completed with a top-coat of plain pink silk satin. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117546/monte-carlo-la-ligne-fleche-evening-dress-christian-dior/)
Soiree de Decembre; Y line (Evening dress)
This silk evening dress is one of Christian Dior's Y-line designs. The strapless 'princess' style gown is a sculptural masterpiece. Haute couture designers enjoyed making two dresses in one. Here the front skirt is short, reaching lower calf level. At the back the skirt is long and forms an impressive train that sweeps the floor. The designer has used stiffening bands inside the neck and hem to keep the shape of the dress. The dress fastens with a zip at the back. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74961/soiree-de-decembre-y-line-evening-dress-christian-dior/)
'Bosphore' (Bosphorus); La Ligne Aimant (Magnet) (Evening dress)
This dress, designed by Christian Dior (1905-57) in 1956, is short and strapless in midnight-blue velvet with delicate embroidery by Rébé, which includes velvet birds’ nests with clusters of pearl eggs.
The dress is simply cut, to show off its sumptuous surface detail. Such embellishment required meticulous patience for, as Dior explained, ‘a ball dress may be entirely covered with millions of paillettes, or pearls, each one of which has to be put on separately’. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117691/bosphore-bosphorus-la-ligne-aimant-evening-dress-christian-dior/)
La Ligne Muguet (Evening ensemble)
Gloria Guinness (1912-80) was a wealthy, elegant socialite and writer. She was voted 'Best Dressed Woman' in the world by Time magazine in 1962, second only to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Gloria Guinness kept a full wardrobe in each of her seven homes, so that she would never have to pack. She saw haute couture as an art form and patronised many couture houses.
This embroidered evening dress by Christian Dior (1905-57) was a special commission. It is a variation of a dress featured in Dior's spring/summer collection of 1954, called Belle de Nuit but Mrs. Guinness had the skirt lengthened and the bolero added. This would have greatly increased the cost, as embroidery was an expensive and time consuming addition. She may have been so taken with it because it was in yellow - a colour she favoured as it suited her dark hair. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128302/la-ligne-muguet-evening-ensemble-christian-dior/)
La Ligne Tulipe; Mexico (Evening dress)
This dance dress has a label 'PRINTEMPS-ETE Christian Dior MADE IN FRANCE' on the inside, which is stamped with the number '34377'. The dress was featured in French Vogue (March 1953) and L'Officiel (April 1953). In the summer of 1953, the Duchess of Windsor (née Mrs Wallis Simpson) chose a Dior dress made in the same fabric and printed with a dot and scallop pattern to wear at the Circus Ball in Paris (American Vogue, 15 August 1953). (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O34656/la-ligne-tulipe-mexico-evening-dress-dior-christian/)
Jacket and skirt
Christian Dior (1905-57) set up his London branch in 1954, helped by the milliner Simone Mirman. In the same year, the Daily Express organised a competition for its readers and the first prize was a Dior suit. It was lovingly preserved by the winner and donated to the V&A in 1997.
Dior said that 'the little black suit cannot be beaten for elegance and usefulness'. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O138243/jacket-and-skirt-christian-dior-london/)
This cocktail or short evening dress, of black taffeta was probably designed by Christian Dior (1905-57); it has a Dior label, but the attachment of this to the garment does not appear to be original. It is a strapless sheath of horizontally gathered taffeta. There is a rear overskirt extended to form a drape or 'flying panel' from sides to waist. This gives the impression of movement and volume whilst also retaining a sleek and elegant line. The bodice is lined with crepe, padded and boned and fastens with a side metal zip.
Black was of enormous significance to Christian Dior. He described it as 'the most popular and the most convenient and the most elegant of all colours. And I say colour on purpose, because black may be sometimes just as striking as colour' (Christian Dior's Little Dictionary of Fashion, 1954). Black was rarely absent from his collections, and he used it frequently to create the defining statements for his famous lines. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117700/evening-dress-christian-dior/)
La Ligne Libre; Belgique (Evening dress)
This dress was designed by Christian Dior (1905-57) in 1957, the year of his death. It was commissioned by the Baroness Alain de Rothschild to wear for the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Paris in April 1957. Many grand events were held during the visit, such as dinners at the Louvre, Versailles and the Elysée Palace, and also visits to the opera and races.
The state visit was the highlight of the year's social calendar. Couturiers were inundated with requests for evening gowns and gala dresses from society ladies. Lady Gladwyn, the wife of the British Ambassador, commented in her diaries that even the Queen’s dresses did not compare to the French clothes for grandeur.
This dress was originally much whiter but has unfortunately become dirty with age. It is treated with a stiffening agent that means that it cannot be cleaned. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117558/la-ligne-libre-belgique-evening-dress-christian-dior/)
La Ligne Sinueuse; Batignolles (Skirt, jacket and belt)
This three-piece afternoon dress, designed by Christian Dior (1905-57), comprises a top, belt and skirt. Despite its simple appearance, it is assembled with a multiplicity of buttons and tiny snap fasteners, which required the help of a lady's maid to secure.
The couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) was said to have disapproved of the complexity of Dior's fastenings. (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O120852/la-ligne-sinueuse-batignolles-skirt-jacket-and-christian-dior/)
Christian Dior made masterful use of surface embellishments for his evening dresses of the early 1950s. In this example from the 1952-1953 collection, complex beading and applied ruffles create a lively and varied surface for the dress. Pealescent sequins and paillettes of four different shapes and sizes are interspersed with narrow ruffled bands of pale pink horsehair, creating a subtle tone-on-tone pattern that swirls across the skirt and bodice. The pale color palette and strapless neckline makes the garment a prime example of Dior's more revealing looks for 1952, a connection made by Richard Martin in reference to another version of the same dress in the collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/159423?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=4)
Dress, spring/summer 1951 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83348?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=7)
Dress, 1952 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83210?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=10)
"Lelia", spring/summer 1953 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83326?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=11)
"Bagatelle", spring/summer 1952 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83293?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=19)
"A" ensemble, spring/summer 1955 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83283?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=20)
"Abandon", fall/winter 1948–49 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83313?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=23)
"Ritz", fall/winter 1956–57 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83323?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=25)
"Compiègne", fall/winter 1954–55 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83365?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=26)
"Chérie", spring/summer 1947 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83254?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=35)
"Eventail" (Fan), fall/winter 1948–49 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/128071?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=37)
"Nuit à Chicago", spring/summer 1954 (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/83331?rpp=60&pg=1&rndkey=20131023&ao=on&ft=*&who=Christian+Dior&pos=38)
On 8 December 1946 Dior founded his fashion house, backed by Marcel Boussac, a cotton-fabric magnate. The actual name of the line of his first collection, presented in early 1947, was Corolle (literally the botanical term corolla or circlet of flower petals in English), but the phrase New Look was coined for it by Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar. Dior's designs were more voluptuous than the boxy, fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II styles, influenced by the rations on fabric. He was a master at creating shapes and silhouettes; Dior is quoted as saying "I have designed flower women." His look employed fabrics lined predominantly with percale, boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made his dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very curvaceous form.
Initially, women protested because his designs covered up their legs, which they had been unused to because of the previous limitations on fabric. There was also some backlash to Dior's designs due to the amount of fabrics used in a single dress or suit. During one photo shoot in a Paris market, the models were attacked by female vendors over this profligacy, but opposition ceased as the wartime shortages ended. The "New Look" revolutionized women's dress and reestablished Paris as the center of the fashion world after World War II.
Dior died while on holiday in Montecatini, Italy on 23 October 1957. Some reports say that he died of a heart attack after choking on a fish bone. Time's obituary stated that he died of a heart attack after playing a game of cards. However, the Paris socialite and Dior acquaintance Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Rédé, stated in his memoirs that contemporary rumor had it that the fashion designer succumbed to a heart attack after a strenuous sexual encounter. Some even think that he died because of a seizure. To this day, the exact circumstances remain undisclosed.
The Paul Gallico novella Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris (1958, UK title Flowers for Mrs Harris) tells the story of a London charwoman who falls in love with her employer's couture wardrobe and decides to go to Paris to purchase herself a Dior ballgown.
A perfume named Christian Dior is used in Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as an influential symbol placed at critical plot points throughout.
The English singer-songwriter Morrissey released a song titled "Christian Dior" as a b-side to his 2006 single "In the Future When All's Well".
Dior Couture by Patrick Demarchelier
Hardcover: 250 pages
Publisher: Rizzoli (November 16, 2011)
Amazon: Dior Couture
Dior is one of the most revered names in fashion, the archetype of the Parisian couture house. Famous for launching the “New Look,” Christian Dior’s landmark first collection that marked a sea change in women’s dress after the Second World War, Dior is known today for its exquisite couture line of dramatic dresses.
This book comprises a portfolio of portraits of over one hundred incredible gowns from the entire era of Christian Dior haute couture, including dresses designed by Dior himself. All of the images were shot by Patrick Demarchelier, known for his exquisite fashion portraits that grace the pages of Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and many other magazines.
More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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