B. January 21, 1905
D. October 24, 1957
Birthplace: Granville, France
Awards: Neiman Marcus Award, Dallas, 1947 Remise de la Legion d'Honneur, 1950
Parsons School of Design Distinguished Achievement Award, New York, 1956
Sports Illustrated Designer of the Year Award, 1963 Schiffi Lace and Embroidery Institute Award, 1963 Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, 1979 De d'Or, 1983, 1989, 1990
Christian Dior, the Magic of Fashion, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia, 1994
Christian Dior, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996.
Christian Dior, one of the world's most famous fashion designers and the creator of the luxurious and elegant New Look, grew up in the privileged household of his well-to-do parents. His early years were spent in his birthplace on the Normandy coast; when he was five, the family moved to Paris. Acquiring an appreciation for art at a young age, Dior enjoyed roaming through art museums and touring the architecture of Paris. He gave up his aspirations in architecture to follow his mother's wishes and attend the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in 1923.
After serving in the military, an obligatory duty of all French men, Dior returned to Paris and opened an art gallery with a friend, Jacques Bonjean, in 1927. Christian Berard, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dali were among the avant-garde painters whose art was featured in the gallery. The economic downturn caused by the U.S. stock market crash in October 1929 resulted in the failure of the art gallery.
Over the next few years, misfortune beset the Dior family. Dior's father faced bankruptcy and his mother died. Mental illness afflicted his brother, and in 1934, Dior himself contracted tuberculosis. After a year of recuperation, he returned to Paris. His roommate, Jean Ozenne, a designer, encouraged Dior to create fashion sketches. Soon he began supplying sketches to Mme. Agnes, the milliner, and Robert Piguet. Also, he wrote the weekly fashion page for Le Figaro.
At the age of thirty-three, Dior began his career as a fashion designer
Christian Dior: When Christian Dior presented his sculpted, padded New Look in 1947, the fashionable silhouette virtually changed overnight. His "new look" emphasized and exaggerated the feminine hourglass shape.
when Robert Piguet hired him as assistant designer. It was 1938 and World War II would soon call Dior away from designing to serve in the military. Upon France's defeat in 1940, Dior was discharged from the service and went to live with his father and sister in Callian. When he returned to Paris in 1941, Piguet had replaced him. Soon he found employment with Lucien Lelong.
In 1946 Marcel Boussac, a French textile millionaire, approached Dior with an offer; Boussac wanted him to resurrect the couture house Gaston et Philippe. The normally reserved Dior boldly asked him to back the House of Dior instead. Impressed by the capable and respectful designer, the wealthy textile giant wisely invested $500,000 in the venture.
From the very first collection introduced for spring 1947, the house was a success. Dior named the collection Corolle after the flower shapes that inspired him. The garments, with their wide, sumptuous skirts resembled upturned flowers. Slender shoulders, a nipped waist, and emphasized, lifted breasts completed the silhouette.
This feminine look was a stark contrast to the masculine look popular during the war. For much of the 1940s, women wore broad, padded shoulders and slim skirts in response to cloth rationing and their new, more assertive role in society. Dior's "New Look," as it was called by Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, was revered and controversial. Many women loved the new lavish, ladylike designs; they were tired of the utilitarian look of the war years. Critics condemned the extravagant use of fabric and believed that the New Look set back the advances made by women during the war. How could women allow themselves to be reduced to mere corseted pretty things, they asked.
Although Dior is often cited as the sole originator of this silhouette, other designers had come out with a similar silhouette before the war. In effect, the war postponed the emergence of the New Look. Designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, and Charles James introduced similar looks at the same time as Dior. What made Dior different was that he was using the silhouette for day wear. One of his most famous designs was Le Bar, a day suit from the 1947 collection which epitomized the New Look with its fitted waist, padded peplum, and voluminous skirt.
Dior's reputation and acclaim for popularizing the New Look led to his dictatorship of styles for the next ten years. He was able to introduce a new silhouette twice a year, dramatically speeding up the rate of fashion change. He forced women to purchase new wardrobes more rapidly than in the past, spurring on the trendy nature of fashion during the latter half of the century.
One almost needs a scorecard to keep up with Dior's changing silhouettes. For example, his spring 1948 collection entitled Zig-Zag featured asymmetry, and his autumn 1949 collection used bloused tops to give dresses a two-piece look. The Long Line of 1951 employed princess seams and elevated waists.
By 1954 the silhouette changes had become more dramatic. The autumn H-Line dropped the waist to the hip. The very next season, Dior introduced the A-Line, which suspended the dress from the shoulder and gradually flared from there. For the autumn 1955 Y-Line, Dior reversed the A-Line, placed the emphasis on the shoulders, and tapered the silhouette into slim skirts. Dior's last two lines in 1957, which presented softer waists, showed a clear movement away from the New Look.
Despite the changes in silhouette, Dior always produced finely tailored garments made from the most luxurious fabrics. Critics and customers raved about each new collection, effectively keeping Dior on the fashion throne until 1957 when he died of a heart attack. Yves Saint Laurent, who had served as Dior's first and only design assistant, took over the designing helm.
Three years after joining Dior, Saint Laurent introduced his first collection for spring/summer 1958. Named the Trapeze Line, it received critical acclaim. Dior's personally chosen heir seemed to be a success, but his next collection, the Arc Line, was not as well received. His spring/summer 1959 Long Line won approval from both clients and critics. In 1960 the young designer introduced the Beat Look, complete with a fur-trimmed, leather jacket. This youth-oriented look did little to impress the upper-class matrons who constituted Dior's loyal clientele.
Since Saint Laurent's ideas of haute couture did not match those of Dior's clients, his days at the house were numbered. Shortly after the introduction of the Beat Look, Saint Laurent was called into military service. Marc Bo-han, the designer for the company's London branch since 1958, was brought in to replace Saint Laurent. His first collection, the Slim Look, earned kudos.
Bohan was born in Paris on August 22, 1926, and he studied art and philosophy at the Lycee Lakanal Sceaux from 1940 to 1944. He acquired his first designing job with Robert Piguet in 1945. In 1951 he designed for Edward Molyneux, and in 1952 for Madeleine de Rauche. He opened his own house in 1953, but he showed only one collection owing to a lack of financing. The next year he was appointed head couture designer at Jean Patou. Briefly, in 1958, he moved to New York to design coats for Originala before accepting the London design position at Dior.
Bohan's approach appealed to Dior's clients; it featured classic femininity, sumptuous fabrics, and flattering fit. He was able to blend the youth-fulness of the 1960s, the womanly form of the Dior client, and the elegance of the Dior reputation. He became known for his evening wear, and he maintained the house's standing for nearly thirty years. After leaving Dior, he began designing for Norman Hartnell, where he presented his first collection in 1991.
In 1989 Gianfranco Ferre took over the design position from Bohan. Ferre was born in Italy in 1945, and he studied architecture. Early in his career he designed furniture, gold jewelry, and accessories. In 1974 he started his own design label, which he continued during the seven years he designed for Dior. He is known for the architectural quality of his clothes. In 1996 he left Dior to concentrate on his own label.
Following Ferre's departure, John Galliano, then designer for Givenchy, was offered and accepted the design position. Born Juan Carlos in Gibraltar in 1960, Galliano studied fabric design at East London College. His graduation from St. Martin's School of Art in 1984 led to his own ready-to-wear business. His reputation for grandeur and theatrics is evident in the lines he has created for Dior. Bernard Arnault, chairman of Christian Dior SA, has deemed Galliano's work for Dior a success (Martha and Koda, p. 10).
The House of Dior would not have flourished as well over the years without expanding into other products and markets. Dior himself realized the importance of a complete look; without the proper shoes, gloves, and hat, the New Look could not be achieved. Almost immediately after introducing his first collection, he began entering into licensing agreements for accessories. In 1948, when negotiating a license for hosiery, Dior insisted on receiving a percentage of the sales instead of the customary flat fee. This arrangement soon became the norm in the fashion industry.
Dior first entered into ready-to-wear clothing in 1948 when he established Christian Dior-New York to cater to the U.S. market. Stores such as Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Marshall Field's in Chicago negotiated for the exclusive rights to sell Dior's designs in those cities. In 1967 the company introduced Miss Dior, its ready-to-wear label, and in 1973 it launched a ready-to-wear fur collection.
The peak of licensing activity came in the 1980s, when the company held licenses with 200 companies. Over its history, Christian Dior has held licenses for baby clothes (launched in 1967), bedsheets, coats, corsetry, costume jewelry, furs (introduced in 1948), knitwear, lingerie, men's formal wear, menswear (Christian Dior Monsieur, launched in 1970), scarves, shoes (introduced in 1953), sleepwear, stockings, and suits. During the 1990s, the company bought back many licenses or allowed them to lapse in an effort to regain control over its couture image. For years, goods of varying quality sold at a myriad of price points had inundated the market and marred Dior's reputation of refinement, elegance, and quality. In 1996 the house decided to continue only a few of its licenses, including Bestform for foundations, Carrera for eyewear, Henkel and Grosse for jewelry, Carol Hochman for intimate apparel, and Pennaco for hosiery. By the late 1990s, the company was well on its way to reestablishing its couture image.
In 1948 Dior started Christian Dior Perfumes to market the fragrance Miss Dior, which he named for his sister, Catherine. This initiated a string of successful perfumes including Diorama launched in 1949, Eau Fraîche in 1953, Diorissimo in 1956, Diorling in 1963, Diorella in 1972, Dioress-ence in 1979, Poison in 1985, Tendre Poison and Dune in 1991, Dolce
Vita in 1996, and Lily in 1999. The company relaunched Miss Dior in 1993. In 1966 the company introduced its first men's fragrance, Eau Sauvage. It was followed by Eau Sauvage Extreme in 1984, Fahrenheit in 1988, and Dune pour Homme in 1998.
In addition to fragrances, Christian Dior Perfumes markets cosmetics. It made its first entry into cosmetics in 1955, when it launched lipsticks; 1969 marked the first full line of Christian Dior cosmetics. The house sold Christian Dior Perfumes in 1972, and like Christian Dior SA, it is now owned by parent company Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. (LVMH).
Christian Dior SA operates more than fifty-seven stores worldwide. The flagship store is located on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. In 1998 the company began adding new stores, including ones in Orange County, California, and Costa Mesa, California, and it began remodeling its other stores to harmonize with the image of the flagship store. In 1998 it launched an Internet site which offers information about the house, fashions, fragrances, and cosmetics. Christian Dior has proven itself to be one of the most influential fashion houses of the twentieth century and will continue to have an impact on the fashions of the twenty-first century. See also: Cristobal Balenciaga; Jacques Fath; Charles James; Yves St. Laurent; Edward Mo-lyneux; Hubert de Givenchy; Louis Vuitton.
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