When we think about Christian Dior today, a handbag may be the first thing that comes to mind, such as the classic ‘Lady Dior’ bag made famous by fashion icon Lady Diana. This accessory was not actually made with Diana in mind, but was gifted to her in 1995 by Bernadette Chriac, then wife of the Mayor of Paris, but this is only part of the story. A younger generation may not realise what a genius Dior was, and just how dramatically he revolutionised the post World War II fashion world with his fresh and stylish designs that would come to be known as the ‘New Look’.
Christian Dior went out on his own in December 1946,and was rocketed to Haute Couture stardom in the following year. In 1938, he became an assistant designer for the leading couturier of Paris, Robert Piguet, and four years later joined the house of designer Lucien Lelong. Even though Dior was financially backed for his solo venture, by this time his following was so great that it was decided the house would be called Christian Dior.
The ‘New Look’ was launched in February 1947, only two months after Dior set up at his Parisian headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne, which was originally a private house. It was the chief editor of Harper’s Bazaar who coined the mark of this new era in couture, exclaiming ‘It’s such a new look!’ This was a revolutionary style for women at the time with its silhouette characterised by a small, nipped-in waist and a full skirt falling below mid-calf length, which emphasised the bust and hips.
The New Look became extremely popular with its distinctive silhouette influencing other fashion designers well into the 1950s, emphasising post war prosperity through generous use of material after years of cloth rationing. It had some critics, with some finding the look too indulgent. Fellow designer Coco Chanel was said to have remarked ‘Only a man who never was intimate with a woman could design something that uncomfortable.’ Despite this, the look continues to inspire fashion and designers into the 21st Century.
…And what of Dior? Sadly, in October 1957 Christian Dior prematurely passed away due to a heart attack at age 52. By the time of his death, his name had become synonymous with taste and luxury. His successor was 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, who had joined the House in 1955… The rest is another story.
JOHN D’AGATA / Head of Luxury