Focus On Fashion: Christian Dior

by Raymond


I’d like to finish up the series on post war designers with probably the most well-known and well-regarded of the big three postwar designers, Christian Dior.  Christian was born in 1905 in the town of Grenville on the French coast.  His family made their fortune from the manufacture of fertilizer, which allowed a young Dior to live a rather charmed life.  After graduating from school and serving his required military duty, Dior received money from his family which he used to open a small art gallery where he sold art from such artists as Picasso.  

In 1931 Dior's mother and brother died, and his family lost the family business. Dior was forced to sell his art gallery and began selling his dress designs to fashion houses.


In 1938 Robert Piguet opened a fashion house, and Dior took his first job as a designer there.  Once the war started, he left Piguet and joined the military. In 1941 after completing military service, he returned to Paris and took a job as a designer at Lucien Lelong.  At Lelong, Dior worked as a primary designer with Pierre Balmain.

Marcel Boussac, a cotton businessman, was looking for a designer to take over a couture operation he owned. He had to persuade Dior for a long time before he would agree to take over this salon. On October 8, 1946, with backing from Boussasc, Dior opened his salon at 30 ave Montaigne. The salon was decorated and embellished in Dior's version of a Louis XVl salon. Dior amassed a staff from childhood friends, and colleagues from Lelong.

His first collection was presented on February 12, 1947 and was comprised of 90 designs. Diro considered what women really wanted for his initial collection, and concluded that women everywhere were sick of rationing, shortages and sacrifice, and of dresses like uniforms. He thought he needed to bring back beautiful, feminine clothes, soft rounded shapes, full flowing skirts, nipped-in waists and hemlines below the knee. He wanted to make women feel like beautiful flowers.  This first collection was actually entitle Corolle (literally the botanical term corolla or circlet of flower petals), but it was dubbed the New Look by Carmel Snow, then editor of Harpers Bazarre, because she felt it was such a radical departure from the boxy, fabric conservative shapes seen during the war. 

While women all over the world embraced Dior’s "New Look," many considered it excessive and wasteful.  Models had their clothes torn off and many Governments around the world condemned the collection as extravagant and outrageous. Some of Dior's skirts used 10 to 25 yards of fabric, after all.

The British Government requested all English women to boycott Dior. However, when Princess Margaret, the leader of British fashion, wore the New Look, then the Board of Trade gave up and said, "We cannot dictate to women the length of their skirts."

In all Dior presented 22 collections. Every six months he chose a theme around which most of the designs were formed.

1947 Spring/Summer The Corolle or New Look collection
Most of the dresses used between 10 to 80 yards of material: They were as wide, long, and sumptuous. Evening dresses were made with bouffant skirts, layer after layer of tulle. Dresses were lined with percale and featured boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made the skirts flare out from the waist, giving the wearer a curvaceous form. The hemlines were very flattering on the calves and ankles, creating a beautiful silhouette.

One design called "Bar," a shantung silk jacket over a black pleated skirt (shown on the left), became the most well-known of Dior's New Look creations.


1947 Autumn/Winter Figure 8 collection
Skirts became even wider and waists tinier, until the body did become somewhat similar to a figure 8.


1948 Spring/Summer Envol (Flight) collection
Dior began experimenting with asymmetry, a departure from earlier designs.  Clothes featured gathered skirts in side- or backswept folds, designs resembling stiffened wings, hence the Flight theme. Collars were pointed and turned-up, and suit jackets had tails jutting out. Hemlines reverted to the shorter lengths of two years earlier.

1948 Autumn/Winter Zigzag collection
This theme animated the figure, forcing the eye to follow the lines of folds which were boned, wired and lined to stick out as far as two feet from the body.

1949 Spring/Summer Trompe l'Oeil (deceive the eye) collection
This collection featured the use of separate panels to create an illusion of a fuller skirt, when the dress or coat underneath was actually narrow. Wide lapels and collars made the bust seem much wider.
1949 Autumn/Winter Milieu du Siecle (mid-Century) collection
This look featured dresses with bloussoned tops to make them look two-piece.

1950 Spring/Summer Vertical collection
Dior‘s use of long narrow lapels, vertical tucks and pleating and boxy suits with pleated skirts gave the appearance of a longer body.

1950 Autumn/Winter Oblique collection
This made use of slanted lines, with wide scarves running diagonally through the belts of suits, and the single-breasted front closure of the jackets starting at one shoulder and continuing to the opposite hip.

195l Spring/Summer Naturelle or Oval collection
This collection featured collarless, cutaway jackets used to connect faux-empire and natural waistlines.

195l Autumn/Winter Long or Princesse collection
This did away with the bifurcated waist.

1952 Spring/Summer Sinuous collection
This was also called the open tulip line, where supple fabrics were crushed about the midriff and curved upwards towards the bust in soft and blurry colors.

1952 Autumn/Winter Profile or Stream-lined collection
This line had emphasis on the hips, accomplished by using stiff fabrics, manipulated by cut rather than by gathering or draping.

1953 Spring/Summer Tulip collection
Wide rounded necklines sliding off the shoulders provided the focal point for this line.

1953 Autumn/Winter Vivante (Alive) collection
Here we had shorter, narrow skirts which caused a lot of males to bellow "are women sheep."

1954 Spring/Summer Muguet (Lily of the valley) collection
This flower was Dior's favorite, and he always tucked a sprig of the flower into every dress as it went out to be presented. The collection based on the flower was light and spring-like, what the press called "relaxed."

1954 Autumn/Winter H-line collection
Dior introduced his elongated torso molded from hipbone to bust, which Time Magazine called the "second look." The idea was not to make the bust flatter, but higher and more youthful as well as less pointed. The waistline was now free and an era of loose-fitting shapes started to come in.

1955 Spring/Summer A-line collection
This is possibly the most famous collection after the New Look. It had narrow shoulders crowning a triangular shape.

1955 Autumn/Winter Y-line collection
Now Dior reversed himself completely and made broadened shoulders with higher waistlines and much less wide hemline.

1956 Spring/Summer Fleche or Arrow collection
This had a Directoire feeling, with Empire waistlines.

1956 Autumn/Winter Aimant (Magnet) collection
This also featured Empire waistlines and V-necklines which also met the waistline in the middle.

1957 Spring/Summer Libre (Free) Collection
This was the harbinger of looser lines to come, with suits, jackets and skirts described as having ease and walkability.

1957 Autumn/Winter Fuseau or Spindle collection
Chemises dominated, some skirts even tapered in at the hem in an exact spindle shape. This was to be the "sack" dress of the next few years.

The fashion world was stunned when Dior died suddenly of a heart attack in 1957.  Yves St. Laurent took over as the firm's artistic head and remained at Dior until 1960 when he left for military service.  He was replaced by Marc Bohan who remained the head designer until 1989. He was replaced by Gianfranco Ferre until 1997 when John Galliano took over.