Christian Dior Invents the New Look

Dior store
Photo: Shawmut

Esteemed Parisian couturier, Christian Dior, was zealous in his dream of making every woman who wore one of his oeuvres feel like a countess from a great family; to wit, one who spends languid summer days meandering the gardens of Versailles and warm spring evenings promenading Avenue Montaigne. His clothes were ultra feminine in their design, remarkable in their architecture, and fabric-rich in their construction; the pieces were wearable compliments.

Two years after World War II ceased, Monsieur Dior presented his first collection; it both shocked, excited, and reignited the fashion industry. Gone were the boxy, fabric-rationed wartime garments, and in came voluptuously shaped flared dresses made of lined fabric. The “new look” as legendary fashion editor Carmel Snow put it, shattered the fashion landscape; while some adored the collection, others took issue with the coiffed, refined, and urbane woman that Dior envisioned – a stark contrast to the simple (chic) elegance Chanel peddled. But opposition dwindled within the following twelve months, as Dior became increasingly adored and its style widely adopted.

Some years later, looking to expand his business overseas, Monsieur Dior visited America; whence his collection of ultra-feminine gowns was met with a lukewarm reception, for Marilyn Monroe was then in vogue. However that may be, he left the country of opportunity inspired all the same.

The inception of the CD monogram in 1951 created piracy issues but increased the brand’s visibility tenfold. Profits continued to soar in the years that followed. Recognition was conferred at every ball and award ceremony. Dior was heralded again and again as the “General Motors of Haute Couture.” But as ill luck would have it, merely ten years after rising to prominence, Christian Dior died from a heart attack in 1957; he was 52 years of age. Monsieur Dior’s 21-year-old assistant took over the reins of the house, his name was Yves Saint Laurent.

For decades thereafter, CD progressed smoothly with command swaps here and there. Things got more financially rigorous when French businessman Bernard Arnault bought the couture house in 1984. With world domination in the works, the company Christian Dior S.A. acquired a large stake in LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton); thus becoming the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate, and effectively installing Dior as the suzerain of the French fashion market.

Twelve years later, two American Vogue bigwigs, André Leon Talley and Anna Wintour, joined forces to convince Mr. Arnault to hire then not so famous Givenchy designer, John Galliano, for the top position of creative director at Christian Dior. Wisely, the business tycoon acceded to the proposal. The fashion emporium witnessed soaring profits and global expansion under Mr. Galliano’s watch. Indeed, he is credited as the catalyst that put Dior on the world map and turned it into a brand adored by the rich and famous.

In 2004, a bronzed Charlize Theron became the face of Dior’s iconic golden perfume, J’adore; to Dior what No. 5 is to Chanel. Intriguingly, the name of the fragrance came about due to Mr. Galliano’s self-consciousness in expressing his French vocabulary. When samples were presented to him, he replied in an exaggerated hand-waving manner, “Oh, j’adore,” (I like it, whatever). His other muse, French actress Eva Green, became the face of Midnight Poison in 2007.

Unfortunately, Mr. Galliano had a public meltdown in 2010 when he made anti-Semitic comments whilst drunk. The incident received enormous media coverage and public scrutiny. It disgraced the designer and inevitably inflicted negative publicity for the house that had fostered his career and made his name. Dior and its executives had no choice but to let him go.

Never without incisive suggestions, Anna Wintour next championed the well respected men’s wear designer, Raf Simons, to lead Dior’s collections for women. His instatement in April 2012 was met with doubt from many quarters. The vast contrast in aesthetics between Galliano and Simons was discussed and debated at great length. Mr. Simons was known for his minimalistic, modern and youthful interpretations, whereas Mr. Galliano was heralded as a dreamer and romantic who made dresses for the likes of Marie Antoinette. Nevertheless, when the haute couture season came and went, no person of importance questioned Mr. Simons’ dexterity. Besides, it didn’t hurt to put beloved starlet Jennifer Lawrence in multiple campaigns, and Hollywood’s Adonis Robert Pattinson as the face of Dior Homme.

After Mr. Simon’s contract ended with the company, he did not renew. Many names were speculated as his successor; from Alber Elbaz (Lanvin) to Hedi Slimane (Yves Saint Laurent). After more than six months of searching, Maria Grazia Chiuri (Valentino) was named creative director; thus becoming the first female designer to lead Dior’s womenswear. Her first collection for the house debuted at the 2016 Paris Fashion Week. Suffice it to say here, Dior is in capable hands.

To wrap-up, Dior is a brand that appeals to the person who is after a patina of sweet and bold; gentle in comportment but not submissive to cultural lore. When wearing or using a Christian Dior product, one should keep in mind the philosophy behind the brand, be able to appreciate its rare exceptionality, and cherish its peerless vanity now and onward; every time without hesitation, purring “I adore, Dior.”