Christian Dior created luxury at a time when society wanted it most – after a war. During World War II, daily life changed. People rationed everything from food to fabric for the war effort.
Born January 21, 1905 in France, Dior didn’t always want to be a fashion designer. He originally went to the École de Sciences Politiques in Paris from 1920-1925 to study political science. He did not make his foray into fashion until 1931, when he started to create hat sketches and fashion illustrations. After designing for Robert Piguet, Lucien Lelong, and Marcel Boussac, Dior produced his first collection in 1947.
His first collection launched the “Bar” suit, a fitted jacket with a cinched waist and rounded shoulders paired with a full skirt with a hemline that fell below the knee. Dior’s designs reflected the social turmoil of the time. During the war, women took over men’s jobs. They wore simple, work appropriate clothes because so much fabric was given to the army. Once the men came back from the war, however, women went back to their domestic duties. Dior wanted to emphasize and celebrate femininity. And he wanted to give women the luxury of which they had been deprived.
Journalists named his design the New Look. Indeed, his silhouette was a far cry from boxy, flapper styles of the 1920s and the feminine simplicity of the 1930s. Rather, Dior brought the structure of the 19th century back. He used bodices with boning that brought the bust line up. He added hip padding and petticoats to give the silhouette even more shape.
Dior’s gowns are another example of the amount of luxury he put into his designs. His Schumann evening gown had a fitted bodice with a sweetheart neckline and a skirt of tulle layered into tiers. In a 1950 photo of the dress taken by Willy Maywald, the dress cascades down a staircase, giving every indication of extravagance and luxury.
Christian Dior’s most iconic silhouette would endure for decades, influencing designers to this day.
1. Dior’s “Bar” suit from 1947 Met Museum archives
2. Rare photo from the “birth of the New Look” Time magazine
3. Christan Dior sketching
4. Dior measuring a coat on a model
5. Dior “Schumann” evening gown, 1950 photo by Willy Maywald
6. Christian Dior by Henry Clarke. Published in Vogue, March 15, 1957
– Tanisha Wallis
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