21 January 1905|
Granville, Manche, France
|Died||23 October 1957
Montecatini Terme, Tuscany, Italy
Christian Dior (French pronunciation: [kʁistjɑ̃ djɔːʁ]) (21 January 1905 – 23 October 1957) was a French fashion designer, best known as the founder of one of the world's top fashion houses, also called Christian Dior, but now owned by LVMH.
Christian Dior was born in Granville, a seaside town on the coast of Normandy, France, the second of the five children of Maurice Dior, a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer (the family firm was Dior Frères), and his wife, the former Isabelle Cardamone. He had four siblings: Raymond (father of Françoise Dior), Jacqueline, Bernard, and Ginette (aka Catherine). When Christian was about five years old, the family moved to Paris, France, but still returned to the Normandy coast for summer vacations.
Dior's family had hopes he would become a diplomat, but Dior was artistic and wished to be involved in art. He was gay, though not openly so. To make money, he sold his fashion sketches outside his house for about 10 cents each. In 1928, Dior left school and received money from his father to finance a small art gallery, where he and a friend sold art by the likes of Pablo Picasso. Three years later, after the death of Dior's mother and brother and a financial disaster in the family’s fertilizer business, during the Great Depression, that resulted in his father losing control of Dior Frères, the gallery had to be closed.
From then until about 1940 he worked with fashion designer Robert Piguet, when he was called up for military service.
In 1942, when Dior left the army, he joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, where he and Pierre Balmain were the primary designers. For the duration of World War II, Dior, as an employee of Lelong — who labored to preserve the French fashion industry during wartime for economic and artistic reasons — designed dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, as did other fashion houses that remained in business during the war, including Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci. While Dior dressed Nazi wives, his sister Catherine (1917—2008) served as a member of the French Resistance, was captured by the Gestapo, and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was incarcerated until she was liberated in May 1945.
The Dior fashion house
On 8 December 1946 Dior founded his fashion house, backed by Marcel Boussac, a cotton-fabric magnate. The actual name of the line of his first collection, presented on 12 February 1947, was Corolle (literally the botanical term corolla or circlet of flower petals in English), but the phrase New Look was coined for it by Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar. Dior's designs were more voluptuous than the boxy, fabric-conserving shapes of the recent World War II styles, influenced by the rations on fabric. He was a master at creating shapes and silhouettes; Dior is quoted as saying "I have designed flower women." His look employed fabrics lined predominantly with percale, boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made his dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very curvaceous form.
Initially, women protested because his designs covered up their legs, which they had been unused to because of the previous limitations on fabric. There was also some backlash to Dior's designs due to the amount of fabrics used in a single dress or suit. During one photo shoot in a Paris market, the models were attacked by female vendors over this profligacy, but opposition ceased as the wartime shortages ended. The "New Look" revolutionized women's dress and reestablished Paris as the center of the fashion world after World War II.
Dior died while on holiday in Montecatini, Italy on 23 October 1957. Some reports say that he died of a heart attack after choking on a fish bone. Time's obituary stated that he died of a heart attack after playing a game of cards. However, one of Dior's acquaintances, the Paris socialite Baron de Redé, wrote in his memoirs that contemporary rumor was that the heart attack had been caused by a strenuous sexual encounter. As of 2013 the exact circumstances of Dior's death remain undisclosed.
The Paul Gallico novella Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris (1958, UK title Flowers for Mrs Harris) tells the story of a London charwoman who falls in love with her employer's couture wardrobe and decides to go to Paris to purchase herself a Dior ballgown.
A perfume named Christian Dior is used in Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as an influential symbol placed at critical plot points throughout.
- Pochna, M-F. (1996). Christian Dior: The Man Who Made the World Look New p. 5, Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1-55970-340-7.
- Pochna, Marie-France (1996). Christian Dior : the man who made the world look new (1st English language ed. ed.). New York: Arcade Pub. p. 207. ISBN 1559703407.
- Jayne Sheridan, Fashion, Media, Promotion: The New Black Magic (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), p. 44.
- Yuniya Kawamura, The Japanese Revolution in Fashion (Berg Publishers, 2004), page 46. As quoted in the book, Lelong was a leading force in keeping the French fashion industry from being forcibly moved to Berlin, arguing, "You can impose anything upon by force, but Paris couture cannot be uprooted, neither as a whole or in any part. Either it stays in Paris, or it does not exist. It is not within the power of any nation to steal fashion creativity, for not only does it function quite spontaneously, also it is the product of a tradition maintained by a large body of skilled men and women in a variety of crafts and trades." Kawamura explains that the survival of the French fashion industry was critical to the survival of France, stating, "Export of a single dress by a leading couturier enabled the country to buy ten tons of coal, and a liter of perfume was worth two tons of petrol" (page 46).
- Sereny, Gitta (2002). The Healing Wound: Experiences and Reflections, Germany, 1938–2001. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-393-04428-9.
- Company History at Dior's website
- Grant, L. (22 September 2007). "Light at the end of the tunnel". The Guardian, Life & Style (London). Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- Waldman, Hb (November 1979). "Christian Dior". Design Museum, Dental student 58 (3): 58–60. ISSN 0011-877X. PMID 399225. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
- "Time news". TIME. 4 November 1957. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
- von Rosenberg, Alexis (2005). Hugo Vickers, ed. Alexis: The Memoirs of the Baron de Redé. Estate of the late Baron de Redé. ISBN 9781904349037.
- Martin, Richard & Koda, Harold (1996). Christian Dior. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780870998225.
- Christian Dior official website
- Sewing patterns by Christian Dior
- "'Bar' Suit and Hat". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
- "Zémire evening ensemble". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 13 November 2007.
- "Christian Dior Red 'Bubble Dress'". Missouri History Museum. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- Photos of Dior and Samples of New Look Fashion
- "Interactive timeline of couture houses and couturier biographies". Victoria and Albert Museum.
-  Documentary film Christian Dior, The Man Behind The Myth
- Christian Dior at Chicago History Museum Digital Collections