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Christian Dior Dress
Typical Dior evening gown, date unknown but circa 1950.

Christian Dior (Granville, Manche, Basse-Normandie, 21 January 1905 – Montecatini, Italy, 24 October 1957), was the leading French fashion designer of the post-war world. He was the founder of one of the world's top fashion houses, the House of Dior (now Christian Dior).

Early life

Granville - Maison et Musée de Dior
Dior's house in Granville, now a museum.

Dior's family had hoped he would become a diplomat, but Dior was artistic and wished to be involved in art. 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.

Career

From 1937, Dior was employed by the fashion designer Robert Piguet, who gave him the opportunity to design for three Piguet collections. Dior would later say that 'Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.'

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Christian Dior dressed the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators. On 8 October 1946 he founded his own fashion house, backed by Marcel Boussac, the cotton-fabric magnate.

The New Look

Marlene Dietrich Stage Fright Trailer 3
Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, 1950. Dress by Dior.

For his first collection, in early 1947, the phrase The New Look was coined by Harper's Bazaar, the fashion monthly. Dior's designs were more voluptuous than the economy shapes of World War II, when fabric was rationed.

Dior was a master at creating shapes and silhouettes; he said "I have designed flower women". His look employed fabrics lined with percale (a closely woven plain-weave fabric), boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding, wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats. This made his dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very curvaceous form.

Some women protested, because his designs covered up their legs, which they did not during wartime. There was also criticism of Dior's designs, which used a lot of fabric. Opposition ceased as soon as wartime shortages ended. The New Look revolutionized women's dress and reestablished Paris as the center of the fashion world.

A-line

Christian Dior (Moscow exhibition, 2011) 26
The "Bar" suit, Corolle, 1947, as displayed in Moscow in 2011

The term was first used by Dior as the label for his collection of spring 1955. The A-Line collection's feature item, then the "most wanted silhouette in Paris", was a "fingertip-length flared jacket worn over a dress with a very full, pleated skirt". Evening dresses at this time were always worn with petticoats.

Although an A-shape, this silhouette was not identical to what is now understood to embody the A-line idea. That idea was given its definitive expression and popularized by Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent, with his "Trapeze Line" of spring 1958, which featured dresses flaring out dramatically from a fitted shoulder line.

A-line clothes remained popular in the 1960s and 70s, disappeared from fashion almost completely by the early 1980s and were revived by the retro trend of the late 1990s. By that time, 'A-line' was used more loosely to describe any dress wider at the hips than at the bust or waist, as well as a number of flared skirt styles. 'True' A-line shapes on the pattern of Dior and Saint Laurent saw a revival in the early 2000s.

Death

Christian Dior died while on holiday in Montecatini, Italy on 24 October 1957.

Awards and honors

Dior was nominated for the 1955 Academy Award for Best Costume Design in black and white for the Terminal Station directed by Vittorio De Sica (1953).

Dior was also nominated in 1967 for a BAFTA for Best British Costume (Colour) for the Arabesque directed by Stanley Donen (1966).

Nominated in 1986 for his contributions to the 1985 film, Bras de fer, he was up for Best Costume Design (Meilleurs costumes) during the 11th Cesar Awards.


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