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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Return to Classics ~Part II

At the conclusion of WWII in 1945, Paris was in complete disarray. With wartime disruptions, virtually everything was in shortage, including textiles, electricity and the wealthy couture-buying upper class. In 1939, there were 70 Haute Couture houses in Paris including the grand establishments of Chanel, Schiaparelli and Balenciaga. As the war went on, many closed and others teetered on the brink. With their wealthy clientele dispersed elsewhere, the future of Paris fashion was bleak.

To combat the dire circumstances, the remaining couturiers created Theatre de la Mode, a touring exhibition of about 200 fashioned dolls. The Theatre toured Britain, Scandinavia and the U.S. to promote Parisian fashion and let the world know they were still in business. It was a long way from pre-1940 Paris couture and many wondered if they would survive at all, much less regain their status as the fashion capital of the world.

Christian Dior was born on the seaside coast of France in the Normandy region in 1905. Coming from a wealthy family that made its money in fertilizers and chemicals, the family hoped he would become a diplomat. All Christian wanted to do was be involved in the arts, against the better judgment of his family. Upon graduating from school, Dior received money from his father to open a small art gallery in Paris in 1928 with the caveat that the family name not be used in association with the gallery. In the small gallery, he sold artwork by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Max Jacob. Forced to close the gallery following a family financial disaster he turned his attention to fashion. To make money he sold fashion sketches to various couture houses and was rumored to have sold fashion sketches in the streets for 10 cents apiece. In 1937 he went to work for the Robert Piguet house until being called up for military duty in 1939.

After leaving the French military, Dior was asked to return to Piguet in 1941 but he took too long to accept and the job was offered to Antonio del Castillo. In 1942, he started working for Lucien Lelong, working alongside Pierre Balmain (founder of the Balmain house in 1945~ dress and petticoat design below) as the primary designers. For the duration of the war, he dressed wives of German officers and French collaborators.

Amid the uncertainty of the Parisian fashion industry in 1946, the Christian Dior House was founded on October 8 and Pierre Cardin was hired as head tailor. Christian Dior’s first collection, “Corolle”, debuted in early 1947. Dior believed woman wanted something new and traditionally feminine so as to restore the natural balance that had been disrupted as a result of woman carrying out men’s traditional roles during the war. The androgynous, utilitarian dress was also greatly influenced by rations on fabric and led to shorter, no frills, knee length skirts and dresses. Where shoulders had been boxy, Dior incorporated soft sloping shoulders. Straight lines were replaced with a cinched-in waist and full-flowing long skirts.  The designs were voluptuous and enhanced the bust (which previously fell from style in 1912). Christian Dior was a master of creating shapes and silhouettes and his first collection was the antithesis of the masculine wartime fashions and was just what woman needed after the austerity and hardship of the war years.

The hourglass shape of the enhanced bust, cinched-in waist, dresses that flared out at the waist and a longer skirt hem that was very flattering on the calves and ankles created a beautiful silhouette that London couturier John Cavanagh described as “a total glorification of the female form”. The accolades did not end there. Fashion journalist Bettina Ballard said of the collection, “I was conscious of an electric tension I had never before felt in couture… we were witnesses to a revolution in fashion”. Finally, Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar said, “Your dresses have such a new look”, and the “New Look” name was born to symbolize that of the golden age of couture, an age which began and ended with Christian Dior.

Prominent Hollywood figures and the European upper-class became instant clients. Dior was invited to give a private presentation to the British Royal family in London at the Savoy. Orders poured in from the likes of Rita Hayworth, ballerina Margot Fonteyn, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Margaret and the Dutchess of Windsor.

One of the most important designs in the first collection was the “Bar” suit and hat. The tight fitting jacket had padded hips which emphasized the small waist. (“Bar” suit and hat image above and detail of the “Bar” Suit jacket below).

The New Look revolutionized woman’s dress and reestablished Paris as the center of the fashion world following WWII and influenced other designers for years to come.  Christian Dior was credited for the recovery of the Parisian couture empire when it was threatened most and was hailed as a national hero. The House of Dior was responsible for up to 75% of fashion exports from Paris and up to 5% of all French exports. He revolutionized the fashion industry by creating an international fashion company and created methods of business that are still emulated today. In ten short years, Christian Dior did more for fashion than perhaps anyone before or anyone since. To be continued...

Current Dior designer John Galliano’s Fall 2008 design, channeling Christian Dior's designs from the Golden Age of Couture.


Interior designer said...

Love it once again! ~Loren

Herb Hernandez Photography said...

Great article. I love fashion history and Christian Dior!
Herb Hernandez
NYC Inspired Art & Culture