Christian Dior was born in 1905 in the small French coastal town of Granville, the son of a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer. His family had high hopes that the young Christian would become a diplomat. However, Dior was artistic and when he left school in 1928 he received money from his father to open a small art gallery. His gallery sold art by the likes of Pablo Picasso but after a financial blow his father lost control of his company and the young Dior was forced to close his gallery.
From the 1930s to the early 1940s Dior worked with the designer Robert Piguet, until he was enlisted into the army. When World War II war began in 1939, Dior served as an officer for the year until France’s surrender. He joined his father and a sister on a farm in Provence until he was offered a job in Paris by the couturier Lucien Lelong, who was lobbying the Germans to revive the couture trade. Dior spent the rest of the War dressing the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators. Dior’s sister Catherine served in the French resistance. After her capture by the Gestapo, Catherine was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She survived the ordeal and was freed in 1945. The first Dior fragrance was dedicated to her.
France emerged from World War II in ruins. Half a million buildings were destroyed. Clothes, coal and food were in short supply. Yet there were ample opportunities for new business ventures and fashion was no exception. Dior was invited by a childhood friend from Granville to revive Philippe et Gaston, a struggling clothing company owned by Marcel Boussac, the “King of Cotton” with an empire of racing stables, newspapers and textile mills.
Dior founded his haute couture empire in 1946 at 30 Avenue Montaigne Paris, backed by wealthy French businessman Marcel Boussac. The business met Dior and listened to his theory that the public was ready for a new style after the War. Dior’s description of a luxurious new look with a sumptuous silhouette and billowing skirts had an obvious appeal to Marcel immensely. Together they established a company with a capital of FFr 6million and an 80 strong workforce. Christian Dior was in essence just a vanity project for Boussac and as a result Dior was allowed, at that time, an unusually large amount of control in his namesake label.
At the end of the Second World War there was a mood of anticipation, particularly amongst the women, many of who had been assigned to men's jobs, wearing unflattering protective clothing. They were tired of rationing and making something out of nothing, and were ready for someone to come and make them look glamorous again. Christian Dior did just that. His extravagant creations burst upon the fashion scene in 1947 and swept everyone along, bringing light and hope to a drab world.
In his first show Dior introduced his signature shape of the New Look. Consisting of a below calf length full skirt, a much fuller bust than had been in style since the early 1910s and a small cinched waist. The New Look style was a rebuttal to post war fabric restrictions with an average dress using around 20 yards of fabric.
The New Look employed many hidden techniques to give its trademark curvaceous silhouette, dresses were lined with percale, bodices were boned in a rigid bustier style, hips were padded and waists were minimized with waspie corsets. Overall the look was the exact opposite to the boxy fabric conserving shapes of the war years. Initially upon its release there were some protests at the excessive use of fabric, women were also not used to such long skirt lengths with hemlines rising during the war to conserve fabric. During one fashion shoot in a Paris market, female stall vendors berated models, however this opposition disappeared with the end of wartime shortages.
The New Look consisted of a rounded shoulders, cinched waist and bell skirts created in luxurious fabrics. The look was meant to accentuate a women’s...