Christian Dior was born in Normandy, France, in 1905. At an early age, he showed great interest in art, design, and fashion. Although his creative abilities were acknowledged by his friends and family, Christian Dior decided to pursue an education in political science. Following college, Dior spent several years in the French army.
In 1935, Dior moved to Paris and began a career selling sketches of lady’s clothing to fashion designers. Those who purchased Dior’s sketches often noted that he was more adept at designing hats and accessories than designing dresses. Dior was undeterred by his colleague’s criticism. Although sketches of his dress designs were being criticized, Dior continued designing full-length skirts and dresses. In 1938, Dior received his first break in the fashion industry when he was hired by the renowned designer, Robert Piguet. Piguet allowed Dior to design a number of full-length dresses. Dior was an eager student and thoroughly enjoyed working with Piguet.
Dior’s life began rapidly changing at the onset of the Second World War. On May 12, 1940, Germany invaded France. Dior was sent with the French resistance to the southern border of France. France quickly fell to the German army and Dior was detained in southern France. After nearly a year, Dior returned to Paris. Again, he sought work in the world of fashion. Dior was quickly hired by Lucien Lelong. Lelong’s design firm was far larger than the Piguet firm that employed Dior prior to the war. Dior worked with Lelong for the next five years. In May, 1945 Germany surrendered to the allies. Although much of Europe had been ravaged by the hostilities between the allies and Germany, all of Europe was excited by the prospect of a new beginning.
In 1946, Dior left the design firm of Lelong. He approached a wealthy textile industrialist, Marcel Boussac, and requested capital with which to start a new house of couture in Paris. Boussac agreed and the House of Dior opened its doors. In 1947, the House of Dior released its first major clothing line for women. This collection was appropriately christened “New Look.” This stunning line of clothing featured a cinched waist, full-length skirt, rounded shoulders, and bold fabrics. Dior’s creations mesmerized the fashion world. The “New Look” was classic, elegant, and befitting the modern woman. There is a design maxim that says, “classic never goes out of style.” This saying is especially true with respect to Dior’s “New Look.” Original garments from the “New Look” remained popular through the 1960’s. Despite the success of the “New Look,” Dior was heavily criticized for creating pieces of clothing that were very opulent when so much of Europe was impoverished as a result of the war.
As a result of the “New Look,” Paris was re-established as the fashion capital of the world. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Dior became the world’s great arbiter of fashion. His designs were seen on Broadway, in Hollywood, and were worn by royalty. Almost every major female public figure wore a garment that was designed by or inspired by Christian Dior, including Lucille Ball, Harriet Nelson, and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1953, Dior hired Yves Saint Laurent to be his protégé and assistant. Together, they produced a number of new products including socks, perfumes, furs, and ties. Many of these items were test-marketed locally in France and were not readily available to the rest of the world. During this period, Dior began designing lines of clothing that followed identifiable themes. In 1953, his designs focused primarily on the “classic” suit and ballerina skirts. In 1954, the focus was on H-line dresses. In 1955, his new line focused entirely on A- and Y-shaped dresses. Demand continued to increase around the globe for Dior’s spectacular dresses.
In October of 1957, the world of haute couture was devastated upon hearing the news that Christian Dior had died of a heart attack. In little over a decade, Christian Dior’s designs had become some of the most coveted in the world. The House of Dior was passed to Yves Saint Laurent. In that same year, Saint Laurent introduced his trapeze dresses. This beautiful creation grabbed the fashion world just as a Dior’s “New Look” once did. Despite his successful tenure at the House of Dior, Saint Laurent was forced to leave when he was called to military service in 1960. At that time, the leadership of the company was passed to Marc Bohan. Bohan retained his position as chief designer until 1989 when he retired. The company was then passed to Gianfranco Ferre.
For a brief period, Dior released several lines of home accessories, including china. Although Dior’s home accessories sold quite successfully, these lines were discontinued. The House of Dior wanted to focus its creative energies on designing and producing clothing. Although Christian Dior no longer produces china, Replacements, Ltd. continues to carry an extensive array of these beautiful patterns, including Dior Rose, Tabriz, and Casablanca . Today, the House of Dior operates under the name Christian Dior Couture and is headed by Bernaud Arnault. Despite the global economic challenges of the past few years, Christian Dior Couture creates designs in the Dior tradition and continues to thrive.