A look back at 70 years of Dior and how the house con­tin­ues to re­de­fine fem­i­nin­ity

IIn late April, Dior artis­tic di­rec­tor Maria Grazia Chi­uri showed her spring cou­ture col­lec­tion on the rooftop of the new Ginza Six shop­ping cen­tre in Tokyo. Ethereal beau­ties wan­dered through a fan­tasy Ja­panese garden mod­el­ling breath­tak­ingly fem­i­nine sheer con­fec­tions high­light­ing the mas­ter­ful work­man­ship of the house ate­liers and its “pe­tits mains”. Chi­uri also imag­ined eight new looks for the show, with dresses cov­ered in del­i­cate cherry blos­soms, birds, and branches ac­com­pa­nied by or­nate flo­ral head­pieces. The looks were di­rectly in­spired by Chris­tian Dior’s Jardin Japon­ais dress from 1953, and of­fered a view into the depths to which the house’s new artis­tic di­rec­tor is min­ing the brand’s rich his­tory.

Dior has long been syn­ony­mous with French glam­our, and fem­i­nin­ity has al­ways been at the root of the brand; the fig­ure eights that dec­o­rate the stair­case at the first Dior store, at 30, av­enue Mon­taigne, are a ref­er­ence to the in­fi­nite time­less­ness of the fe­male form. In 1947, Dior pre­sented his first col­lec­tion to rave re­views and cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion in women’s fash­ion. Dubbed by then Harper’s Bazaar ed­i­tor Carmel Snow as “The New Look”, the sweep­ing lux­ury of Dior’s cre­ations marked an end to the scarcity of fab­ric and util­i­tar­ian cloth­ing that com­posed the fash­ion dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Dior’s iconic jacket, “Le Bar”, her­alded the rebirth of French cou­ture and a re­turn to glam­our. With im­mac­u­late tailor­ing and con­struc­tion that em­pha­sized fem­i­nine curves, The New Look was a styl­ized in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ideal woman. “We were emerg­ing from the pe­riod of war, of uni­forms, of women sol­diers built like box­ers,” said Dior at the time. “I drew flower women, soft shoul­ders, full busts, wil­lowy waists, and wide skirts like corolla flow­ers in full bloom.”

As the house marks its 70th year, there are cel­e­bra­tions ga­lore, with new store open­ings in Tokyo and Toronto, a num­ber of books and pub­li­ca­tions, as well as the cre­ation of a lux­u­ri­ous new archive. Most no­table are two ma­jor mu­seum ret­ro­spec­tives: “Chris­tian Dior, cou­turier du rêve” at Les Arts Dé­co­rat­ifs in Paris, and “The House of Dior: Sev­enty Years of Haute Cou­ture” at the New Vic­to­ria Gallery in Melbourne, Aus­tralia, cu­rated by Katie Somerville. The set­ting of the lat­ter is no co­in­ci­dence: Aus­tralia hosted Dior’s first ever show out­side of Paris, fea­tur­ing 50 looks from the 1948 spring sum­mer col­lec­tion.

More than mere nos­tal­gia, this look­ing back re­veals a dis­tinct ef­fort to rec­og­nize the sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the legacy of Dior from all of its de­sign­ers. Af­ter Dior’s death in 1957, his young as­sis­tant Yves Saint Lau­rent, who Dior de­scribed as his “spir­i­tual heir”, re­placed him as cre­ative di­rec­tor. Saint Lau­rent, wish­ing to prove him­self, em­braced the new modes of the time and re­ceived ac­co­lades with his fa­mous “trapeze dress”. Vir­tu­ally the op­po­site of the Dior fit and flare sil­hou­ette, it hung away from the body and swung, hence the name, pro­vid­ing a free­dom of move­ment for the wearer. Other more fash­ion for­ward con­cepts like his Left Bank “beat­nik” col­lec­tion, were panned by the press, but were later cul­ti­vated un­der his own la­bel, espe­cially his vi­sion of the Rive Gauche woman. Saint Lau­rent was con­scripted into the army in 1960 and re­placed by Marc Bo­han who helmed the brand for nearly 30 years. Bo­han had learned to de­sign with the same rigour of sim­plic­ity at the house of Robert Piguet just as Dior him­self had pre­vi­ously. While Bo­han re­mains prob­a­bly the least known Dior de­signer, he was in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing the now ubiq­ui­tous ready-to-wear con­cepts, which gave greater abil­ity to women out­side of the elite to ac­cess the brand di­rectly. Bo­han re­turned to the ar­chi­tec­tural tailor­ing of Dior while build­ing a strong celebrity client base with stars like El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Sophia Loren, and Princess Grace of Monaco.

In 1989, de­signer Gian­franco Ferré caused a stir in the Paris scene by virtue of be­ing the first Ital­ian to de­sign for the brand, bring­ing his own ar­chi­tec­tural sen­si­bil­i­ties. A suc­cess­ful de­signer with his own la­bel, his ap­point­ment to the house by Bernard Ar­nault saw him win the De d’Or (Golden Thim­ble Award) for his first Dior cou­ture col­lec­tion. Alexan­der Fury, fash­ion ed­i­tor for T magazine and au­thor of a new book high­light­ing the 70 years of cou­ture, Dior: The Col­lec­tions, 1947-2017, ex­plains Ferré’s im­pact on the brand: “The codes of Dior were re­ally laid down un­der Ferré–el­e­ments like the can­nage pat­tern, the Dior type­face, even the shade of ‘Dior grey…’”

Into the early ’90s, while the rel­e­vance for cou­ture was be­ing heav­ily ques­tioned, it was Ferré who brought the ear­li­est mo­ments of theatre and drama to that rar­i­fied world. He eventu-

ally re­turned to Mi­lan and his own la­bels in 1996, leav­ing the door open for John Galliano, who had been work­ing his magic at Givenchy. Galliano re­mains the de­signer now most associated with the brand’s fan­tasy of cou­ture and as Somerville notes, “was the way most of us first en­coun­tered Dior.”

Galliano’s com­plex nar­ra­tives un­der­lined his ex­quis­ite artistry and, as Fury states, “There are very few fash­ion de­sign­ers who have been able to cre­ate such an im­mer­sive, all-en­com­pass­ing uni­verse with their aes­thet­ics. The fact that Galliano did it not only for Dior, but si­mul­ta­ne­ously with his own la­bel, marks him as one of the great de­sign­ers of our time.” When he was ar­rested and con­victed for anti-Semitic com­ments in 2011, he was dis­missed from the com­pany and sought treat­ment for his al­co­hol ad­dic­tion. Bel­gian de­signer Raf Simons, who had gained no­to­ri­ety for his own menswear line and the fo­cused min­i­mal­ism seen in his de­sign work for Jil San­der, even­tu­ally re­placed Galliano. Simons ap­proached his first col­lec­tion at Dior with a pu­rity of de­sign fo­cused on the shapes and silhouettes of the house. His in­no­va­tive fab­ri­ca­tions and im­pec­ca­ble tailor­ing pre­sented mod­ern rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the orig­i­nal codes of the house, fea­tur­ing the Bar jacket, Dior’s mag­i­cal fig­ure-eight sil­hou­ette as a black pant suit in one look, and a bright red, belted coat in an­other. To the dis­may of many, Simons left the house af­ter only three-and-ahalf years to fo­cus on his own de­signs, leav­ing the fash­ion world buzzing about who would re­place him.

In late 2016, Maria Grazia Chi­uri, an Ital­ian and part of the de­sign duo at Valentino with Pier­paolo Pic­ci­oli, was named artis­tic di­rec­tor of Dior. The pair’s el­e­gant and re­fined work at Valentino evoked an oth­er­worldly beauty, espe­cially in their cou­ture of­fer­ings. Any doubts about Chi­uri’s abil­i­ties as a sin­gu­lar de­signer were left be­hind af­ter her first show­ing for Dior in fall 2106, which de- picted mo­tifs and mes­sag­ing all her own. Of Chi­uri’s now-iconic “We Should All Be Fem­i­nists” T-shirt (from the ti­tle of an es­say by Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie) Somerville states, “Teamed with a full-length tulle em­broi­dered evening skirt, that idea of clever jux­ta­po­si­tion is speak­ing to the zeit­geist of the moment….”

Chi­uri’s mes­sage that this is “not your mother’s Dior” is a clear sig­nal to all of her crit­ics not to ex­pect a clear rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of a Bar jacket or a fit and flare sil­hou­ette. Her cou­ture de­signs con­tinue to be as del­i­cately beau­ti­ful as her pre­vi­ous work for Valentino, but in the ready-to-wear, we see a revo­lu­tion­ary spirit in the vein of Mr. Dior him­self. Her most re­cent fall show, styled with black leather berets, work­wear-in­spired denim, and cross­body bag straps in a sea of var­i­ous dark Dior blues, seemed al­most a uni­form to wear to her own rev­o­lu­tion. Fury ex­plains, “Maria Grazia Chi­uri is rein­ter­pret­ing Dior’s in­trin­sic fem­i­nin­ity with a new slant; her gen­der af­fects the way she looks at ev­ery facet of the house, which is now not only fem­i­nine but fe­male. There’s a def­i­nite fo­cus on the woman wear­ing th­ese clothes, as op­posed to the peo­ple watching her do so.… It’s sur­ren­der­ing a new look for Dior.”

Chi­uri’s mes­sage has been clear that this is “not your mother’s Dior”.




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