Sixty-five years ago, CHRIS­TIAN DIOR started a rev­o­lu­tion that’s still in­flu­enc­ing the de­sign­ers of to­day. By Meenal Mistry

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR -

The New Look was born in Paris on the very chilly morn­ing of Fe­bru­ary 12, 1947. It was the last show of the spring haute cou­ture sea­son, and many Amer­i­can buy­ers had al­ready headed home. Still, a large crowd of in­ter­ested Parisians gath­ered out­side Chris­tian Dior’s sa­lon at 30 Av­enue Mon­taigne. They were drawn there by ru­mours that the de­signer’s de­but col­lec­tion was so mag­nif­i­cent, it might sin­gle-hand­edly re­vive the dis­mal post­war state of haute cou­ture. Mr Dior didn’t dis­ap­point. Those lucky enough to be seated in­side—a group that in­cluded US Harper’s Bazaar ed­i­tor Carmel Snow, Richard Ave­don, and il­lus­tra­tor and artist Chris­tian Bérard—took in the archly fem­i­nine and colour­ful clothes with their lux­u­ri­ously full, pleated skirts and im­pos­si­bly wasp-waisted jack­ets. Then, it seems, a giddy chaos en­sued.

“The end of that show was a riot. Dior was cry­ing. There was sort of an in­sane ec­stasy in the air,” says Pene­lope Row­lands, who de­scribes that day in de­tail in her 2005 bi­og­ra­phy of Snow, A Dash of Dar­ing: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fash­ion, Arts, and Let­ters (Atria Books).

58 As fash­ion leg­end (and Row­lands’s book) has it, Snow, who was one of the new de­signer’s staunch sup­port­ers, ap­proached him af­ter­ward and stated, “It’s quite a rev­o­lu­tion, dear Chris­tian. Your dresses have such a new look.” Or per­haps she shouted it out the win­dow or even wrote it the next day. Ac­counts dif­fer, but there’s no doubt that Snow coined the very sticky and de­fin­i­tive bit of fash­ion nomen­cla­ture. “Ev­ery­one cred­its her, and Dior even men­tions it in his mem­oirs,” says Row­lands.

Dior had named the iconic suit, pic­tured here, the Bar and the col­lec­tion it­self Corolle et En Huit, a ref­er­ence to the fact that it made women look like flow­ers and the fig­ure eight. But while it’s hard to imag­ine them with­out Snow’s au­thor­i­ta­tive stamp, it was the new­ness of those ex­ag­ger­ated wom­anly looks that out­moded the spar­tan wartime sil­hou­ette and pro­vided the broad strokes for the el­e­gant uni­form of the baby-boom era. Tracy Lord and Betty Draper, meet your dress­maker.

Fast-for­ward 65 years and the New Look is still very much a part of the fash­ion lex­i­con. In fact, the term pinged around all over dur­ing the re­cent spring col­lec­tions, as de­signer upon de­signer—in­clud­ing Dior

stu­dio head Bill Gayt­ten—chan­nelled its re­fined spirit in vary­ing de­grees of full skirts and Ce­cil Beaton pas­tels. But it was far from a dusty, retro re­dux, as each of them gave it a smart spin. At Jil San­der, Raf Si­mons com­pleted his ‘cou­ture tril­ogy’ with a sheer-skirted plaid shirt­waist and a per­fectly pris­tine white strap­less gown that would have driven Grace Kelly wild but still had a sharp, squeaky-clean edge that clued you into the de­signer’s min­i­mal, avant-gardist ways.

In his col­lec­tion for Rochas, Marco Zanini twisted the codes of that golden era into some­thing a bit sub­ver­sive. “I was think­ing about the movies,” says Zanini. “I mean, Hitch­cock, of course, but also early John Wa­ters, which had a cer­tain ’50s sen­si­bil­ity in a weird way. All his un­der­ground su­per­stars were dressed up in that ’50s look.” There’s some­thing about all that white-picket-fence per­fec­tion that im­plies a dark side just be­neath the sur­face. But when it comes to sub­vert­ing a la­dy­like sen­si­bil­ity, Mi­uc­cia Prada is the reign­ing queen. She merged the sweet­ness of candy-coloured ac­cor­dion-pleated dresses and skirts with a mea­sured dose of camp, through cow­girl rhine­stones and car­toony car mo­tifs.

What’s not sub­ver­sive, how­ever, is the ex­quis­ite way many of these mod­ern- day pieces are con­structed. One rea­son the New Look caused such a ruckus was its go-for-broke lux­ury. Mak­ing one day dress took more than 16 yards of fab­ric, ob­scene in the wake of ma­te­rial ra­tioning. That’s def­i­nitely a link be­tween Mr Dior and to­day’s tal­ents. “When you do those lines, there’s al­ways a lot of fab­ric in­volved,” says Zanini, whose silk gazar and or­ganza hem­lines were among the swingi­est. “In some looks, I did a half cir­cle in the front and then a full cir­cle in the back to cre­ate more move­ment and to not make it bulky in the front, and richer and more flow­ing in the back.” Jonathan Saun­ders, mean­while, stitched a band of pin­tuck pleats on the bot­tom of his dirndl skirts to give them some heft, liken­ing it to a pet­ti­coat-mak­ing tech­nique. “The high street is amaz­ing for ba­sics, but as ready-to-wear de­sign­ers, we have to de­velop s ome­thing with l ux­ury and el­e­gance,” says Saun­ders. “That’s what the New Look was about, wasn’t it?” The new looks of Spring might of­fi­cially be prêt-à-porter, but in­side them beats the heart of haute cou­ture.

Over at Louis Vuit­ton, Marc Ja­cobs turned out boxy suits and puff-skirted dresses in sug­ary lay­ers of or­ganza and broderie anglaise. At Dior, Gayt­ten took a back-to-roots ap­proach, re­mind­ing us all where

Rochas much of what we’d seen had started. He widened the neck­line of the Bar jacket and paired it with an up­date of al­most-tulip­shaped skirts to the knee. “Mon­sieur Dior’s col­lec­tion was a re­mark­able re­turn to fem­i­nin­ity, hence its con­tin­ued rel­e­vance,” he says. “It re­vealed his love of the fe­male form, which re­mains a touch­stone in fash­ion.”

But why now? Does 2012 look like 1947? We’re not quite post­war (and it’s hard to tell when we might be), but there is a sense of women crav­ing a bit of op­ti­mism and maybe a trace of tra­di­tion. “We were de­lighted to see the retro fem­i­nin­ity,” says Lane Craw­ford fash­ion di­rec­tor Sarah Rut­son, who cites Jil San­der and Prada as par­tic­u­lar favourites. “With so much un­cer­tainty in the world, to have that sense of light­ness just seemed so right.” “Dior said that the for­ward thrust of the hips was a way for women to advertise their chil­drea­r­ing abil­i­ties, so he was cer­tainly tap­ping into the emer­gence of the baby boom,” says Ti­mothy Long, the cos­tume cu­ra­tor at the Chicago His­tory Mu­seum. “But there’s no sur­prise that that whole idea of hy­per­fem­i­nin­ity is go­ing to con­tinue.” Long is the force be­hind the cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion Charles

James: Ge­nius De­con­structed which sheds new light on the unique way that the Amer­i­can cou­turier—said to have in­flu­enced Dior— crafted his dresses. It’s open through April 16, and quite a few de­sign­ers have shown in­ter­est in the show, an in­di­ca­tion that this trend might see at least an­other sea­son. And if it doesn’t, you can still bet that it will boomerang back.

“Some­thing about that sil­hou­ette al­ways at­tracts women,” says Zanini. “That tight waist and full skirt, it con­nects with the princess in ev­ery woman. It’s al­ways a win­ner.” Gayt­ten con­curs: “The Corolle line em­pha­sised the bust, the waist, and the hip. The house of Dior will al­ways cel­e­brate women.” Ba­len­ci­aga by Ni­co­las Gh­esquière

Dior’s cover mo­ment, 1953 The Bar suit, Paris, Spring 1947

Richard Ave­don and Carmel Snow in Dior’s front row, 1955


Jonathan Saun­ders

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