Dior’s New Look
Www.historyanswers.co.uk Allabouthistory Abouthistorymag
How Christian Dior’s extravagant designs put the frill back into post-war fashion
Say ‘Dior’ and most people think of luxury, haute couture and leggy models strutting up and down the runway in the latest high-end fashions. But before becoming one of the world’s biggest and most recognised fashion brands, it was just one man, Christian Dior, struggling to make his mark in war-torn Europe. It was 12 February 1947 when the designer’s scandalous ‘New Look’ shocked post-world
War II society and revolutionised the fashion two industry forever. Taking place just under years after Victory in Europe Day, Dior stunned his the world’s fashion elite when he presented past debut collection in Paris. Models swanned and in swathes of rich fabric, long, heavy skirts that dresses synched at the waist. The story goes one influential onlooker, Carmel Snow, editor of Harper’s Bazaar, was so shocked that she
— declared Dior’s collection a truly “new look” and the name stuck.
Dior’s designs, made up of two fashion lines creating named En Huit and Carolle, were all about
It was an overtly womanly hourglass silhouette. a figure that, for better or worse, set the standard for fashion and femininity for the next decade, reflected in the famous styles of 1950s Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe. up Among the impressive 90 pieces that made act was Dior’s collection that day, the real headline up the the Bar suit. Still heralded today, it summed at New Look: a large, dark, corolla skirt, padded synched the hips, teamed with a cream blazer that in and kicked out from the waist. Following rave reviews, the designs spread across Europe like wildfire and made their way over the Atlantic to New York City. Many praised Dior with having single-handedly revived Paris’ struggling post-war fashion industry. His designs were most popular, of course, among society’s glamorous upper class. Hollywood leading ladies Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth were both said to be fans. However, his most prestigious fanbase actually came from within the British royal family — namely Princess Margaret.
The fashionable young royal was a huge fan so much so that she chose one of Dior’s designs in a for her 21st birthday. It was immortalised in famous portrait by photographer Cecil Beaton stoic, 1951. Perched on a sofa, straight-backed and of her small frame sits atop swathes and swathes Disney luxurious fabric that make up her almost princess-like gown. they While these designs may seem glamorous, don’t necessarily seem shocking or particularly hype, fashion-forward today. To understand the that it’s important to appreciate the huge effect the war had had on everyday fashions. was During World War II, the fashion industry hit not only by rationing and austerity measures and but, with the war’s hefty demand of fabric raw labour, there was a significant reduction in materials, skilled workers and factory space. was Ultimately, the fashion of the early 1940s dominated by simple suits and knee-length dresses with boxy, almost militaristic shoulders. With the introduction of rationing in Britain in 1941, simpler, slimmer outfits became more more popular as more coupons were needed for the fabric and skilled handiwork. This was also make year that most silk was commandeered to parachutes for the Royal Air Force. Adornments such as pleats, ruching, embroidery and even pockets were restricted under austerity measures while additions such as hats and lace — deemed luxury items — were heavily taxed.
After food, clothing was the hardest hit by the demands of the war effort, which explains the series of ‘Make-do And Mend’ campaign posters and pamphlets issued by the government. of
What you wore became a direct reflection of your contribution to the war effort. A band form the London designers even came together to Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (Incsoc), to popularise austerity-friendly designs. In 1942, Incsoc created 32 designs of so-called ‘utility styles’ — fashionable outfits that used to limited resources — that they then presented the the public. Restricted to tight fabric rations, to have resulting coats, dresses and suits were said no pleats, tucks or frills with no ‘unnecessary’ with buttons. They were intended for all seasons, to paper patterns made available for those wishing make them at home.
Reactions were mixed. While many of the leading fashion houses and magazines were other happy with the surprisingly sleek designs, the fashion-conscious folk were unsure about
“Mrs cookie-cutter styles. The Daily Mail argued, coffee ‘Jones’ is nervous that she will walk out to her one morning in a Mayfair-style suit and meet neighbour in, if not the same colour, the identical cut.” On the other hand, another critic thought these Mayfair designs were actually too fashionoriented for the and “not sufficiently practicable housewife or the woman in the war factory”. Whatever their feelings, these simpler, utility-style designs became the general trend, representing both fashion and the home front’s of dedication to the war effort. For a large part society, this was an attitude not only reserved and for wartime, but something that carried on, in some cases intensified, in the years following in the conflict. In fact, clothes rationing ended
1954. 1949, and food restrictions lingered until
It must have been shocking to see of Dior’s models visions enveloped in layers materials, covered of lavish in fine details
While Incsoc’s and accessories. utility-style dresses restricted and were rigorously made sure to use
1.8 metres no more than of fabric, it is said elaborate that Dior’s offerings more often contained metres each. over 18
This unapologetically and feminine style glamorous was a complete the wartime rejection of austerity that had entirety been of Europe gripping the so tightly.
The world’s fashionistas, approved for the most part, of the lavish designs away from and the move the stale trends bulkiness of wartime. “The of the coats and capes to go over tremendous skirts these is startling,” said for The New one reporter
York Times. “Wide backed in sunray taffeta pleats each and slashed open are so manipulated to the knee that the swing a gracious thing.” of the skirt is Covering the collection journalist, in 1948, another who was particularly pockets, taken by the wrote, “One felt integral that these part of were an the costume for to see the it added great style manikins thrust pushing their hands into them slightly them, forward in a gesture that contributed immeasurably to the movement of the full skirts.”
Strangely, among the synched waists, exaggerated bosoms and extravagant it was actually accessories, the long skirts that seemed to the most controversy. cause While 1940s fashion generally seen skirts had and dresses stop around the knee, somewhere the New Look wasn’t concerned with fabric rationing and so its hems sat around the mid-shin instead.
To some, those inconsequential seemingly inches were seen as a snub to the war effort itself.
However, back in the 1940s, Dior family had seen and his their fair share of involvement in the war. Born in Normandy in moved to Paris 1905, his family when he was a child and the family name was best associated with his father’s lucrative fertiliser company. As an adult, Dior was always submerged in the capital’s eventually falling creative scene, under the guidance
Piguet — the same of Robert fashion designer who is said to have trained Hubert de Givenchy. Sadly short-lived and, this was at 35 years old,
Dior was called for military service up in 1940.
After his two-year service, he returned capital where was to the scooped up as a designer by the
“It was actually the long skirts that seemed to cause the most controversy”
Lucien Lelong. It while Dior is said that worked for Lelong, fashion the team, like many houses during the dressed French Occupation, the wives and family
Nazis members of elite and French collaborators.
However, when Hitler tried to move Parisian haute couture to
Berlin, Lelong travelled
Germany just to to argue against it. battle, saving He won that a workforce of roughly women, often 25,000 seamstresses working fields of embroidery in specialised or beading, that made up of was partly Jewish refugees.
Meanwhile, Dior’s sister Catherine member of was a the French Resistance. of the Polish Allegedly part intelligence unit she based in France, was eventually arrested concentration and imprisoned camp in a in 1944 until its liberation
1945. Two years later in
— in the same year launched his famous that he
‘New Look’ — Dior his first and most released famous fragrance, named after Miss Dior, his sister.
By the time Dior made the cover of magazine in Time
1957, he was easily considered one of the world’s most famous Parisians. just a few months However, later — and only one decade after he was first launched into the spotlight with his New Look — the designer died of a heart attack while on holiday in
Italy at 52 years of age.
While it was a shock to everyone, Dior already personally had named his successor and the role of artistic director fell on the of a young assistant shoulders by the name of Yves
Laurent. However, Saint he only managed to run the company for a few years as he was called his home country back to of Algeria for military service — but he did eventually begin his own self-titled label in 1962.
As a brand, Dior has launched countless perfumes as well as make-up and fashion collections over its
70-year history, each pushing different time trends, styles and including its 1961 silhouettes,
‘The Slim Look’ and its first men’s range in the
1970s. Nothing, however, has come close to recreating the social and historical impact of that first controversial
New Look from February
BELOW The utility-style dresses that were all the rage during World War II
Barbara Goalen models a 1947 New Look evening dress lengths were The New Look’s skirt rationing much longer than fabric had previously allowed BELOW
BELOW A wartime poster encouraging people to reuse old clothes RIGHT Dior poses with models after a fashion show at the Savoy Hotel, London in 1950
Christian Dior fits one of his dresses to a model