Dior’s New Look

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All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Louise Quick

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”

prom­i­nent cou­turier

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

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