It only takes to whisper of Christian Dior to open the doors to a mythical universe. Mythical as its founder, who was able to lay the foundations for a project of style and elegance in only ten years, that left a mark in the following sixty years. To tell the story of this brand, we need to talk about the iconic designers who wrote many successful chapters. Today The Blonde Salad is going to tell you everything about the history of Christian Dior!
From 1947 to 1957: Christian Dior created the New Look
Born in Granville, Normandy, in 1905, Christian Dior started his career in fashion in 1937, after he left his courses at École des Sciences Politiques and he opened an art gallery, which closed after the financial crisis of his family company. His very first experience as a fashion designer is in Robert Piguet‘s atelier, where he had the opportunity to sign three collections. He left Piguet when he was called up for military service, but in 1942 he started to work at Lucien Lelong, where he became head designer together with Pierre Balmain.
In 1946, Christian Dior met Marcel Boussac, a cotton entrepreneur and one of French richest men. He asked Dior to work with him to relaunch Philippe et Gaston, but Dior refused: he wished to make a fresh start under his own name rather than reviving an old brand. These words pushed Boussac to give Dior the financial support for the opening of his own fashion house, established on October 8th, 1946. His concept of fashion and femininity is opposite to wartime austerity and Coco Chanel’s style. The idea of “flower-women” is his main inspiration in shaping a new wardrobe that could enhance the feminine silhouette. His skirts are designed like flower petals: he used wasp-waisted corsets and petticoats that made his dresses flare out from the waist.
February 2nd, 1947: this is the birth date of the New Look. Carmel Snow, Harper’s Bazaar former editor-in-chief, is the one who used these words to describe Christian Dior style, that seemed to be so new to the fashion world. He reinterpreted many iconic pieces from the fashion of the past, like corsets and petticoats, but they’re revisited in a modern way, with luxury fabrics, rich embroideries, flirting details like bows and new prints like animalier. A new fashion era is born: France regained its place in the fashion world after the drama of World War II. The symbol of Dior’s style revolution is the iconic Bar suit.
In the Fifties, Dior’s style became a true must-have for all the women who dreamt about elegance and femininity. Movie stars like Rita Hayworth and Gina Lollobrigida and celebrities like The Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson and Evita Peron endorsed this new fashion concept. In these years, Dior launched his first successful fragrances, such as Miss Dior and Diorama. At the top of his career, after only ten years from the brand’s foundation, Christian Dior dies during a vacation in Italy in Montecatini Terme. His assistant Yves Saint Laurent, who only a few months before was designated as his successor, took the brand’s helm.
From 1957 to 1989: Yves Saint Laurent’s debut and Marc Bohan’s age
Yves Saint Laurent was Dior’s first assistant since 1953. His first collection of Trapèze dresses was a huge success, but But the next collections didn’t gain the same appreciation as the first. When Saint Laurent found himself conscripted to serve in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence, Boussac decided to fire him and to promote Marc Bohan, who was head designer of Christian Dior London Line, as creative director of the maison.
Marc Bohan had the greatest impact on Christian Dior’s aesthetics. He led the way for the brand for almost 30 years, bringing the house of Dior to fame and success all over the world thanks to new collections and new iconic pieces. If Dior’s concept was the New Look, Bohan was the creator of the Slim look, focusing more on long silhouettes. The French designer turned the atelier into a global brand: in 1967 he launched the Miss Dior ready to wear, while in 1970 he designed the first collection of Christian Dior Homme. In the upcoming years, he signed first licensing agreements for kidswear and makeup collections. His muses are Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy.
The creativity shined, but revenues and profits were not so brilliant. Boussac group went bankrupt in 1978, and it was purchased by Willot Group, that three years later had to face the same destiny. Bernard Arnault and his investment group purchased it for one symbolic franc in December 1984. Upon assuming leadership, Arnault did away with the company’s mediocre textile operations, to focus on Christian Dior. Four years later, Arnault became the majority shareholder of LVMH, creating what would become one of the leading and most influential luxury goods companies in the world. Under this merger, the operations of Christian Dior Couture and Christian Dior Parfums were once again united. This deal was a revolution for the brand also on the creative side: in 1989, Gianfranco Ferré, the first non-French man to take the helm of the most French fashion brand, replaced Marc Bohan.
The Nineties and the 2000s: Gianfranco Ferré’s strictness and John Galliano’s flamboyant style
Unlike Dior himself and Bohan, Ferré left behind traditional Dior associations of flirtation and romance and introduced concepts and a style described as sobriety and strictness. In these years, the brand set his global expansion and it was listed on Paris’ Stock Exchange.
In 1997, Bernard Arnault decided to bet everything on another non-French designer. It was the British John Galliano, who entered the LVMH group a few years before as Givenchy’s creative director. After some successful collections, and the support of Vogue America‘s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Galliano was hired to bring Dior into the new millennium. It was also the 50th anniversary from the brand foundations, celebrated with a monumental exhibition at Met Costume Institute with Bohan, Ferré and Galliano.
Galliano’s oniric and maximalist aesthetics was like a reaction to Ferré’s strictness. Every collection was a show itself, with many so many inspirations. Spring-summer 2000 collection, inspired to the world of cowboys, was the setting of one of the most iconic accessories of the Maison, the Saddle bag. Galliano was responsible for the whole images of the maison, and its provocative and eclectic style brought the house into a new chapter, thanks also to models like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen.
Galliano’s chapter ended all of sudden. In February 2011, Galliano was filmed in a café in Paris’ Marais, making anti-Semitic remarks. Later, Galliano said he was out of control for his alcohol abuse, but also for the huge pressure upon him to design more than 15 collections a year. Arnault immediately fired him and left everything in the hands of his assistant, Bill Gaytten.
The 2010s: Dior after Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri
After almost a year from Galliano’s divorce, Dior met his new creative director. It was Raf Simons, a Belgian designer who was at the helm of Jil Sander. He’s known as a minimalist designer, and his duty was to bring Dior into a new level of style. The creation of his first Haute Couture collection is the topic of the beautiful documentary Dior & I. Simons has a really contemporary approach to couture, bringing Dior to new levels of experimentation.
But Simons, as well, started to feel too much pressure on him. In October 2015, after less than three years, the designer decided to step down. The Dior’s baton got in the hands of the first woman ever to lead the house: Maria Grazia Chiuri, Valentino‘s former creative director together with Pier Paolo Piccioli. The Italian designer took the helm of Dior near the 70th anniversary of the brand, celebrated with a huge retrospective at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Thanks to Chiuri, Dior is now one of the favourite brands for Millennials customer: with the J’Adior claim and feminist T-shirts, Dior is still growing as the most influential brand in the world.
Dior in 2018
Led by Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior is now a street style phenomenon. The most famous fashion influencers are wearing everyday Dior pieces, especially its best-seller accessories: Lady Dior bag and Saddle bag, both designed for the first time by John Galliano, and the new Book Tote, the customizable shopper that all Instagram’s fashion icons love to show on Instagram.
Dior’s number one fan? Our dearest Chiara Ferragni! It’s not easy to remember all the beautiful Dior look she wore in these years. It’s one of her favourite brands, and she loves to wear it at fashion shows, events, photo shoots but also during her everyday life! She shares this passion with many other celebrities, like Dior’s ambassadors Bella Hadid, Winnie Harlow and Jennifer Lawrence.
Have you guys enjoyed Christian Dior’s history? Take a look at many others iconic fashion moments through the gallery below!