Christian Dior: An ambassador of couture
Christian Diorís mother, Madeleine, wanted her son to be a political ambassador. Instead, he became an envoy for couture. His designs that hit the war-ravaged Paris of 1947 not just showed off delicate hipped French women in their flawless perfection, but burst out at a time when the city was thirsting for fun and colour after the drab conflict years. Dior was 42 and in an exuberant mood to make the battered and bruised world look gloriously new. And he did just that with a label he named after himself, the first stylist to do so, and with garments that spelt energy and excitement.
And, above all, a beautiful sense of femininity. The long War years had made men out of women, who were called upon to do utterly male jobs and had to, therefore, often wear unflattering and protective clothes. The period of shortages and awful rationing left women with little vigour to look good. Diorís extravagant creations swept them off their feet, and transported them to a sublimely flattering existence.
Christian was born at Angers in France on January 21, 1905, to Madeleine and Maurice Dior. He was their second child, out of the five boys and girls they had. Little Christian was different from the rest: he did not quite look a Norman, and he was docile and loved pottering around his mother, helping her in the garden she loved and designing the house she considered her world.
Later, during World War I, when the Diors moved to Granville on the coast near St Malo, one would assume that Christianís talent as designer emerged, though nobody had the vaguest of inkling that the boy would someday write fashion history. At Granvilleís annual carnival, he would style with remarkable imagination outfits for his siblings.
When this War ended, Christian the teenager spent a lot of his time visiting art galleries and bars, and rubbed shoulders with painters and writers such as Picasso and Cocteau. These associations instilled in Christian the first lessons in the art of dressing, and although family pressure forced him to do a course in political science rather than in fine arts, he never, it would seem, lose sight of the fact that he wanted to be someone quite other than a political envoy.
It was not until he was 41 that he was finally able to establish his own fashion house at 30 Avenue Montaigne in the heart of Paris, just a stoneís throw from the famed Champs Elysees. Christian Dior stands there to this day, proudly telling all those who walk into the building or pass by it that the day of opening was December 16, 1946. The time was nine in the morning, when five people entered its portals. One of them was Dior himself.
Admittedly, Dior had been designing couture for many years before that cold December morning. His friend, Jacques Ozenne, taught him how to perfect his drawings, and soon Diorís styles were being used by all the top couturiers. His hats were especially popular.
1938 he became a full time modeliste, designing the clothes for Robert Piquet. His distinctive creations were an immediate success, particularly a dress called Cafe Anglais, in houndstooth with a petticoat edging. He was fast becoming the person to know. His first foray into theatre design was in 1939, designing the clothes for ďA School for ScandalĒ. He even became more open in his private life, being seen with his companion Jacques Homberg, ten years his junior.
But World War II ended Diorís artistic pursuit, at least for the time being. He had to join the army, and later during the German occupation of Paris, there was a distinct move to ban lively and gay clothes. The Parisian couture scene was clouded with uncertainty and fear. However, it was not for long.
When the War ended, Dior was bent on opening his own establishment, and he knew that he would do so soon, because his astrologer had told him so! Well, it came true.
In 1946, Marcel Boussac, a textile manufacturer, was looking for a designer, and he spotted Dior, whose only condition was that he would design under his own name and label. Boussac agreed, and history was created.
By then Diorís parents were dead, and his commitment to them, particularly his mother, that he would not set up a shop under his name seemed to hold little meaning. He could now name his business Dior without any feeling of betrayal towards his family.
Dior opened his house, and to add a whiff of fragrance to the occasion, he also came out with a new perfume, Miss Dior, which still fascinates women, and, of course, the men who love them.
Diorís tight bodices and long flowing, wide skirts proved to be a hit, despite their initial problem of acceptance. The American Press could never understand why Dior wanted to cover womenís beautiful legs. Dior stuck to his dream of making his woman utterly feminine, and many eventually loved him for that.
Dior, who died of a heart attack in October 1957, undoubtedly defined a great moment in fashion era. He shaped a marquee which still stands for all that is elegant and alluring. Indeed, his name has become synonymous with Parisian chic. Dior is fashion.
(Posted on this website on February 19 2005)