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Following his father’s wishes, Dior registered at the Ecole de Sciences Politiques in Paris after passing his baccalaureate. Jean Ozenne, who was designing for couture houses, introduced Dior to the fashion world and to his clientele.
In June 1938 Robert Piguet offered him a position as a designer in his couture studio located at the Rond Point of the Champs Elysees. Dior was mobilized at the outbreak of war in 1939 and then joined his family in the unoccupied zone of France after the 1940 armistice.
After the Liberation, Dior’s colleague Pierre Balmain opened his own couture house in 1945 on rue Francois 1er and encouraged Dior to do the same.
In 1946 Dior chose a private mansion located at 30, avenue Montaigne as the site of his own firm, which was established on 8 October 1946.
With this impetus, Dior spent the last ten years of his life developing his couture house and extending his influence on world fashion.
In 1948 the Christian Dior perfume company was set up, and it launched the second fragrance, Diorama, in 1949, followed by Eau Fraiche (1953) and Diorissimo (1956); the first lipsticks came out in 1955.
The growth of the house was fostered by a simple and effective public relations policy: little direct advertising but excellent relations with the press, which guaranteed great visibility for the fashions as well as for their creator (who was featured on the cover of Time on 4 March 1957).
The attention given to the collections was intensified each year by the expectation—followed by the announcement—of a new major change (affecting, notably, the length of skirts). Differing in their lines, his creations were always related to one another through the constancy of certain characteristics. Stylistically, Dior’s creations were frequently distinguished by ornaments that came directly from pre-1914 fashion.
In parallel with this nostalgic neo-neo-Louis XVI style, a veritable mirroring of pastiche, Christian Dior seemed throughout his career to draw the material artifice of his pleated, draped, corseted, and decorated effects from the clothing vocabulary of the Belle Epoque. Neither the structural artifices nor the proliferation of appliqued ornaments interfered with the readability of the line.
The constancy of stylistic borrowings from the past revealed a veritable postmodernist stance on the part of this man who was so admirably ensconced in his century.
It is strange that in 1956 people applied the names avant-garde and aesthetic of the future to the works and the masters that we had admired between the ages of fifteen and twenty and who had already been famous for ten years among the most aware of our elders, guided by Guillaume Apollinaire. By conforming the feminine silhouette to design, by dictating the choice of accessories and the circumstances appropriate for every outfit, the couturier left little room for personal expression, risk, and feminine fantasy. Christian Dior was, in succession, an avant-garde amateur, an artisan of a kind of return to order, and, finally, a manufacturer of elegance.
Descendant of a manufacturing family of the Norman bourgeoisie, Dior spent his early childhood in the comfortable surroundings of the family villa, Les Rhumbs, located on the Channel coast in Granville, which now houses a museum dedicated to his memory. He eagerly followed Parisian artistic developments and met various writers, painters, and musicians, befriending, among others, Pierre Gaxotte, Maurice Sachs, Jean Ozenne and his cousin Christian Berard, Max Jacob, and Henri Sauguet. Christian Dior opened his first salon in Paris in 1946 and had expanded his network of shops to twenty-four countries before his death by a heart attack in 1957.
At the age of thirty, Dior devoted himself to studying fashion drawing, referring only to what he knew and appreciated of Edward Molyneux, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Jeanne Lanvin.
Piguet, still in Paris, asked him to resume his prewar position, but Dior was late in replying and found the position already taken by Antonio del Castillo in the fall of 1941.


Marcel Boussac, a major French textile manufacturer and president of the cotton-marketing syndicate, offered Dior the artistic direction of the Gaston firm (formerly called Philippe et Gaston) on rue Saint-Florentin. From the outset, it also had, on the ground floor, a shop selling articles and accessories not requiring fitting.
The newcomer among couture houses, Christian Dior finally unveiled, at the conclusion of the winter shows, his first collection for spring 1947. Dior opened a stocking and glove division in 1951 and established the Christian Dior Delman company, which made shoes designed by Roger Vivier; finally, the Paris shop added a gifts and tableware department in 1954. Structurally, the dresses came out of the intention to sculpt the silhouette along predefined lines. Christian Dior thereby gave his signature to the first democratization of taste, if not of fashion. The first superstar couturier, he died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-two in Bagni di Montecatini, Italy. In 1927, after his military service and with his father’s support, he opened an art gallery at 34, rue de la Boetie. His impoverished family abandoned Paris, retreating first to Normandy and later taking refuge in the village of Callian, near Cannes.
Dior then went to work for Lucien Lelong, together with another young designer, Pierre Balmain. The management team, in addition to the head couturier, included a financial director (Jacques Rouet), a studio head (Raymonde Zehnacker, who came from Lelong), a head of workshops (Marguerite Carre, who came from Patou), and an artistic adviser and head of high-fashion design (Mitzah Bricard, a designer from Molyneux).
Salons and shops were decorated by Victor Grampierre in tones of white and pearl gray and furnished in neo-Louis XVI style. Considered the opening shot for the New Look, it immediately gained notoriety for the couturier at the age of forty-two.
The range of products with the Dior label was enlarged thanks to a very innovative policy for licenses, the first of which was granted in 1949. In Christian Dior et moi (1956), Dior described his career, strewn with Parisian celebrities, pitfalls, coups de theatre, and palm readers’ predictions. Whether it was the New Look, the Shock Look (the English name for the Vivante line), or the Flat Look (the H line), the body was always strongly stylized.
As evidence of an eclectic sensibility, the ornamental resources derived from turn-of-the-century fashion were effectively deployed with a concern for modernity hostile to the composite. It enabled him to satisfy an enormous public, who saw in Christian Dior, whatever their national or individual clothing cultures, the label of a guaranteed elegance. The financier Marcel Boussac thought at the time of closing the house, but in the face of pressure from license holders, he appointed the young assistant Yves Saint Laurent as artistic director, and in this way the label survived its founder.
Because his parents refused to have their name on a commercial sign, the establishment was given the name of his associate, Jacques Bonjean.
Dior stayed behind in Paris, closing his first gallery and later joining the gallery of Pierre Colle on the rue Cambaceres. He repeated the process in Caracas in 1953 (Christian Dior Venezuela), in London in 1954 (Christian Dior, Ltd.), and later in Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Cuba. By this means, the label was attached to all the accessories of female dress, from girdle to jewelry, but also, and very early on, to totally distinct articles, such as Christian Dior Ties (1950).


In passing, he reassured the reader about the motives for his long-ago trip to the Soviet Union and emphasized his admiration for the entrepreneurial spirit, thus helping to forge the paradoxical myth of the creator of scandals with a reassuring face. The conception of each model seemed to be guided only by emphasis on a single effect at a time. In the end, Dior’s conception of a wearable fashion was also that of an exportable fashion. When Yves Saint Laurent left in 1960, Marc Bohan took his place and held it until Gianfranco Ferre took over in 1989.
The gallery exhibited the works of such contemporary artists as Giorgio de Chirico, Maurice Utrillo, Salvador Dali, Raoul Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Leger, Jean Lurcat, Pablo Picasso, Ossip Zadkine, Georges Braque, and Aristide Maillol. The personality of Lucien Lelong, the clever president of the Chambre syndicate de la couture parisienne (association of haute couture) throughout the German occupation of France, deeply influenced the future couturier.
The hips swelled or shrank thanks to the choice of materials able to express in shapes the energetic and tense designs of the couturier: shantung, ottoman silk, thick taffetas and satins, velvet, organza, woolen cloth, and cotton pique generally replaced the customary use of fluid woolen and silk crepes. From one model to the next, one’s attention was shifted, for example, from the emphasis of a cut to the shimmering of a pattern or to the luxuriance of the embroidery.
Their designs upheld the image of a couture distanced from the multiple challenges and manifestos of contemporary fashion. He dressed, for example, the actress Odette Joyeux in Captain Smith by Jean Blanchon (at the theatre des Mathurins, December 1939) and in The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan (at the same theater, February 1940). After his study trip to the United States in 1935 and the launch of his Edition line, Dior had developed an interest in foreign markets and high-end ready-to-wear. But it was not until 1967 that a real line of ready-to-wear was distributed, under the label Miss Dior. Originator of a style that used a large quantity of material, artifices, and ornaments, Christian Dior stimulated the growth of a number of parallel industries: corset makers, feather makers, embroiderers, makers of costume jewelry, flower designers, and also illustrators. But by choosing as his favorite period one in which taste was eclectic, the designer avoided the domination of a single style in order to free himself to adopt all possible reinterpretations of the past. The directed gaze, channeled by the erasure of the superfluous—by the notorious choice of uniform and subdued colors when the cut was to be emphasized or, on the contrary, the choice of a simple cut to emphasize the fabric—guaranteed the visual impact of each model and pointed up its strong identity. The classicism of Christian Dior was not shaken until the arrival in 1997 of John Galliano, who revived the active media exposure established by Dior himself. He survived on the sale of one of his last canvases, Le plan de Paris of Raoul Dufy, which the designer Paul Poiret had sold to Dior when he was in similar destitute circumstances. Thus, the image of the creations of Christian Dior includes the shoes of Roger Vivier, the prints of Brossin de Mere, the tulles of Brivet, the fabrics of Rebe (Rene Begue) and Georges Barbier, the jewels of Francis Winter, and the drawings of Rene Gruau. It thus was beyond the individual model and only in the course of the show that the succession of appearances enabled the presentation of an aesthetic of the whole, both composite and romantic. As for furs and hats, they were manufactured in specialized workshops of the couture house.



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