One of all the greatest and well known fashion houses in the world is Christian Dior. You might have read about the "New Look", seen photos from a couture show, purchased a perfume or something else but I'm sure that everyone out there can relate to something when they hear Dior.
Christian, the second of five children, and his family lived in a seaside town called Granville on the Normandy coast for five years. Paris was waiting in 1910 for the family and when Christian's mind was set on arts and becoming an architect, his parents wanted him to get a more diplomatic career. Instead of studying arts, he took a degree in politics in Paris at the prestigious Ecole des Sciences Politiques.
In 1928 he finally got to work with art as his father gave him money so he could open an art gallery, Galerie Jacques Bonjean, with only one condition; the family name could not appear over the door. With paintings on the wall by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso the gallery had to close down three years later. To make a living, Christian started to sell fashion sketches to many haute couture houses and later on he had a job as an assistant to Robert Piquet, a couturier.
Hard times came to Paris when the World War II started and Dior himself had to work as an officer. Later on he was offered a job by another couturier, Lucien Lelong, and for the rest of the war he dressed the wives of Nazi officiers and the French collaborators.
The house of Dior started when Christian met Marcel Boussac and told him about his new theory that the public was ready for a new style after the War, a new look with a luxurious silhouette. With 85 employees the house of Dior moved into a grey and white mansion at 30 Avenue Montaigne. He had now his own fashion house, with Bousacc and Jacques Rouët as its administrator, and it was decorated in his favourite colours too.
It was all about the waspy waists, soft shoulders and full flowing skirt. The first Christian Dior couture show was in 1947 and it was a success. There were, of course, rivals in the couture business and the closest were Cristobál Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain but Dior was the biggest haute couture house throughout the 1950's.
With up to two hundred outfits each couture show, 2500 people filed in and out the salons, twice a year, to see the 2 hours long show. The mannequins (the models) were hired in in different sizes and shapes just to show everyone how the clothes would look on different types of women.
Dior also had very talented assistants. Italian-born tailor Pierre Cardin, the star assistant before he left in the late 1940's to start his own business, and Algerian born Yves Saint Laurent who joined the fashion house in 1955 the same year Dior launched a cosmetic range.
Christian Dior's death came by a heart attack in 1957 at a spa in Montecatini, Italy. Marcel Boussac sent his private plane to Italy so they could bring back his body to the funeral in Paris. There was no doubt that he was loved, when over 2000 people attended at the funeral.
Yves Saint Laurent took over the fashion house by the young age of 21 until he opened his own couture house. John Galliano is now the chief designer for Christian Dior since 1996 after Marc Bohan.
The haute couture show twice a year by Dior is still one of the highlights. The extremely luxurious fabrics and well made pieces are still here but o they beat the couture shows from the 1950's with 200 outfits? Impossible!
(Images from flickr.com, harpersbazaar.co.uk, designmuseum.org, britannica.com, style.com)