Christian Dior – Structural Designer
Christian Dior (1905-1957) French
Christian Dior originally wanted to become an architect, but was instead directed by his parents to pursue a diplomatic career. Even when he finally became a fashion designer, he did not leave those architectural desires and instincts behind. He used solid, rigid construction to achieve his delicate-looking “femme-fleur” look, sometimes requiring up to 15 yards of fabric for the skirts.
Christian Dior appeared on the scene after World War II, at a time when women were craving luxury and the excess of fabric, trim, and dyes were again possible because wartime rationing had ended. He believed that he “…designed clothes for flower-like women, clothes with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and willowy waists above enormous spreading skirts…” as a contrast to the drab colors and masculine-styled angular clothing that had been worn by women in the past few years during the war. Some thought his new silhouette that emphasized the curves of the women who wore it was also in sympathy with the new need to increase the nation’s birthrate after the war.
Dior never learned to sew or even cut a dress; therefore, the sketches he presented to his team were not always reproducible. He would sometimes assign the same sketch to several teams and then select the muslin that most resembled what he had pictured in his mind.
The House of Dior was in business from 1946 to 1957, before his sudden death of a heart attack. However, his house was able to produce 70 collections in those ten years. Please note that a draft collection for Dior could originally consist of 175 outfits, which over time would be edited down to what would finally appear on a runway.
Hollywood connection: He designed the off-screen clothing for actresses Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, and Irene Dunne.
Home sewing connection: Licensed designs for the Paris Original series for the Vogue pattern company.
His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
- The New Look; known in France as the Corolle (ring of petals) line, was a longer skirt with a smaller waistline silhouette presented in 1947.
- The now iconic ensemble from the New Look collection, the “bar suit”, is one of the most referenced pieces in fashion.
- As part of his training, the young Dior freelanced for Elsa Schiaparelli and Cristobal Balenciaga.
- Dior used boned corsets, rounded, sloping shoulders, built-in petticoats, and hip pads to create the understructure and curved stand-away shape to his garments.
- Some of his collections; the H-line in 1954, A-line, and the Y-line in 1955 were named for the letters that resembled the silhouettes formed by the clothes. The term and shape for the A-line is still known and used to this day.
- The Lily of the Valley was Dior’s favorite flower, the dominant scent behind his fragrance Diorissimo, and the name of his 1954 spring collection, known as Muguet in French.
Images: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
Sources: Dressmakers of France (1956) Mary Brooks Pickens, Dora Loues Miller; Secrets of the Couturiers (1984) Frances Kennett; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski.