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Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve

Although Christian Dior died in 1957, he is perhaps one of the most famous fashion designers of both the 20th and 21st centuries. In the years after the debut of his first collection in 1947 he was a legendary figure and the world press developed an extraordinary love affair with him, increasing their enthusiasm with each new collection. Dior never disappointed them, constantly creating clothes that were newsworthy as well as beautiful.

Dior was middle-aged when he achieved fame. A sensitive and gentle personality, he had previously worked as a fashion illustrator, then as a design assistant for both Robert Piguet and Lucien Lélong in Paris. In 1946 the French textile magnate Marcel Boussac offered to finance the opening of Dior's own couture house and secured the lease on 30 avenue Montaigne, Paris. The first collection was revolutionary, heralded as the "New Look" by the fashion press— Dior himself had christened it the "Corolle Line." It was a composition of rounded shoulders, shapely emphasis of the bust, cinched waist, and curvaceous bell-shaped skirt in luxurious fabric.

The concept of the collection was not new, bearing a striking resemblance to French fashions of the 1860s. Dior himself attributed his inspiration to the pretty, elegant clothes he had remembered his mother wearing to the Deauville races in the 1900s. Even though several other designers had experimented with or predicted the new silhouette, Dior's luxurious version reawakened the world to the importance of Parisian couture. At a standstill during World War II, Paris had lost its way as the world's fashion capital. Dior reestablished it as a center of excellence, creating what Janey Ironside of the Royal College of Art in London described as "a new chance in life, a new love affair."

There were many criticisms of the New Look; feminists have argued it was an attempt to return women to an oppressed, decorative role with its emphasis on the restrictive padding, corset, and crinoline. Others were shocked by the extravagant use of ornament and fabric when clothes were still being rationed. The New Look, however, rapidly became a postwar cultural symbol for what Dior himself described as "Youth, hope, and the future." After creating a furor with his first collection, Dior established himself as a cautious, methodical designer. Subsequent collections were a continuation of the New Look theme of highly constructed clothes. They were christened with names that described their silhouettes, the Zig Zag Line, A Line, Y Line, Arrow Line, etc. All the collections were realized with the finest tailoring and the most sumptuous fabrics: satins, traditional suiting, fine wools, taffetas, and lavish embroideries.

Vintage Dior 1950s    they don’t make em’ like that anymore. so classy. i love this.Throughout Dior's ten years of fame, none of his collections failed, either critically or commercially. The only threat to his run of success occurred when Chanel made a fashion comeback in 1954 at the age of 71. Chanel's philosophy—clothes should be relaxed, ageless, dateless, and easy to wear—completely opposed Dior's philosophy. "Fifties Horrors," was how she described male couturiers, deploring them for torturing bodies into ridiculous shapes. Dior's reaction was to introduce his most unstructured collection, the "Lily of the Valley" line was young, fresh, and unsophisticated. Relaxed, casual jackets with pleated skirts and sailor-collared blouses, these Dior clothes were easy and beautiful.

Many of Dior's associates have said that his death was timely and that his work and fashion philosophy were entirely suited to his period. It would be interesting to speculate how Dior would have adapted to the excesses of fashion in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, because, as his former personal assistant, Madame Raymonde, once said, "If Dior had lived, fashion would not be in the state it is in now." Nor would his business have gone through multiple owners, or his name become so overlicensed its cachet was nearly lost. After years of struggle, the Dior reclaimed its licenses and rebuilt an empire in the capable hands of Bernard Arnault who bought the firm in 1984 from its bankrupt owner, Agache-Willot.

Many top designers have had stints at Dior, including Yves Saint Laurent who took over after Christian's death, followed by Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, and John Galliano. Galliano's bad-boy image brought much attention to Dior, but his designs have reinvigorated the house and once again brought renown to the Dior name.