Christian Dior (1905 – 1957) Native of France and primarily known for his fashion designs, Christian Dior was born in Granville, a seaside town on the coast of Normandy. When he was five, the family moved to Paris.
Dior’s wealthy parents hoped their son would become a diplomat but Dior’s artistic inclinations prevailed. As he entered his 20’s, he scraped out a living by selling his fashion sketches for about ten cents each from the sidewalks near his home.
In 1928, Dior left school and, with financial help from his father, opened a small art gallery where he and a friend sold art including works by Picasso. During the Great Depression, his father suffered financial disaster in the family’s fertilizer business. This resulted in his father losing control of the gallery and Dior Frères closed.
Dior worked for fashion designer Robert Piguet and he designed for three Piguet collections. In his later years, Dior credited Piguet for teaching him, “…the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.” One of Dior’s originals for Piguet, a day dress with a short, full skirt was well received. During his years at Piguet, Dior met and worked with and met Pierre Balmain, Piguet’s house designer. Balmain was succeeded by Marc Bohan who, in 1950, became head of design for Christian Dior, Paris.
Dior left Piguet’s for military service at the beginning of World War II. Dior left the military in 1942 and began working for the fashion house of Lucien Lelong. It was here that he and Balmain were the primary designers. Like other fashion houses of the time that included Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci Lelong’s struggled to remain in business during the war. To remain afloat, they designed dresses for Nazi officers’ wives and French collaborators.
In December 1946, Dior opened his fashion house with the support of Marcel Boussac, a cotton-fabric magnate. The first collection introduced in 1947 became known as “New Look,” a phrase that Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar coined for it.
Dior’s designs made dresses flare from the waist, giving his models curvaceous forms. Initially women resisted his designs because they covered up their legs and used a lot of fabric for a single dress or suit. But opposition diminished with the end of wartime shortages. The “New Look” revolutionized women’s fashion and reestablished Paris as the center haute couture after World War II.
The first Dior store opened in Paris at 30 avenue Montaigne where, over the years, it remodeled and expanded. By 1953, Dior occupied five floors, had twenty-eight workshops and employed over a thousand people. The “modest townhouse” of 1946 evolved into a labyrinth of buildings on the corner of avenue Montaigne.
In 1949, Dior opened a boutique in New York City and, in 1950, began a licensing program that placed the name of “Christian Dior” on a variety of luxury items beginning with neckties and soon expanded to hosiery, furs, hats, gloves, handbags, jewelry, lingerie, and scarves.
Christian Dior’s jewelry were originally selected to complement his fashions and their production was limited. Dior was the first designer to use Aurora Borealis rhinestones. He gave painstaking attention to detail in these creations making it clear that these accessories were not a mere afterthought.
That tradition, often inspired by the rose, Dior’s favorite flower, continues today. Dior’s love of the French countryside is evident in jewelry collections that feature pieces inspired by wild roses and the lily of the valley. Figural designs of animals are also recurring themes.
All of Dior’s jewelry pieces were signed and dated. A number of well- known designers have made collections for Dior. Mitchell Maer held the jewelry license for Dior jewelry from 1950 to 1957. In America, Kramer of New York held the jewelry license from 1950 to 1957; also Henkel and Grosse, Josette Gripoix, and Kramer. The Mitchell Maer pieces, designed between 1952 and 1956, are highly sought after.
Dior died while vacationing in Montecatini, Italy in October 1957. Today, the center of Dior is still at 30, avenue Montaigne where it continues to inspire its designers.