Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christian Dior and House of Dior

Welcome to our latest in the series on iconic fashion designers.

Christian Dior - the fashion house, also known as House of Dior - was founded in 1946 in Paris by Christian Dior - the guy. World War Two was just over, and he decided the new era of peace and plenty needed new clothes, and came up with a famous silhouette that's actually a throwback to the Victorian era, without the bustle:

It even came with killer undergarments, a miniature corset:

It was called a 'waspie' by many people, in reference to the wasp-waist of Dior's fashions.

He called it 'corolle' or corolla, the circle of flower petals in a flower. But fashion commentary began calling it 'The New Look', and the name stuck.

The New Look was 'invented', so to speak, in 1946, but thanks to clothes rationing still in effect in many places, it didn't catch on until the 1950s. For several years, then, women couldn't decide if they liked it, or hated it because it covered up their legs, required corsets, and used an unholy amount of fabric. (Add in, on a personal note, I'll bet it was damn hot in summer.) But, really, it looked so good, as usual, women got suckered in.

By 1949 Dior fashions accounted for 5% of France's entire export revenue. For the entire freaking country. They began licensing the Dior name for parfum (ha, read too many French articles today), jewelery, lingerie, men's ties, well, you name it. The New Look appeared in Vogue - the real Vogue - in November 1954.

That clinched it. They were pretty much unstoppable.

Dior continued, grinding out variations on the theme, until he passed away in 1957. As well as a huge loss to his family, it threw a major wrench in the works at House of Dior. After a bit of a scramble, a new designer was located, and Yves Saint-Laurent was hired. (Yes, THAT Yves Saint-Laurent; give me a while, he'll get his own blog post eventually.) Unfortunately for St.L, about the same time he was hired, hippies in the US were burning their bras and wouldn't be caught dead in an actual CORSET, so between general chaos and changing markets, it was anybody's ball game for about six years. It shows in the clothes.

They went from a very well-defined design structure to, well, who-knows what. Although one awesome thing came from that design house, in that era: The trapeze dress or trapeze cut.

If you wear summer dresses, I bet you've got at least one, cut like this, in your closet. Both comfortable and flattering, it's quite a brilliant idea.

After 1965, House of Dior let St. Laurent go. They brought in Marc Bohan, who is given credit for 'rescuing' the fashion house and keeping it solvent. He went back to giving the nod to the New Look, while trying to update it, with varying amounts of success. There's only so much you can do with the New Look before it looks like Something Else. Still, there were hits.

And misses.

In their defense, Dior has always been known (well, almost always been known) for beautifully tailored clothes. So it was rough going in the seventies and eighties when everyone was ditching tailored anything and slouching around in loose, baggy clothes, and loafers with no socks. We rolled up the sleeves of our blazers, for crying out loud! What was Dior supposed to do?!? Okay, produce blazers with rolled sleeves, but adaptation is a bitch for any company.

I think during the eighties they survived on licensing, judging from the looks of the fashion books and sites I've looked at. Particularly sunglasses. Oh, and shoes. Unholy amounts of shoes.

In 1989 Bohan departed House of Dior (in a swirling cloud of parfum, no doubt) and Gianfranco Ferré replaced him, with another minor scrambling of the design concepts.

It's interesting, how every one of these designers managed to - for the most part - keep the wasp waist, mid-calf length, hourglass figure, even the monochrome color, yet totally mix it up.

John Galliano was the last change in designers in 1997, and heads House of Dior today. He kicked things off by going back to the original New Look (which was originally Victorian, har). His first collection with Dior got off to a real bang, with a sort of space-age New Look thing going on.

Totally. Badass. If I ever wore suits, I'd wear the hell out of one of those. In orange, please.

He followed it up with a ball gown.

New Look turned up to eleven.

So the New New Look is actually the Old New Look, and... oh, who cares. It's awesome.

And what inspired today's blog post? The Spring-Summer 2011 collection, of course.

Look familiar? Monsieur Dior would approve, I'm sure.

The dark side to Dior and his New Look is, of course, the impossible body image it conveys. It's been credited (by some) as almost singlehandedly causing the epidemic of anorexia. Although I think that's a little harsh, I do think that the New Look represents a huge step backward in terms of sensible and healthy clothing. Even now we're going through another round of girdles and corsets, as we rage about health and lifestyle. Dior didn't cause it, he certainly didn't invent it, but I wonder how we'd dress now, if no one had the grand idea, back in 1946, to put women back in 'waspies'.


I want to resurrect Christian Dior and hear what he's got to say to John Galliano about THIS:

ETA: As of March 1, 2011, John Galliano is no longer the head designer at House of Dior. We'll have to wait and see how the next person re-interprets the New Look.


historicstitcher said...

I am so ticked - I wrote a really long reply to this, and BLOGGER ATE IT.

You would have liked it.


Roxie said...

Ah, what a treat! You do such wonderful reviews!!

I remember eras when waistlines wandered up and down everywhere but at Dior. My first prom dress (1964)looked like one of this summer's designs with a modest little jacket.

bobbins said...

No wonder my mother used to harp at me for my fashion choices. She spent her 20's in the post-war years and I spent them in the 80's.

Beautiful clothing, and it was a treat to see how each of the designers translated the "New Look" theme. Thank you!

historicstitcher said...

OK, I'm going to try this again.

I honestly believe that Dior had far less to do with the increase in eating disorders than Jane Fonda does.

For the first time in centuries of fashion in the European tradition, we have an "ideal shape" that is expected to be attained without the use of shaping undergarments. For centuries, women could buy the latest shape, or copy it at home, simply by changing their corset. Even the portliest of women could approximate the fashionable shape through corsetry.

Now, starting with some burning bras in the 60s, we're expected to attain the ideal shape through EXERCISE AND DIET ONLY, which puts the burden on conforming to the fashion on genetics and on the woman herself, instead of on the clothing.

Essentially, if you are not blessed with the "right" shape, and work hard at both diet and exercise, you are "wrong." It's about as attainable as making it fashionable to be tall. Oh, wait, that did happen, and it was solved through the use of platform shoes...

It doesn't sound that bad yet, but when you put the burden of conformation on a woman's eating and exercising, you hold her responsible for the shape of her body. Ergo, if she does not fit the "ideal shape" it is because of HER failure, and I don't mean her failure to purchase fashionable underwear.

The lumps, bumps, ridges, and rolls that naturally occur as we age (or gain weight) are considered to be indicators of personal weaknesses rather than as indicators of relative wealth.

That leaves us in an era where wealth buys the leisure and luxury to buy nutritionists, cooks, and personal trainers, as well as the leisure to pursue the hours and hours at the gym perfecting the body that in another era would have been sculpted to the desired shape through clever sewing. The need for shaping garments like spanx is an embarrassment, an admission of failure.

I could really get going on this, and should really make my own post, as I think that fitness/body sculpting replaced fasion as the indicator of status and wealth with the rise of the middle class and more-affordable mass-produced fashionable clothing.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this. And should I start writing a huge HS post?

Sada said...

Julie, you are my research and review heroine :) Fantastic post.

I agree that Dior is not to blame for the body image obsession thing. Some women *do* naturally have an hourglass figure, and that body type has been regarded as attractive (to men) for a very, very long time. Dior's "New Look" was simply a return to that idealized view of a woman's figure (back to the Victorian era, as you point out). But it isn't what *all* women naturally look like. And that leads to women who are only following what current "fashion" dictates (see: lead-based facial creams for that perfect "never worked a day in the sun" pale completion; foot-binding; 1200cc breast implants)instead of choosing what makes them healthy and look *their* most attractive subjecting themselves to painful and/or potentially harmful things. (As a less extreme example, all those naturally brunette starlets who undergo frequent hair bleaching come to mind. Most of them look much better with their natural hair color, but "everyone knows gentlemen prefer blondes.")

Many women are far too willing to "suffer for beauty" in order to try to become a stylized stereotype of what is attractive to men. I'd rather find a guy who is attracted to the actual me ;-)

Louiz said...

I really like the New Look style. And I agree with what Historic Stitcher said. I have a really interesting book on the cultural aspects of corsets (can't remember the title right now) which shows that women were trying to control their shapes with corsets (which were not the badly constricting things history paints them until reinforced lace holes were invented), for centuries. Why should we, now we (in general) disdain shape controlling undergarments, blame ourselves for what previous generations of women never had to cope with?

And, the New Look didn't just have waspies, they had hip padding too to emphasise the shape.

Stepping off the soapbox now...

NeedleTart said...

Do you think they sent that last model down the runway with antlers on her head?

Kathleen said...

Mmmm, thanks for the eye candy!

Carrie said...

I'm mostly impressed because I could picture an actual person wearing almost everything pictured. Granted for some of them it'd have to be a special occasion, but they're not the kind of clothes that you look at and wonder what the hell the designer was thinking.

Leah said...

This is terrific! I have my mother's wedding dress. 1954. Very New Look. It is a bit altered now due to fixing mouse chews but still a wonderfully constructed piece.

The anorexia thing has been going on a long time, it seems to me. It was very popular in the Victorian era, and I do believe Princess Charolette died in childbirth with some historian deciding she was not fed enough during her pregnancy.

I am starting to think some rather firm undies would be a welcome thing. Part of it is I need more exercise and part of it is just the genneral droop of age.

Yes, camoflage evening gown, indeedy.

Corlis said...

Since your post, Dior showed John Galliano the door. Any idea whose in line to replace him?

Amy Lane said...

LOL-- well, maybe that's what has been missing from my life--I've NEVER been able to wear dior! Lovely review, sweetie-- I carry your Chanel one in the back of my mind at all times, and I think this one's gonna stick too!