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.
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.