Christian Dior was a French couturier, best known for his eponymous fashion house which is often referred to as just Dior.
Born in the seaside town of Granville on the coast of Normandy in 1905, he was the son of a wealthy fertiliser manufacturer and was one of five children. Aged five, he moved with his family to Paris.
Although his parents had hopes of him becoming a diplomat, Dior was artistically inclined and began to sell his sketches on the street to make pocket money. Upon leaving school, Dior took over a small art gallery which his father bought for him, where he and a friend sold work by artists including Pablo Picasso.
Following the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, the death of both his mother and his brother, and the collapse of his father's business, Dior was forced to close his art gallery. He then went to work with fashion designer Robert Piguet until he was called up for military service in 1940.
At the end of his service in 1942, he began working for couturier Lucien Long, where he and Pierre Balmain were the primary designers. During the war, Lelong - like other French ateliers including Jeanne Lanvin and Nina Ricci - dressed the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators as a way of preserving the fashion industry throughout the conflict for both economic and artistic reasons.
At the same time, Dior's younger sister Catherine joined the French Resistance, resulting in her capture by the Gestapo and subsequent imprisonment at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She survived and was liberated in 1945. In 1947, Dior named his debut fragrance Miss Dior as a tribute to her.
He founded the house of Christian Dior on December 16, 1946 at 30 Avenue Montaigne Paris, backed by Marcel Boussac, a cotton-fabric magnate. Officially, the house of Dior considers 1947 to be the year of conception as that is when Dior showed his first collection.
On February 12, 1947, Dior showed his debut collection,
presenting the 90 different looks. Named "Corolle" and "Huit", the
lines were quickly christened the "New Look", a phrase coined by
US *Harper's Bazaar * magazine editor Carmel Snow.
The look consisted of a calf-length, full skirt, a cinched waist
and fuller bust than had been seen since the turn of the century. A
rebuttal to post-war fabric restrictions - the average dress used
20 yards of fabric - the look received some criticism upon release.
The opulence of his designs contrasted with the grim post-war
reality of Europe, and helped re-establish Paris as the joyful
fashion capital it had once been.
The house was inundated with orders and world-famous stars such as Rita Hayworth and Margot Fonteyn bought and wore pieces, raising Dior's profile significantly. Dior was even invited to stage a private presentation of the collection for the British royal family - although King George V reportedly forbade the young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, from wearing the New Look in case it set a bad example at a time when rationing was still in force.
He was known to be very superstitious, a quality which increased with age. Each collection included a coat named after his place of birth, Granville; in each show at least one model wore a bunch of his favourite flower, lily of the valley; and he never began a couture show without having consulted his tarot card reader.
Dior established a luxury ready-to-wear house on the corner of 5thAvenue and 57thStreet in New York in November 1948. It was the first of its kind. In the same year, he launched Dior Parfums - with Miss Dior being the first fragrance to launch, and Diorama launching the following year.
In 1949, Dior was the first couturier to arrange licensed production of his designs. Having realised the importance of the complete look - and that the New Look could not be successfully achieved without the correct Dior shoes, gloves and hat - Dior, together with business partner Jacques Rouët, licensed his name to a range of luxury accessories. Furs, stockings, ties and perfume were also manufactured in regional centres across the world, spreading his brand name quickly around the globe. Although this move was heavily criticised by the French Chamber of Couture - who denounced the move as cheapening the haute couture industry - licensing became a profitable move for Dior and the atelier's lesson was followed by nearly all of the period's fashion houses.
In 1955, the 19-year-old Yves Saint Laurent became Dior's design assistant. Christian Dior later met with Yves Saint Laurent's mother, Lucienne Mathieu-Saint Laurent, in 1957 to tell her that he had chosen Saint Laurent to succeed him at Dior. She said at the time she had been confused by the remark, as Dior was only 52 at the time.
Shortly after his meeting with Saint Laurent's mother, Christian Dior suffered a fatal heart attack on October 24, 1957, leaving the house in disarray. Some 2,500 people attended his funeral, including all of his staff and famous clients led by the Duchess of Windsor. In an attempt to stabilise the label, Jacques Rouët appointed the then-21-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent as artistic director.
Saint Laurent remained in the position until he was conscripted into the army, during which time he was dismissed from Dior by Rouët and replaced by Marc Bohan. Bohan proved very successful as Saint Laurent's replacement, defining a new era and new silhouette for Dior, the Slim Look, a more modern and svelte version of Dior's iconic shape.
In 1978, the Boussac Group filed for bankruptcy and its assets, including Dior, were sold to the Willot Group. After it went into administration, Bernard Arnault and his investment group purchased the Willot Group's holdings for "one symbolic franc" in 1984. On assuming power, Arnault drastically altered Dior's operations. In 1985, Arnault became chairman, CEO and managing director of Christian Dior. He repositioned it as the holding company Christian Dior S.A and in 1988, took a 32 per cent equity stake into the share capital of LVMH creating one of the leading and most influential luxury goods conglomerates in the world, whilst Christian Dior remains to stand alone as a megabrand in it's own right.
Gianfranco Ferre was made stylistic director of Christian Dior in 1989, replacing Marc Bohan. He remained in this position until 1997.
In 1997, Arnault appointed British designer John Galliano to replace Marc Bohan at the creative helm. "Galliano has a creative talent very close to that of Christian Dior. He has the same extraordinary mixture of romanticism, feminism and modernity that symbolised Monsieur Dior. In all of his creations - his suits, his dresses - one finds similarities to the Dior style," said Arnault of Galliano.
Galliano was creative director of Christian Dior until March 2011, when he was dismissed after being filmed slurring anti-Semitic remarks and allegedly assaulting a member of the public whilst heavily intoxicated in a Paris bar. Galliano's former-design director Bill Gayten headed up the house until April 9 2012 when it was announced, after more than a year of rumour and speculation, that Raf Simons had taken over as 'artistic director' at the house.
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