Before Christian Dior became one of France’s finest fashion designers, his father was dead set on the boy becoming a politician. This, the elder Dior thought, would keep his young son out of trouble and elevate the family’s status to one of respect and control. What a shame it must have been to the patriarch to hear his son has no government ambitions but rather preferred to sketch fashion designs and works of art. Looking back now, all that fear that the Dior family name would be lost in obscurity seems ill-founded, almost foolish. Thanks to the imagination and determination behind his early work. Dior rose to prominence and is now a household name in luxury fashion. This summer, officials in Paris decided to honor his iconic work with a spacious exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs dedicated to the Dior legacy. Here are some key moments captured in this sweeping display.
THE NEW LOOK
After years as a treasured apprentice and wartime designer, Dior finally came into his own during the artistic renaissance following WWII. With many countries still overcoming harsh rations and conservative, box-shaped attire, Christian took what he loved about French fashion before the war and tweaked it into what became known as the New Look, fashion’s most influential post-war style trend. Bustier bodices like these were just one part of this significant shift in women’s couture.
THE JUJON DRESS
For his 1949-1950 collection, Dior dared to carry his newfound discoveries a little further. Rather than stopping with filled-out bar dresses, the young designer stepped out on a limb and crafted one of history’s most iconic luxury dresses. Made with silk and covered in sequins, the gown was meant to evoke a mythological deity with weightless grace. Not bad for innovative thinking in the early 50s, right?
OPÉRA BOUFFE DRESS
For lovers of pink, those obsessed with frills, and anyone else looking for a good time, there’s an opera dress from 1956 for you to try. Given that pink is all over the place these days, you’ll blend right in with the right crowd. Can’t you just feel the bubble gum shade eating away at your eyes right now?
The Parisian exhibition of Dior’s work passes over many of his designs during the 60s and 70s to get back to the good stuff. It’s not that his older stuff is bad, but it feels less revolutionary after that initial break in the 50s. It took some reevaluating to come up with what should be the next big idea for Dior. As things turned out, it seems the next exciting product from this label is a Palladio, a slimming gown with simple sleeves and a bodice design inspired by ancient Greece.
Once the influential John Galliano took the reins as Dior’s chief artistic director, things started to change up even more. A non-conformist to the core when it comes to creation, Galliano took his Eastern experience and translated it over to America couture, giving us the gorgeous Shéhêrazade ensemble.
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs must be meticulous because they’re displaying pieces that haven’t gone on sale yet and some exclusive items making their first debut in the exhibit space. These fringed floral dresses feel rustic but too beautiful for that deep-seated Americana aura. Rather, you should be wearing these to high-end parties, not picnics in the park.
This exhibit in Paris illustrates the diversity and beauty of Christian Dior’s work. Thanks to his continuous evolution as an artist, Dior has become one of the rare brand names who challenge the status quo subtly every year. Start paying attention. Someday, it will pay to have studied up on your Dior trivia.
— Julie Grossman