Skip to content

75 years of Christian Dior – how the designer changed the fashion world

Before February 12, 1947, practically no one knew him; one day later he was world famous: Christian Dior revolutionized the fashion world with his first ever collection. But his “New Look” was not only met with enthusiasm.

The war is over, but its consequences are still ürbar everywhere – also in fashion, the clothes are above all purposeful. Until that February 12, 1947: at 30 avenue Montaigne, a defilee took place that no one would have expected. A certain Christian Dior, a debutant of Parisian haute couture, proclaimed a return to glamor and opulence. With fitted jackets, accentuated bust, swinging, wide Rückets and a lavish fabric fülle. The New Look was born and became one of the most important chapters in fashion history.

The term itself comes not from the couturier, but from Carmel Snow, then editor-in-chief of the magazine "Harper’s Bazaar". Dior itself calls this line "Corolle" because it resembles a flower cup in its shape. The most famous photographers and illustrators set the scene for his models and helped to make the "New Look" popular worldwide. As a result, tailors and garment makers everywhere are oriented to this silhouette.

Christian Dior in London in 1950
April 25, 1950: Christian Dior surrounded by models at a fashion parade in London.Photo: Getty Images

Christian Dior created a look that provoked

Dior’s fashion, with its lavish use of fabrics and feminine staging, symbolized an end to austerity. Yet the "New Look" is basically neither new nor modern. It harkens back to forms of the Belle Époque and the Rococo and thus does not correspond at all to the active role that women had recently taken on; in emancipatory terms it is a step backwards. And not everyone wants to accept this: On a trip to America, for example, Christian Dior was greeted by demonstrators in Chicago with posters reading "Down with the New Look!" or "Christian Dior, go home!".

My goal was not to revolutionize fashion, but to righteously wear what I felt like,” the couturier says in his autobiography, Dior and Me. And: "Couture returned to its main task, which was to adorn and embellish women;

Dioar show in Paris in 2022
Dior 2022: At the end of January, the fashion house presented its spring/summer collection at Fashion Week.Photo: Getty Images

Christian Dior was born on January 21, 1905 in Granville, Normandy. His father owned a factory for detergents and chemicals. But Christian Dior wanted nothing to do with this world; he was interested in architecture, interior design and flowers. For the sake of his parents, he studied political science, but then became a gallery owner.

From art to fashion design

In Paris in the 1920s, Dior enjoyed life between art, music and literature, until the ruin of his father put an end to all this amusement. The global economic crisis also hit his gallery. He is forced to look for an alternative career. Through a friend he finally got into model drawing, sold his designs to Parisian couturiers, and found permanent positions with Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong.

In 1946, the wealthy entrepreneur Marcel Boussac was actually looking for a creative to give the dusty couture house Philippe et Gaston a fresh sparkle. He meets with Christian Dior, who turns him down. Instead, he wanted to build something new, something of his own. Boussac finances his wish.

Dior has always denied the accusation that he created the New Look on Boussac’s instructions so that the high consumption of fabric would boost the textile manufacturer’s sales. Nevertheless, in the years that followed he pushed this style to the limits, as he himself put it. At the beginning of the 1950s, he began to free up the waist again and finally developed the straight, slim H-line. For Carmel Snow, this was an even greater transformation of fashion than the New Look. And also for this a name is found: the "Flat Look".

New Christian Dior hype from 1997

Meanwhile, the house of Christian Dior is growing steadily in terms of personnel and strategy. But the couturier could not enjoy his success for long. On October 24, 1957, Christian Dior died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 52 years old.

His assistant Yves Saint Laurent, who would later write fashion history himself, was chosen as his successor. In the coming decades, the Italian Gianfranco Ferré and the Englishman John Galliano, who triggered a new Dior hype with eccentric collections from 1997, followed. Since 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been the first woman to design the women’s collections. From the beginning, she has pursued a feminist approach.

And in the 21st century, the Christian Dior label continues to spark a fashion revolution. But now for men. Hedi Slimane, creative head of this segment from 2000 to 2007, tailored silhouettes skin-tight to the body, creating an androgynous look. With an amazing result: his menswear is also worn by quite a few women. What would Monsieur Dior have thought of that?

With material from dpa