This Friday, April 10, the documentary Dior and I comes to theaters in the United States. The movie follows the appointment of Raf Simons as Dior’s Creative Director in 2012. Of course, it doesn’t come to San Francisco until the 24th but I wanted to try to give my New York readers a background on the revolutionary couturier before the documentary premieres.
Christian Dior launched his eponymous brand in 1947, just after the war. The timing of this launch was vital to the insane success it had because women were subject to fabric rations and practical dress during the war. In 1947, Dior presented his “Corolle” collection which went down in history after Harpers Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow proclaimed “It’s such a New Look!” The “New Look” included a new silhouette with a small, nipped-in waist and a full skirt falling below mid-calf length, which emphasized the bust and hips. While other designers had experimented with this silhouette for evening wear, Dior was the first to use it for day wear. The collection was not only a new look but also provided a new feminine and opulent perspective to fashion. In BBC’s “The Secret World of Haute Couture” documentary piece, Carroll Petrie, a prominent socialite and philanthropist, said when she first saw Dior’s collection after the war, “[she] thought [she] had died and gone to heaven.”
Parisian fashion had shut down during WWII but with Dior’s help, Pairs was restored as the fashion capital of the world once again and by 1949, Dior made up a staggering 75% of Paris’s fashion exports and 5% of France’s total export revenue. Not surprisingly, the house of Christian Dior continued its meteoric rise through the 50’s. Jacques Rouët, the general manager of Dior, pioneered fashion licensing by arranging to have the Dior name on all sorts of products from furs to neckties and jewelry. Roger Vivier (now known for his eponymous made-to-order shoe boutique) helped launch Dior’s shoe line in 1953. Dior was the exclusive designer for Marlene Dietrich in the Alfred Hitchcock film Stage Fright. In 1957, Christian Dior was the first fashion designer to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. Unfortunately later that year, after only a decade at the helm of his brand, Dior suffered a heart attack and passed away while on vacation in Italy (some speculate that it was due to strenuous sexual activity but that has never been confirmed).
The fashion world was shocked by the untimely death of the ultra-famous designer and the label quickly had to find a replacement. They ended up choosing Dior’s head assistant, then 21 year old Yves Saint Laurent. Saint Laurent’s first collection for Dior was a triumph but each subsequent collection was riskier than the last and two years later, the Dior management was not sad when Saint Laurent was called into the army. Saint Laurent’s more and more daring collections culminated in 1960’s Beat look, inspired by the existentialists who populated the Saint-Germain des Près cafes. His bohemian look, complete with fur trimmed jackets, was highly criticized by Dior’s core clientele of society matrons who did not appreciate the new youth-orientated look.
Next, the more conservative Marc Bohan took the reigns of the couture house. His collections were very well received and Women's Wear Daily reported that he “saved the firm”. Bohan’s assistant Philippe Guibourgé launched the first Dior prêt-á-porter (ready-to-wear) collection ‘Miss Dior’ in 1967. Bohan’s collections were favorites of many long time Dior fans. He created the “Slim Look” which was a modern take on the original “New Look”. Elizabeth Taylor ordered 12 dresses from the “Slim Look”.
In 1997, at the encouragement of Anna Wintour, the famous John Galliano became the creative director of Dior. Galliano really took the brand for a ride and applied his flare for the theater to the collections making the shows both aesthetically pleasing and exhilerating. Many reporters actually attribute the success of the brand under Galliano to his scandalous advertising campaign where he pioneered the idea of “porn-chic” to advertise the clothing. A concept that is all too common today. Unfortunately, after many years of great success, Galliano was fired for drunken anti-semitic remarks at a Paris cafe.
Bill Gaytten took the position as interim creative director until Raf Simons was appointed in April 2012. This brings us to the point of the documentary where Raf is faced with the daunting task to create a new collection for the legendary Dior label in only eight weeks. The movie has already won a few film festival awards and has been noted as one of the most realistic fashion movies. I can’t wait to see it!
Are you going to see Dior and I? Tweet me @amymboone.