The “New Look”
Christian Dior presented his first solo collection on February 12, 1947. Originally intended as two separate lines, Corolle (after the term for a circle of flower petals) and Huit (for the rounded shape of the figure eight), the two ultimately two went down in history as the “New Look,” thanks to the exclamation of the legendary Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow. The cinched waists, full skirts, and extravagant use of fabric contrasted with the sober styles of the ration era and hailed the return of femininity and luxury.
Marlene Dietrich’s Skirt Suits
After the success of the New Look collection, Dior was lauded as the savior of the French fashion industry and quickly became a global celebrity. This brought in offers of work from all corners, including the British film industry. Dior was brought in to design all of Marlene Deitrich’s outfits for Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Stage Fright (1950). The pair worked closely to create the tailored yet sultry suits.
Shahbanu Soraya’s Wedding Dress
Of all the hundreds of gowns that have been made under the Dior name since 1947, perhaps none is as impressive as that worn by Shahbanu Soraya, Queen of Iran, on her wedding day in 1951. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi had earlier proposed with a 22.37 carat (4.474 gram) diamond engagement ring and the ceremony featured 1.5 tons of orchids, tulips, and carnations flown in from the Netherlands so the dress really had to live up to the billing.
By the mid-1950s, Dior’s business was booming: he was producing 12,000 dresses a year and his international sales accounted for 50% of all Paris’ couture exports. The red cellulose satin Zémire dress was the cornerstone of the designer’s H-line collection of Autumn/Winter 1954/55. He took inspiration from 17th-century riding habits and it turned out to be one of his most successful designs.
Soirée de Paris
Though spectacular in its own right (what’s not to love about a sleek black gown and overstated golden bow?), the Soirée de Paris evening dress, which Dior created as part of his Autumn/Winter 1955/56 collection, is remembered most for being worn in one of fashion’s most iconic photographs of all time: Dovima With Elephants. Shot by Richard Avedon at a Paris circus and starring the era’s biggest supermodel, it symbolized the last days of true glamor.
When Christian Dior died suddenly in 1957 after just ten years at the helm of his fashion empire, his 21-year-old assistant, Yves Saint Laurent, stepped up to fill his sizeable, ultra-stylish shoes. He presented the Trapeze collection on January 30, 1958, and it was met with universal acclaim. Combining the formality of Dior and the simplicity of Chanel, the looks featured fine fabrics, loose shapes, and dresses without padding or linings.
The Zou Zou Suit
Another key look from this masterful first collection was the Zou Zou suit. The simple pleated skirt might not be as popular today as it was then but there’s hardly a closet out there that doesn’t have its trademark three-quarter length sleeve hanging in it. Unbelievably, Saint Laurent was fired from Dior after being conscripted into the French army in 1960 and consequently hospitalized. He made his fashion comeback just one year later.
Lauren Bacall’s Ostrich Cuffs
French designer Marc Bohan took over as head designer at Dior in 1960 and held this post until 1989: a remarkable 29 years and the longest anyone has been in the job. Of the many gowns he produced during his tenure, this silk jersey evening dress from 1968, which has ostrich plumes at the wrists and hem, is one of his most timeless. It was owned by Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall before being donated to the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
The Summer Suit
Bohan’s Spring/Summer 1973 collection for Dior was built around shirtdresses and the A-line skirt with a nipped-in waist was the defining silhouette of the season. Critics particularly enjoyed its freshness and simplicity, plain to see with this haute couture suit, and many figured it to be the designer at his best.
The Pink Ball Gown
It doesn’t get much more extravagant than this flowing pink ball gown, an early work of John Galliano, who took over the top job at Dior in 1997. This is also one of Galliano’s more demure creations, which tended more towards the eccentric…
The Ball Gag Necklace
…Like when he sent a ball gag necklace down the haute couture runway. Paris is no stranger to oddly sexual happenings in the fashion and art world but at a house like Dior this piece no doubt raised a few eyebrows. Presumably, Galliano’s own neck was saved by the incredible detailing on the rest of this monochrome ensemble.
The Marie Antoinette Dresses
For his couture Autumn/Winter 2000/01 show, Galliano went even further with his high fashion exploration of sex and fetishism. The show opened with a chic wedding, which was swiftly followed by a parade of less savory characters, including a sadistic priest, a terrifying clown, a showgirl in a gorilla mask, and a bloody Marie Antoinette.
The All Hat and No Skirt Look
Almost a decade later and towards the end of Galliano’s time at Dior (which came to abrupt end in 2011 following the revelation of the designer’s drunken anti-Semitic rant in a Paris restaurant) he was still experimenting on the line between taste and tack. The collection was inspired by backstage photos taken five decades before at one of Christian Dior’s first shows.
You can discover the full history of the House of Dior and see even more incredible creations from its past head designers at the Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. The show opens on July 5, 2017, and will run until January 7, 2018.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on Thursday. A full price ticket costs €13.
Location and Phone Number:
Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, 107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France, +33 1 44 55 57 50