Christian Dior was a romantic.
Through elegant designs and an eye for the female, the celebrated French designer cemented his place as the father for couture fashion throughout the 20th century.
Like most cheesy rom-com movies, the long and winding history of the acclaimed fashion house begins with a bouquet of flowers.
It was at Dior’s childhood home at Villa Les Rhumbs, a house on the Normandy shore, where his affinity for beauty began. His mother, wife to a fertilizer manufacturer, made sure to instill a green thumb early, spending hours with her second-eldest child in the family’s provençal garden.
Aided by his mother, Madeleine, Dior is said to have rummaged through the pages of Vilmorin-Andrieux gardening guides, pouring over pages with an artistic, childlike wonder. Although the family relocated to Paris when the designer was ten years old, the quaint rose garden provided a deep-seeded root for the creative vision that was to come.
“My life and style owed almost everything to Les Rhumbs,” the designer said.
Christian Dior began his legacy in the shadow of destruction. Throughout the Parisian streets, there was an underlying sense of urgency to rebuild after the crippling horrors of World War II. A tattered economy and demolished buildings weren’t the only signs of the German occupation of France throughout the early ’40s– an unmistakable melancholy existed throughout the lives of the French people.
The house of Dior was founded in 1946, two years after the occupation. In the years that followed, the boy from Normandy aimed to liberate women, aiming to rekindle their joy and passion that had been stripped from the years of German rule.
His solution? The debut of his “New Look,” a silhouette that allowed women to revel in their feminity again after years of manning the homefront while their loved ones were at war. Penned by Carmel Snow after the maison’s February 1947 collection, the New Look staunchly revolutionized silhouettes at a time of reckoning in the fashion industry. In post-war era recovering from textile shortages and bleak designs, Christian Dior quickly rose to acclaimed fame with his radical vision for women’s strength– one that came from her feminine beauty.
Much has been written about Dior’s Bar suit: its nipped waist, tight-fitting jackets, and A-line skirts are a nostalgic look at fashion before chaos, a physical reminiscence of the good ole’ days. However, a closer look reveals that the inspirations behind the silhouette can be traced back to Dior’s childhood fantasies.
“I drew women-flowers, soft shoulders, fine waists like liana and wide skirts like corolla,” the designer said about his rise to couture fame. For the non-horticulture obsessed, corolla is a gardner’s term for the base of a flower, seen in the petals of species like tulips and hibiscus flowers. It isn’t hard to see that same structure in Dior’s padded hips and structured tops on his Bar suit.
The floral motifs didn’t end there. Christian Dior’s sophomore collection in the fall of 1947 took the silhouette a step further: accentuating a woman’s shoulders with a sharp, crisp edge and pulling in the waist for an even greater hourglass effect. The maison’s Junon Dress debuted for its Autumn/Winter 1949 collection is constructed with elaborately beaded petal-esque plates that resemble Monsieur Dior’s favorite flower– a rose.
When Christian Dior wasn’t at his atelier in Paris, he was tending to his garden in Le Moulin du Coudret, his refuge an hour away from the bustling city. Soon after, he bought a chateau near Cannes to expand his horticulture portfolio. The designer’s personal Garden of Eden, again pulling botanical inspiration for his sketches in the 1950s. The acclaimed french designer’s high-profile status melted away as he turned once again towards his humble beginnings.
“I could go right back to my roots and discover, in another climate, the closed garden that protected my childhood… and finally live peacefully, forgetting Christian Dior and becoming Christian once again,” he said.
The maison’s history is still enriched in flowers years after its founder’s death in October 1957. With six creative directors following in Monsieur Dior’s footsteps, the House of Dior has never withered away, remaining in full bloom.
In one of his last collections for the house, former Creative Director John Galliano showcased a technicolor experience, bringing Christian Dior’s boyhood garden to life on the catwalk. In an ode to all things floral, Galliano’s Fall 2010 Couture collection elevated the tulip-esque silhouette of the New Look to a literal sense. Wrapped headpieces resembling supermarket cellophane-wrapped bouquets while ruffled fabric was expertly crafted into petals for waists and necklines.
“[Nature is] the most inspiring teacher,” said Galliano, speaking about the extensive floral research that went into creating the collection.
In the sweltering summer of 2012, Belgian designer Raf Simons created an oasis in a traditional French mansion for the house’s Fall 2012 Couture presentation. Walls were lined thick with white orchids and blue delphiniums, beckoning guests into the secret world of Dior.
Unlike Galliano, Simon’s couture tenure was a refined, minimalist approach to design. Botanical motifs were woven throughout the collection through reimagined New Look silhouettes and embroidered petals. The set was a direct homage to Christian Dior’s passion for gardens, albeit constructed for the modern woman.
The maison’s current Creative Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri has reimagined the house with graphic t-shirts and monogrammed accessories, but her first couture collection remains a true vision of the house. Grazia Chiuri’s moss-covered fairytale, complete with pixie-esque models and flowing gowns, marked a newfound style as the first female Creative Director for the French legacy brand.
Grazia Chiuri listens to what women want, even so far as taking inspiration from the relatively unknown Miss Dior–Catherine, Christian’s sister.
For the house’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection, Grazia Chiuri looked toward the strong women of the French resistance, one being Catherine, an avid gardener like her brother. The Italian Creative Director cited Catherine’s ability to take care of her botanical hideaway just as we must take care of our planet– a human-centered approach to design that weaves itself throughout Grazia Chiuri’s feminist-inspired garments.
The collection highlights the female gardener featuring straw hats and footwear with a functional, yet sophisticated design.
In a time of isolation at the hands of COVID-19, reconnecting with nature has never been more important. As we continue to live in lockdown and the fashion industry continues to whiz by in a series of digital innovations and fast-moving schedules, Christian Dior’s outlook on life seems particularly relevant. We must stop and smell the roses, literally and figuratively.END
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