Christian Dior – the French Fashion Designer

In this post I will discuss the life and career of Christian Dior who was the French designer which changed the clothing industry in 1947 with his revolutionary “New Look” fashion collection that still continues to influence the fashion industry in modern times.  (Special Note: The timeless Dior designs detailed in this post would be a great inspiration for a classic wedding style for either a bride and/or bridesmaid dress)

A brief history of the life and career of Christian Dior

Christian Dior was born on January 21, 1905 in Granville located in northern France.  When Dior was five years old his family moved to Paris and he dreamed of becoming an architect.  But his parents wanted him to be a diplomat and with this family pressure Dior enrolled in the Ecole des Sciences Politques in 1925 to study political science.

After graduating in 1928 Dior chose to follow his artistic ambitions and, with the financial assistance of his father, he opened an art gallery.  Dior had a mild success for a few years until the collapse of his father’s company causing Dior to run out of money which forced him to close the gallery.

While struggling to overcome this set back, Dior supplemented his income by using his artistic talents to sell fashion sketches and people began to notice his design talents.  As a result, he was soon hired to work as an assistant to the well-known fashion designer Robert Piguet.  But, once again after only a few short years, Dior’s plans were altered when he enlisted in the French army in 1940.  After his military service ended in 1942, Dior was hired by another designer, Lucien LeLong.  During this time he worked in German-occupied Paris designing dresses for the wives of Nazi officer living in the city.

After World War II, business in the recently liberated France greatly increased and Dior had a unique idea for women’s fashion.  With wartime supply shortages and a general lack of creative design resulting in relatively androgynous styles that were often made in inexpensive but durable fabrics.  In December 1946, funded by Marcel Boussac, Dior established the House of Dior.  By February 1947 Dior had created his first Spring/Summer fashion collection, it became known as the “New Look”’. The debut collection featured 90 outfits that were distinctly feminine in style with cinched waists aided by a corset and full skirts with mild padding at the hips, the clothes were also made in luxurious fabrics.  Dior received widespread press coverage for his designs when the British Royal family and Hollywood movies stars were seen wearing Dior’s clothing.

To create the feminine silhouette that Dior had envisioned an intricate interior support system for the dresses.  In the photo shown below, the back of a dress is opened to reveal a cotton bobbinette corselet inside.  The W-shaped underwire uses boning with additional support in the bust area to create the proper shape for the bodice, to secure the assembly sturdy hooks and eyes were used for closure.  This clever mechanism created the cinched waist and the attached petticoat made of tulle netting with slight padding completed the feminine silhouette.

photo of a 1955 Dior dress interior
showing the corseted bodice and attached tulle net petticoat

Dior’s innovative “New Look” fashion designs sometimes meet with opposition from feminist groups which felt that his style overly sexualized women.  Another complaint was that the corseted designs with the boned underpinnings that created the feminine silhouette could also be extremely uncomfortable and restrictive for women to wear for extended periods of time.  An additional concern was the extensive use of expensive fabrics so recently after the rationing brought on by World War II and for this reason the Dior clothes were often considered an extravagant expense.  But despite these comments, Dior was undeterred and he continued to design and make his clothing in this ultra-feminine style.

In 1957 Dior appeared on the cover of Time magazine to mark his ten successful years in the fashion industry.  Then, a short time after the issue was published Dior left for a vacation in Italy and while there he died from a heart attack.  Yves Saint Laurent, who had been personally hired by Dior as his head assistant in 1955, was quickly appointed the artistic director of the House of Dior.

The fashion designs of Christian Dior           

Dior was known for changing the world of fashion with his innovative designs featuring tailored suits and dresses with defined waistlines and full or flared skirts made in the best silks and wool fabrics.  His designs were not limited to daytime fashions and he also created stunning evening dresses made in luxurious fabrics and accented with beautiful beading or embroidery.  (Special Note: Any of the Dior designs detailed below would be a great inspiration for a classic wedding style for either an elegant bridal dress or perhaps lovely dresses for the bridesmaids)

Perhaps the most iconic dress from Dior’s famous debut fashion collection of 1947 was the Bar suit.  The ivory tussore silk jacket with a button closure featured a tailored collar and lapels.  The black wool crepe skirt had an underpinning of a stiff taffeta petticoat for fullness which was lined in cream silk and the hip are slightly padding to further the illusion of an smaller waist.

                                            The Bar Suit
photo from the

Shown below are three examples of Dior cocktail dresses from the mid-1950s showing distinctly feminine silhouettes.

Dior was not limited to day and cocktail dresses and he also designed lovely evening dresses using fabrics such as silk, satin and tulle which were embellished with beading and embroidery.  Shown below are several examples of dresses dating back to Dior collections from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s.

  1949 Venus evening dress

1949 Junon evening dress

1952 Palmyre evening dress

1955 Soiree Fleury evening dress