DURING ITS SIX DECADES IN EXISTENCE, FASHION HOUSE CHRISTIAN DIOR HAS EXPERIENCED ITS FAIR SHARE OF HIGHS AND LOWS – FROM THE LEGENDARY NEW LOOK TO THE SPIRALLING POLICY OF ISSUING LICENSING, TO THE ANTI-SEMITISM SCANDAL – AND IS NOW MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN EVER.
Carmel Snow, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar is reported to have gushed "Your dresses have such a new look", when she saw Christian Dior's first collection. That was in 1947. A year earlier, the then 42-year-old fashion designer Dior, and his financial partner and school friend Marcel Boussac, founded the now legendary fashion house, which still has its headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The new silhouette introduced by Christian Dior caused a small scandal at the time. Christian Dior called his new collection the "Corolle" line, and it was a stark contrast to the understated austerity that had characterised wartime fashion. Under narrow, nipped-in waists, his models wore full, swinging skirts. Up to 40 metres of fabric were needed for some of his creations. Just a few years earlier, such luxury would have been unthinkable. After years of austerity, there was a huge desire for opulence and freedom, and the collection, which was celebrated in the press as the "New Look", was an overwhelming success.
Christian Dior went on to build an empire very quickly. Over the next ten years, he put his stamp on the fashion of the times with a series of new silhouettes: the cupola line, the lily of the valley line, the pencil line, H-line, A-line and, finally, the Y-line. His elegant dresses were popular with Hollywood stars of the 40s and 50s. His success was also due in no small measure to clever marketing. In the 50s, he was the first couturier to start working with licenses. He also launched a number of perfumes. Today, the fashion house still makes most of its profit from perfume and cosmetics sales.
After the death of Christian Dior in October 1957, the young Yves Saint Laurent took over as creative director of the house. However, although his collections achieved global success and were highly praised, he was released after six seasons. It is said that his style was too modern for Boussac, who named Marc Bohan as his successor. Bohan designed for Dior for the next 30 years, following a more conservative line. In the mid-1970s, the house hit a serious crisis. The company had awarded too many licenses, which were damaging the brand image. In addition to that, the traditional style of Bohan seemed old-fashioned and irrelevant compared to the modern designs of Yves Saint Laurent.
It was only when Bernard Arnault bought the label in 1985 that Dior's fortunes began to rise again. Arnault turned the company inside out. Hundreds of licenses were suspended or retracted in order to regain full control of the brand image. Within a few years, Arnault managed to help the house reach new heights and to make Dior a modern brand again. "It's quite simple," joked Arnault in an interview. "In the past, women brought their daughters along with them to Dior. Now, the girls bring their mothers." Recruiting the eccentric John Galliano in 1997 was a particular stroke of genius. In the late 90s, the unconventional Brit's unusual – and often unwearable – designs sent revenues soaring. At the same time, Hedi Slimane's new skinny silhouette for Dior Homme was much lauded. When Galliano was fired in late February 2011, after 15 years, for making anti-Semitic remarks, Raf Simons took over the creative direction of the house and, with his minimalist fashions, has continued to rejuvenate the brand ever since.
The Christian Dior brand is best known for the "New Look", with its bell-shaped line, achieved with highly-defined waists and a flared skirt. It is also famed for the Bar jacket, a corset-like blazer, symbolic of Dior style.
Christian Dior is one of the best known and most successful fashion houses in the world. In early 2014, the brand was estimated to be worth almost 30 billion euros.
1946 – 1957 Christian Dior
1957 – 1961 Yves Saint Laurent
1961 – 1988 Marc Bohan
1989 – 1996 Gianfranco Ferré
1997 – 2011 John Galliano
2011 – 2012 Bill Gaytten (temporary)
2012 to present Raf Simons
Christian Dior is born on 21 January 1905 in Granville, Normandy, to a large family of industrialists, whose wealth comes from fertiliser and detergent manufacturing. Even at an early age, Christian Dior has a penchant for art and studies politics purely to keep his parents happy. But, instead of becoming a diplomat as his father wishes, he opens an art gallery in Paris and deals in contemporary art. When the American depression spreads to Europe and his father loses his fortune, Christian Dior scrapes a living by selling fashion sketches to the newspaper Le Figaro.
Christian Dior, along with his financial partner and school friend, Marcel Boussac, founds the fashion house Christian Dior, opening an haute couture atelier on Avenue Montaigne in Paris.
In February 1947, Christian Dior presents his first collection, which is praised by the press. The bell-shaped silhouette introduced by Dior goes down in fashion history as the New Look. In the same year, Dior launches his first perfume, "Miss Dior".
In the early 1950s, Christian Dior issues its first licenses for products such as stockings and ties, becoming the frontrunner among many companies to make money from licensing deals.
After the death of fashion designer Christian Dior, his former assistant Yves Saint Laurent takes over creative direction for the house. His first collection is an overwhelming success. However, Boussac dismisses him after just six seasons.
Marc Bohan succeeds Yves Saint Laurent and remains the house's creative director for almost 30 years. Bohan continues Christian Dior's conservative and classic line.
Under the direction of Marc Bohan, the men's collection Christian Dior Monsieur is launched. In 2000, Hedi Slimane becomes head designer of the newly launched Dior Homme collection, and shakes up men's fashion with his new skinny silhouette. Since 2007, his long-time assistant Kris Van Assche has been designing the menswear collection.
Businessman Bernard Arnault buys the Dior brand and overhauls the company. Since the late 80s, Christian Dior SA has been operating as holding company and holds shares in companies including LVMH. In 1991 Arnault lists the brand on the Paris Stock Exchange.
Gianfranco Ferré succeeds Marc Bohan. He also adheres to the more traditional line of founder Christian Dior.
Under John Galliano, the house finally undergoes a radical image change. Galliano's eccentric designs help sales continue to rise. In 2011, he is dismissed, after 15 years as head designer, for making anti-Semitic remarks.
Since early 2012, the Belgian designer Raf Simons has been the creative director at Christian Dior, under whom this historic house is one of the leading fashion labels.
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