How 75 Years of Feminist Fashion Were Pioneered by Christian Dior


How 75 Years of Feminist Fashion Were Pioneered by Christian Dior

Soizic Pfaff "cried a little bit, because it was so meaningful" as she entered La Galerie Dior, the Paris Museum devoted to the French fashion label, for the first time. Pfaff began working for Dior in 1974 as a licencing assistant and over the course of the next, almost 50 years rose to the position of director of Dior Heritage, where she is now responsible for the brand's archives. She remarks, her tears welling, from a corner booth in the gallery cafe, "They succeeded in the architecture." And I have no doubt that Mr. Dior desired it. I'm still feeling it.

The gallery, which launched to the public in the spring, is a significant location for the house, which is commemorating its 75th anniversary this year, and is located at the same address as Dior's first boutique and ateliers—30 avenue Montaigne in the 8th arrondissement. Given that its founder, Christian Dior, passed away barely 10 years after founding his eponymous label, Dior's durability is particularly impressive.

According to creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri, the 1947 debut of the first Dior collection had a significant impact. According to Chiuri, the original couturier's creations were crucial in assisting French fashion to "reclaim its proper centre spot" after World War II devastated the country's once-thriving industry. Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar at the time, is credited with coining the term "New Look," which was characterised by long skirts, tightened waists, and rounded shoulders—a dramatic contrast to more utilitarian wartime attire.

75 years later, Chiuri is the first woman to lead the Dior women's and couture collections, Kim Jones is in charge of menswear, and Victoire de Castellane is in charge of fine jewellery. Dior is still one of the most significant luxury brands in the world. Chiuri and Pfaff credit the brand's dedication to its tradition, which chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari underlined with the launch of La Galerie Dior and a redesign of the adjacent flagship boutique, for a large portion of this success.

Christian Dior was raised in Paris after being born in Normandy in 1905 and hailed from a rich family who were supported by his father's prosperous fertiliser company. According to Hélène Starkman, a lifelong cultural projects manager and exhibitions organiser, his parents "wanted him to be a diplomat." He wasn't able to complete his studies in political science despite their insistence. In order to avoid appearing gauche, Dior père gave his son money to start an art gallery, with the caveat that it wouldn't display the Dior name.

After his father's business failed in 1931, forcing Dior to stop the gallery, he first worked as an illustrator before becoming designer Robert Piguet's assistant. He returned to assistant life after serving in the French military, but this time under Lucien Lelong. Marcel Boussac, a maker of textiles, approached Dior in 1946 about reviving the Philippe et Gaston name. Dior had different plans in mind. You want to reopen a house that was open before the war, but I don't think it's significant today,' he reportedly said to Boussac, according to Starkman. We must make an appeal to those who are beginning new lives after the war since it is 1946 and the war is finished.

The two inaugurated the Christian Dior headquarters and atelier at 30 Montaigne after their successful argument. On February 12, 1947, Dior gave his first press conference and high society presentation there, showcasing 95 designs that included his now-iconic Bar suit, which featured an hourglass-shaped cream jacket and a pleated A-line skirt. The success came quickly, and by 1953 the fashion designer had built boutiques in New York and Caracas, was displaying his designs internationally, and was creating costumes for Hollywood movies.

Christian Dior sort of never wanted to be Christian Dior, claims Starkman. She continues, "He intended to be open just for a select clientele, the richest and most sophisticated among them," pointing out the price of his clothes due to the use of expensive fabrics and the fact that each item is made-to-measure. He had no intention of becoming well-known. Though he did.

When Dior unexpectedly passed away at the age of 52 in 1957, he left behind an identity that allowed the business and his forerunners to prosper. The positions of creative director were held by Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons before Chiuri took over in 2016.

Starkman said of the late designer, "I think a lot of people don't appreciate how dedicated and how business-minded he was. You know, if he hadn't been that way, there probably wouldn't be a house of Dior 75 years later.

When Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, bought Dior in 1984, the company had grown to include ready-to-wear, menswear, childrenswear, and a cosmetics line. To celebrate the brand's 40th anniversary in 1987, Arnault organised a house retrospective at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. To find clothing and documents for the display, a small group was put together, and soon the archives department was created. In 1996, Pfaff gained control of the division. Three weeks before to Galliano, I arrived there, she claims. "We learned together; I learned with him."

Pfaff and her crew look in several places for archival materials. Many are obtained from museums or discovered at auctions and purchased there. Some are acquired by consulting the designer's vast client records and getting in touch with the families of those clients, like the Junon gown from Dior's fall/winter 1949–1950 collection. According to Pfaff, "We bought that dress back from [the family of] a lady named Mrs. Newman from Florida. She passed away at a young age, and her husband set up an auction for all the clothing and accessories she purchased from Dior. Naturally, we purchased everything.

La Galerie Dior is a concept the fashion brand came up with in 2018, and Beccari describes it as "absolutely insane" that led to the proposal. He notes that he wanted to "create a magnificent point of distinctiveness for the Dior brand in Paris" that couldn't be duplicated. The project required Dior to close the main store, offices, and atelier located at 30 Montaigne for more than two years. "It takes bravery to go to Monsieur Arnault," he says. Peter Marino, a longtime collaborator for the brand, was chosen for the architecture. The many scenes were staged by Nathalie Crinière, who has designed several previous Dior exhibitions.

Crinière echoes her colleagues' sentiments that the museum couldn't be created anyplace else, saying, "What is wonderful is that the narrative of Dior began here."

A spiral staircase leading up to a three-story glass box with more than 1,800 3D-printed miniature Dior pieces on display serves as the exhibit's entrance. According to Crinière, "the concept was how to go up without being dull." People are astonished and realise they are going to something incredibly remarkable when there is a big colorama. Original sketches, early press articles, and the charts of fabric samples that Dior used to design his seasons are featured in other places to illustrate the beginnings of the opulent brand.

In numerous rooms, the past and present are linked. Two pays homage to Dior's passion of flowers with a collection of gowns with floral motifs created by numerous creative directors. Through glass flooring, a recreation of the cabin-like backstage space where models prepared for performances is visible. There are tributes to the Miss Dior perfume as well as Dior's earlier career as a gallerist, during which he exhibited works by Picasso, Man Ray, and Dal. One area features looping videos of each creative director, while another showcases some of the most recognisable clothing from the brand: the navy Galliano slip Princess Diana wore for the 1996 Met Gala, a cheeky homage to controversy shortly after her divorce from Prince Charles, and the gold lamé gown by Bohan Lauren Hutton wore in the French movie Tout feu, tout flamme. In a room devoted to Dior's savoir-faire, teams from different atelier departments are on display, showcasing their abilities in real-time. There are also very lovely instances, according to Starkman, "where [we] have an apprentice who is in her 20s and next to her someone who is in their 60s and spent 40 years at Dior." Over a thousand people visit the gallery daily, she continues. When you walk through the museum, you "hear a number of languages," according to Starkman. Of course, there will be fashionistas, fashion students, and other attendees of a fashion exhibition. However, there is a far larger audience as well.

While La Galerie Dior was being constructed, the adjacent flagship store was renovated to add three gardens, two restaurants (a patisserie and Le Restaurant Monsieur Dior), a dedicated haute couture salon, and a towering Isa Genzken rose sculpture.

People line up in front of the boutique every day, according to Starkman. "Just for the experience, not necessarily to go in and buy something." It's like "the anti-metaverse," Beccari explains; you have to come here and experience these feelings. This was clear when I went to the boutique in the spring. Outside, a line of interested visitors and house aficionados waited to enter behind a Dior-branded wall. An area inside where shoes and bags could be personalised was filled with people examining the various thread colours. Diners enjoyed Dior's favourite dishes up top, created by chef Jean Imbert. Everyone was taking pictures everywhere, including the nicely planted roof, cappuccinos with foamy cinnamon Dior logos, and a tonne of selfies.

Beccari says of the museum and store, "I told my team the other day that I would like someone to leave here with a Dior "tattoo." Meaning they enjoyed it so much that they will have something to keep them reminded of Dior in addition to not forgetting—perhaps it was a dress, La Galerie Dior, or Restaurant Monsieur Dior where they had a wonderful lunch.

In 2016, Chiuri was offered the position of creative director and "could not believe it." She had previously worked at Fendi and was then Pierpaolo Piccioli's co-creative director of Valentino. Initially conflicted, she recalls, "but eventually I realised that this was a challenge that I could not and should not walk away from." Since then, the Rome-born Chiuri has worked to create clothing for ladies whose wardrobes demand not only beauty and charm but also the functionality. Although the house's ultrafeminine standards still remain in the form of long skirts, corset bodices, and embroidered tulle gowns, this approach implies wearing more T-shirts, jeans, and shoes. Both Chiuri and Jones have worked with contemporary artists like Judy Chicago and Amoako Boafo, and their reissues of Galliano's saddle bag and Bohan's oblique print have contributed to Dior's year-over-year revenue growth. The house recorded expected sales of $7 billion in 2021, up from a reported $4.6 billion in 2019, according to Vogue Business.

The achievement of shaping a modern femininity that can balance the demands of feminism with a notion of fashion that is at the service of women, according to Chiuri, is what she is most proud of. "And to have shed light on artists, activists, and thinkers who devote their lives to advancing the status of women, thanks to Dior's ability to communicate. The praise I receive has helped me to understand that I've done a decent job. I'm not bragging, of course; there is still a lot of work to be done, but this encourages me to keep going.

Similar to Beccari, who claims his goal is "not merely to sell items, but to convey a story with them," Even though they are not the most secure bet, initiatives like the refurbishment of 30 Montaigne are crucial to realising that ambition. He advises, "I think you should introduce a little turmoil into the operation." Because success won't come from doing the same thing over and over, take chances and be assertive.

Although Chiuri thinks there is "maybe too much" debate about fashion and time, she is aware of the achievement of Dior remaining a model of high fashion for 75 years. She claims that a strong brand will stand the test of time because its vision is genuine. It persists because all of its creative directors and the artisans who work behind the scenes are sensitive enough to read contemporary culture. In this regard, Dior is a remarkable illustration of the ability of fashion to communicate and shape culture. It is capable of speaking about every one of us. It is conversant with today's language.

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