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Christian Dior, The New Look, and Now

March 4, 2010

Dior’s House Models


 Here we are , 2010, and smack bang in the midst of a serious revival of everything and anything that could possibly be revivable.

The last few years we’ve all been getting cah-razy nostalgic. We’re obsessed with anything labeled ‘vintage’, there are entire sub-genres of style dedicated to reviving  particular eras- 40s, 50s, 80s, victorian, medieval-  and we wistfully learn to knit and embroider. The sartorial expression of this nostalgia, the full skirt and nipped waist, had its biggest moment, despite its reoccurrence throughout fashion history, with the release of the premier collection of a then little known designer named Christian Dior. A collection that totally changed the direction of women’s wear in the post-war period.

Born in Granville, Normandy, (France), on January 21 1905 Christian Dior spent his early years designing for the likes of  Robert Piguet and  Lucien Lelong. Seeking creative independance he found a backer in the form of cotton textile magnate Marcel Boussac and went on to found his own house on the 8th of October 1946. The release of his first collection made him an overnight sensation. This was such a fashion ‘moment’ that Carmel Snow, then editor of Harper’s Bazaar, christened the collection “The New Look”.

(left) The Bar Suit, Christian Dior, 1947

(right) early 40s working women’s wear

It’s important to put the grand unveiling of this first collection into context in order to understand why it caused such a fuss. Dior opened his house in a Paris that was still recovering from the German occupation that had ended with the war, only two years prior. During that time fabric and dress making supplies had been rationed, seriously impacting the production of haute couture and fashion industries. In Britain women’s wear became almost totally utilitarian as more and more women went to work in the factories. Even after the war, as France and Britain started to recover, designers and dress makers were still constricted by sumptuary laws prohibiting the excessive use of fabric, buttons and other supplies. Decorative buttons, pleats and even turned back cuffs were outlawed.


The New Look

The New Look was the complete rejection of everything that was influenced by war and rationing. Each skirt took metres and metres of fabric to make, then there were the petticoats, embellishment, and the multiple layers of lining to create the structured jackets. The reception of the collection was overwhelming. Christian Dior was an over night success. It had been two years since the war was declared over, Paris had survived the occupation and it was time to move on, to get down to the business of living again, to fun, fashion, femininity and frivolity. Swirling, comparatively extravagant, and not at all work appropriate, these designs rejected the new world that war had threatened to create. The silhouette, glamour and femininity of the collection wound the fashion clock back to the late 19th century and in particular to the work of Charles Frederick Worth. The influence of Worth is particularly evident in the shape, which echoes the 1850s-1860s hoop skirts and corsets, and in the use of the haute couture techniques and construction methods used to give the New Look its structure and shape through complex internal boning and tailoring. It seems quite fitting that the man who revived haute couture would be inspired by the man who kicked off the industry. 

The Lovely, Leggy, Ladies of Mad Men

Dior’s designs were massively influential in the decade that followed the release of the New Look. Not only in Paris and France, but also across Europe, America, Australia, and the freakin’ globe! His designs were copied by other designers, dressmakers and home seamstresses, licensed to major stores and spread all over the world. Today when we talk of the style of the 50s we’re referring to the New Look silhouette of small waist, broad hips, breasts pushed up and out and rounded shoulders.

A not-at-all-exhaustive list of Designers rocking the Dior New Look Aesthetic:

John Galliano (in his work for the Dior label)

Vivienne Westwood

Louis Vuitton

Betsey Johnson

Giambattista Valli

The New 'New Look'

The New Look for the Rest of Us

As for now? Coming out of the GFC, swine flu, the concept of terrorism, and our almost totally disposable cuture we’re embracing the old; traditional crafts, vintage clothes and workmanship. We love embellishment and frivolity to the extreme, sequins and bows on everything. It’s the same attitude that I wrote about with regards to the Rococo influence, and can be seen again with the whole Victorian revival thing. We’re intensely nostalgic right now, it’s not just sub-genres who are embracing retro. Vintage clothes have become elevated to icon status and is becoming increasingly easy to acquire but expensive to buy. This retro-worship is the same wistful and hopeful feeling that informed Christian Dior’s designs and that created the ‘New Look’, which really, was a revival rather than innovation. But to be taken back to happier and more certain times was precisely what the world needed at that moment.

Wanna know more?

Victorian & Albert Museum’s Golden Age of Couture Exhibition 

Fashion Era’s Collection of Info on the glamour of the 50s

The Met Museum’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art has a great essay on Dior and a good selection of his garments in their collection. PICTURES YA’ll





14 Comments leave one →
  1. dollyasylum permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:42 pm

    Luvverly! I’m all about reviving gorgeous stuff from the past, as are a lot of people, as you pointed out! I’m very pleased about it all. I actually have a beautiful bottle green jacket that belonged to my late gran- it has a cool asymetrical collar, a flap thing at the back (there’s a word for that but I have a mental block..) with 2 buttons, and it cinches in at the waist. Very feminine and flattering, and luckily for me, the perfect fit! My Gran wore it when she was in her 20’s, so it’s definitely genuine vintage! I can’t wait for the weather to cool down enough so i can wear it. 🙂
    I’m digging your fashion posts! you give us all the info that we’re too lazy to research ourselves! Hooray!

    • Trixie permalink*
      March 8, 2010 12:13 pm

      I bet the weather was cool enough for your gorgeous jacket over the weekend! Talk about crazy weather! I dig that you dig what I dig, you dig?
      I’ve just been missing research and writing so much since I graduated, I get all bored and need academic stuff to do! Yeah, I’m a bit weird. I LOVE SCHOOL.

  2. dollyasylum permalink
    March 9, 2010 6:39 pm

    Diggity dig dig! 😀
    No that’s not weird! I admire a love of learning! A lot of people forget to exercise the grey matter….and as a result it starts not to work properly( my grammer and vocalulary is testament to this!) . You has a healthy brainykins!

  3. October 28, 2010 12:56 pm

    Christian Dior is really a fashion genius, i like how he designs clothes and other stuffs;::

  4. November 14, 2010 12:34 am

    Christian Dior is really a genious when it comes to making those fancy dresses ::`

  5. fjunet permalink
    March 8, 2011 9:48 pm

    i dont like this shit

    • Elizaveta Shapkina permalink
      December 5, 2011 11:15 am

      Are you absolutely out of your mind?

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