“Whatever you do – whether for work or pleasure – do it with passion! Live with passion,” wrote Christian Dior. Well before he embarked on his destiny as a couturier, Christian Dior was fascinated with art.
The young Normandy native and several friends opened an art gallery when he was just 23. In 1938 he learned the métier of pattern cutter with Robert Piguet and three years later began working as a designer for Lucien Lelong. Right from the founding of his Maison in 1946, he transformed his dreams into irresistible creations, seeking to break with the somber war years by elevating pure joy. His visionary spirit celebrated and enchanted women the world over. In only ten years, Monsieur Dior revolutionized the conventions of elegance and femininity, designing collections infused with dreams.
Though the Dior brand was founded on ideals of feminine beauty and classic timeless fashion, over decades, it has evolved into a bold, feminist, and powerful designs. Ahead, learn about the history of Dior and how the brand grew into what it is today.
The French brand, which dates back to the 1940s, has been providing customers all over the world with some of the most beautiful garments, whether it's a ready-to-wear dress fit for a cocktail party, or a haute couture, red carpet gown that will command the attention of everyone in the room.
Christian Dior's eponymous brand is also one that has stood the test of time, evolving with each creative leader that has walked through its doors. The fashion house has hosted some of the most incredible talent in the industry and will surely continue to do so for years to come.
Despite being created in 1946, the Dior brand claims 1947 as its beginning year because that's when the fashion house's first collection debuted. Christian Dior started the brand in Paris at 30 Avenue Montaigne. It took less than three months from the brand's creation to show its first collection on Feb. 12, 1947.
Dior had a deep love of art and ran an Art Gallery in France before going into fashion. After closing his gallery during the Great Depression, he worked under fashion designer Robert Piguet and then-couturier Lucien Lelong. Dior was ready for his own work to be showcased though, which is what brought him to create his own fashion house in 1946 and Christian Dior was born.
It was at Dior's very first show that he coined the "New Look." The thought behind the collection was to showcase the end of world war II, according to Culture Trip, and it came with structured silhouettes, cinched waists, and shorter, billowy skirts. The garments were opulent, each dress using an average of 20 yards of fabric. Dior's designs were revolutionary for the time period and quickly put the fashion house on the map as one of the most sought after and adored.
Stars flocked to Christian Dior; everyone from Rita Hayworth to Margot Fonteyn wanted outfit themselves in this New Look that was ahead of its time. With such high-profile women donning his clothes, the brand grew quickly and cemented itself as one of the most iconic in sartorial history.
Soon, Dior went global. A store on Fifth Ave & 57th Street in New York City was opened in 1948, bringing Dior stateside for the first time. With the global launch came an expanded collection as well. Dior started with fragrance, introducing Miss Dior, which he dedicated to his sister. It was also around this time that Dior realized that to continue his New Look, his brand needed to provide the entire fashion experience. That meant licensing the Dior name for accessories. Now, the Dior customer could have the coats, shoes, hats, and every other piece necessary to fully capture the New Look from head to toe.
The Dior brand continued to grow and Dior himself continued to dress the biggest stars of the time. He even outfitted Marlene Dietrich for her 1950 role in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright. His designs remained a fixture in her closet, as well as plenty of other starlets in the late '40s and early '50s.
THE INTRODUCTION OF YVE SAINT LAURENT
A fresh-faced and eager YVES SAINT LAURENT Started working with Christian Dior in 1955 when he was just 19 years old. He began at the fashion house as Dior's assistant, but it didn't take long for the creative genius behind the label to spot the potential in the young Frenchman. According to Vogue, Dior met with Saint Laurent's mother in 1957 to tell her that he'd chosen her son to succeed him at the brand when the time comes. Though he was a mere 21 years old at the time, Dior was able to quickly recognize his eye for fashion and talent for creation.
Dior died in 1957 of a massive heart attack at the age of 52. The entire fashion world grieved the loss of the industry icon gone too soon. To maintain the soul of the brand after Dior's death, Saint Laurent was given the role of artistic director.
The 21-year-old carried on Dior's legacy, largely keeping the original creative vision intact. However, he sought to bring the brand into a softer silhouette, loosening the cinched waists and letting out some of the structure. The collections were hit or miss as the industry tried to reconcile someone else leading the Christian Dior brand. When Saint Laurent was called to serve in the French army in 1960, he was released from the brand.
After Yves Saint Laurent's departure, Marc Bohan took over, making the label's designs more aligned with Christian Dior's classic vision. He took Christian Dior's concept and brought it into the 1960s by streamlining it slightly, which gave it a more modern twist while staying true to the Christian Dior look. With Bohan at the helm, Dior reclaimed its place as the brand beloved the world over.
Bohan stayed with Dior for more than a decade, continuing to build the brand and make it even more internationally successful. He launched ready-to-wear and baby clothes, making Dior more accessible than ever. Stores started popping up in more cities like London and Hong Kong, and the Dior brand was catapulted to the top of the fashion world.
In 1978 however, Dior's parent company, the Boussac Group Filed for bankruptcy.
Christian Dior was purchased by Bernard Arnault, the billionaire behind LVMH Moët Hennessy.
When Arnault took charge of Christian Dior, he assumed the roles of chairman, CEO, and managing director. Despite being folded into LVMH, Christian Dior continued to be its own impressive standalone brand.
With the new direction, Gianfranco Ferre was hired as stylistic director in 1989, who formally founded Dior Haute Couture, a vital arm of the Christian Dior brand. Ferre elevated the brand to new heights, injecting his own creative vision, which included a more refined look than the brand was known for.
Dior Homme, otherwise known as Dior's menswear division, also came about in 2001, with Hedi Slimane serving as its creative director.
After Ferre's tenure, John Galliano took over as creative director, who led Dior into the new millennium, outfitting every star you can imagine — including Princess Diana of Wales. Not only did the princess wear Galliano's couture, but she was partial to his handbags as well. Though Galliano's saddle bags, which have become a staple for the Dior brand, became immensely popular, Princess Diana's go-to was a bag that Galliano later dubbed LADY DIOR with Diana's blessing.
She carried her black handbag with her everywhere, helping to expand Dior's leather goods.
Galliano's vision for Dior was a dramatic departure from the creatives who came before him. Though it was embraced by some, it wasn't universally loved. When he exited the brand in 2011, Raf Simons assumed creative directorship and sought to bring Dior closer to its roots. Simons designs were more understated and feminine, reminiscent of the classic Dior.
Dior made history in 2016 when the fashion house hired its first female artistic director:
Maria Grazia Chiuri formerly of Valentino. While it certainly turned heads when she was hired — being the first woman at the helm of the luxury brand — she didn't love that it was the focus. She told Vogue in 2018, "I think, in a way, when people point it out, they're not recognizing that I have a talent. I'm not here because I'm a woman, but because I'm good at what I do."
Chiuri added a woman's touch to the style at Christian Dior, famously creating her feminist-centric line, yet her direction still felt in line with what Dior created all those years ago. Although all the male creative directors who came before her were all in their own way instrumental for the brand, Chiuri brought bold, social consciousness to the label, taking the brand from feminine to feminist. In doing so, she seized an important place for Dior in fashion that is modern, relevant, and classic, all at the same time.