All about Christian Dior: Born the son of a fertilizer magnate, Christian Dior struggled before he finally made it big in 1947
For all of the images of wealth, beauty, and glamour that the name Christian Dior inspires, it’s surprising to discover that man who actually bore it only had a fashion house for eleven years before he died suddenly in 1957.
The man who had the power and audacity to call his incredibly popular first line of clothing “The New Look,” was born in Angers, France in 1905. Although not born into poverty, Dior’s father owned and managed the family fertilizer business. Dior was the came second in a roster of five children. While the other children were out doing quintessentially French things like playing soccer or causing general childhood mayhem, little Christian seemed more interested in helping his mother decorate. It is said that during carnival times, Dior became quite well known in his family for designing interesting costumes for his siblings.
Dior’s family moved to Paris in 1911 and he found himself plunged into the metropolitan life of that glamorous city. Upon finishing high school, he pleaded with his parents to be allowed to study fine arts in university. They, with grander thoughts in mind than having a simple artist in the family, refused. Instead, they insisted that he study Political Science en route to eventually becoming a diplomat. Four years later, no degree in hand, everyone gave up on the Dior family’s dream of diplomacy. Instead, the wealthy young man became a bit of a socialite in Paris, rubbing elbows with famous artists and writers.
Dior finally decided to follow his passion for the arts and, to his disbelief, secured financing from his mother to open an art gallery in Paris. His mother’s only stipulation for lending the money was that the Dior family name never be associated with the business. The 1929 stock market crash and the world depression that followed it wreaked havoc upon Dior’s life. His father lost everything, including the family furniture, in the crash. Dior’s art gallery business partner, Jacques Bonjean, also lost his shirt and their gallery was shut down. Bankrupt, the former socialite called on his connections and essentially supported his jobless lifestyle through the charity of his rich friends.
Dior finally got his act together and began drawing sketches for clothes designers. As his sketches became increasingly popular the young man found himself gainfully employed and even began sending money to his once-wealthy father.
World War II put a stop to everything. Dior was conscripted into the French army and outlasted the war in Southern France. After the war, however, the stage was set for Dior to come on strong. Teaming with Marcel Boussac, a textile manager, Dior opened his own design house in 1946. His timing was perfect. After years of suffering through the austerity, deprivation, and depression that accompanies war, European women were ready to let their hair down and celebrate themselves.
Dior, who once famously said of women, “My dream is to save them from nature,” allowed them to indulge that celebratory post-war feeling. His first line of clothing in 1947, the New Look, featured rounded shoulders, a tight waist, an emphasized bust line, and a large skirt. It said woman and women said, “I’ll take it”. The clothing line exploded in popularity. His genius, and fortune, came from license agreements, of which he was an early pioneer. Instead of manufacturing all the clothes themselves, Dior and his partner Jaques Rouet, arranged the licensed production of the Dior line to many different manufacturers. This led to a rapid rise of awareness of his brand and widespread availability. Using this growing fame, the Dior house began to expand into furs, perfume, socks, and other accessories.
In 1953 Dior hired the young Yves Saint Laurent to design for him. In 1957, at the height of his fame, Dior had a heart attack while sitting in a chair on vacation in Italy. This was despite having been told by his astrologer that the stars weren’t there for a visit to Italy. Dior was only 52 years old when he died on October, 23 1957