The Insane, Breathtaking History Of Dior Haute Couture

Photo: Courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria.
Few names in fashion carry as extensive and illustrative a history as the house of Christian Dior. The post-war-founded atelier caught the attention of European consumers with its clean lines — and the New Look, the flower, and notes of the Belle Époque — and would go on to make up 5% of France's total revenue, revolutionizing style around the world. It's safe to say, then, that the lifespan of Dior is so vast, it's impossible to put it all in one place. That's why, in the wake of yet another exhibition, there's a coffee table book coming out that deserves a slot in your library of Dior encyclopedias: The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture.
Across 256 pages, The House of Dior serves as an in-depth look at how the French fashion house has evolved under the creatives who've come and go. Starting with Christian Dior himself, the introduction of the New Look in spring 1947 is said to have revived the country's fashion industry. But not everyone was pleased with its laissez-faire attitude toward textiles, including feminists who felt its corset shapes were restricting and regressive. Then came Yves Saint Laurent, who made a name for himself at Dior, having been the couturier's assistant for years prior. Saint Laurent introduced the youthful and rebellious edge the fashion house needed to expand globally.
Succeeding him, Marc Bohan, the longest serving creative director of Dior, is, ironically, the least famous leader in its pedigree. The Bohan era may be forever marked as restrained and modest, but it was the biggest commercially successful period the house had ever seen. Bohan used elegant suits and easy-to-pull-off silhouettes to bridge the elite and non-elite. Up next, Gianfranco Ferré helmed the house, being the first non-French creative director to do so, and set out to distance himself from the precedents set before him. For the most part, he succeeded in implementing his own, architectural aesthetic, but the uncertainty of couture's future brought about by the early-90s stifled his creative prowess.
Then, perhaps the most famous generation of Dior designers came next. Beginning with John Galliano, the house of Dior would never be the same (save for Raf Simons' rebirth of archival Dior works, which we'll get to later). Despite the public controversy that preceded and awaited him, the British visionary's designs are cemented in fashion history as the most theatrical, sketch-to-runway works the industry has ever seen. Because of his relentless search for the deepest connection between the fashion, art, and culture worlds, he's considered one of the most flamboyant designers — ever.
Following Galliano's reign, a New Wave designer from Belgium reverted Dior back to its streamlined, immortal roots: entrée Raf Simons. Though his tenure was short, Simons was tasked with creating an entire collection in just eight weeks upon his arrival. His debut was a raging success, with many claiming the fanfare around the event to be like nothing the fashion crowd had ever seen. But it'd be revealed shortly after his departure that the time constraints got the best of Simons, with collections needing to be designed in three to five weeks. He left the label after three years for Calvin Klein, and Valentino co-designer Maria Grazia Chiuri — the house's first female leader — stepped in.
Despite 70 years worth of shifts, shake-ups, and redesigns, Dior remains the leading couturier in French fashion. Much of the slideshow ahead showcases both the intimate and grandiose moments that lead to the commercial powerhouse that Dior is today. As The House of Dior exemplifies — and visually demonstrates via hundreds of photographs — its creative directors may enter and exit the house having left their individual marks on its ready-to-wear collections, but the heart of Dior will always beat for haute couture.

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