History of Christian Dior’s New Look

Image by Shakko

Christian Dior, bar suit

As you saw in our vintage fashion timeline post, each decade of style is defined by something special. But something extraordinary happened in 1947 that goes beyond defining just a decade, it impacts design to this very day. Join us as we discuss the history of Christian Dior’s New Look. But first we’ll talk about the man behind the magic!

Who was Christian Dior

Born and raised in Normandy, France, Dior led a relatively protected childhood. His youth was spent at a villa, Granville, surrounded by flowers, gardens, and his imagination. Dior’s passion for flowers carried with him throughout his life and career. In fact, his lucky flower, lily of the valley, was stitched inside the hems of the New Look dresses as they debuted to an adoring public. Roses factored in to his designs as well. To him, their endless varieties embodied a woman’s desire to blossom and reinvent herself. These considerations show a man who thought outside the box and embraced the spirit of life.

Image by stickpen

Rose beauty

He always knew he had a destiny, but his path to greatness was not a direct one. Before his designs graced the catwalk, he studied political science and served in the military. His design career started around 1935 when he came back to Paris to sell sketches and develop his creative vision. Dior’s talents were noticed by designer Robert Piguet and by 1938 he was working with him to create styles that even caught the attention of Carmel Snow, editor in chief at Harper’s Bazaar.

His progress was interrupted by WWII, where he served in the South of France for three years. Upon his return he found work with couturier Lucien Lelong. Half a decade later and Dior’s destiny finally aligned with reality; financially supported by prominent textile manufacturer, Marcel Boussac, Dior established House of Dior in 1946. A year later, at age 42, his “New Look” took flight.

Christian Dior’s New Look

February 12, 1947 is a day etched in fashion history. The war had ended two years prior, women were craving a fun, new style, and the fashion elite had written off European designs as stagnant. Dior’s debut show was a breath of fresh air. Each of Dior’s subsequent collections had a theme and for this collection the motif was the figure eight. It’s seen in the pronounced shoulders, celebrated hips, small waist, and emphasized bust. While this silhouette found inspiration in the hourglass shape of the Belle Époque, it still stood out as a unique form.

Belle Époque fashion

Belle Époque fashion, inspiration for Dior

To achieve his signature look, Dior actually re-structured his mannequins to create the ideal silhouette. He molded the dresses around each curve and revived the tradition of lining the fabrics with taffeta. Ninety styles were shown during the “New Look” show and while every dress was a star in its own right, perhaps the Bar Suit was the most stunning. Its cream-colored morning coat with soft, rounded tails and large, black pleated skirt captured everyone’s attention. Topped with a hat and gloves, it reminded women about their romantic and feminine side. As we mentioned before, the slender shoes worn by the models were a revolution in their own right.

Why it’s called Dior’s New Look

While the two themes for his Spring 1947 collection were En Huit (eight) and Corolle (corolla or flower petals), the style is forever referred to as the “New Look.” But where did this tagline come about? Carmel Snow, editor in chief at Harper’s Bazaar, is credited with the phrase. She was quoted by an American journalist as saying “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!”

Reaction to the New Look

At the fashion show there were reports of women passionately fighting over dresses in the fitting rooms. At a photo shoot in Montmartre, models practically had their clothes completely ripped off by passersby. Part of the appeal to Dior’s style was that it spoke to the star in every woman and celebrities were definitely no exception. Elle magazine ran a picture of Marlene Dietrich’s legs with the caption that we’d never see her gorgeous gams again because she ordered Dior’s dresses and the longer hemline will cover them up! But as with all cutting edge style, it took time for the general public to get behind it.

Dior's New Look

Evita in Dior, 1950

His extravagant designs were formally criticized in Britain as fabric rationing was still in order (and Dior famously used an extraordinary amount of yardage for each creation). Americans took some time to embrace the style; during the war years women had become accustomed to the more casual and light looks of designers such as Claire McCardell. However, fast forwarding another twelve months and even the most reluctant lady wanted the New Look.

Here is Dior’s reaction to his work, in his own words: “Women, with their sure instincts, realized that my intention was to make them not just more beautiful but also happier.”

Check out a great article on a Dior find from the amazing Miss Kitty!

Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: Dior, Vogue, The Met Museum, Life, and the people who post their images without restrictions.

For our readers: What do you think about the New Look? Are you as inspired as we are that he found success later in life?

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