Today in Brand History: Christian Dior
On December 16, 1946, the House of Dior was established at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France by fashion designer Christian Dior and his financial backer, Marcel Boussac.
Dior was born in 1905 on the Normandy coast of France, moving with his family to Paris when he was five. His French aristocrat parents Maurice and Madeleine Dior hoped that he would become a diplomat, but Dior decided to pursue art. He sold fashion sketches outside of his home for ten cents to make money. In 1928, he left school and with a loan from his parents, he opened a small art gallery with a friend of his, though his parents refused to let him use the family name because galleries at the time where not the same as today.
The gallery offered works from Pablo Picasso and in 1929 and 1930, Dior and his friends hosted a series of exhibitions featuring avant-garde European artists including Max Ernst, Raoul Dufy, and Max Jacob. In 1931, the gallery debuted Salvador Dali’s masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory. Unfortunately, the impact of the Great Depression set in and the gallery eventualy closed.
By 1937, Dior had turned to design and was employed by the fashion designer Robert Piquet who employed him to work on three of his collections. While at Piquet, Dior worked with Pierre Balmain and was succeeded by Marc Bohan when he was called up for military service. In 1942, when Dior left the army, he joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, working again alongside Balmain. While with Lelong, he worked to preserve the French fashion industry, often being called upon to create dress designs for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators.
In 1946, Marcel Boussac, a wealthy entrepreneur, asked Dior to design for Philippe et Gaston but Dior refused, wanting instead to make a fresh start under his own name. This led to Boussac’s backing of the launch of House of Dior. In February of 1947, Christian Dior launched his first fashion collection for Spring-Summer 1947. He presented the collection in the salon his company’s headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The two lines, “Corolle” and “Huit” quickly became known as the “New Look” after Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar explained, “It’s such a new look!” Dior’s collection revolutionized women’s dress and helped to reestablish Paris as the center of the fashion world after World War II.
In 1947, Dior released his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, as a tribute to his sister Catherine who served as a member of the French Resistance. She was captured by the Gestapo and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp until her liberation in May, 1945.
By the end of 1949 with the opening of a Christian Dior boutique in New York City, Dior fashions made up 75% of Paris's fashion exports and 5% of France's total export revenue. In 1950, Jacques Rouet, the director of Dior Ltd, launched an aggressive licensing program to expand upon the success of the “Christian Dior” name on a variety of luxury goods from neckties to jewelry, hats, gloves, scarves, and handbags. While the world of "haute-couture" denounced the move, it was ultimately profitable and started a trend that would continue across most couture brands.
In 1955, Yves Saint Laurent joined Dior as his design assistant at 19 years old. Christian Dior later met with Yves Saint Laurent's mother, Lucienne Mathieu-Saint Laurent, in 1957, to tell her that he had chosen Saint Laurent to succeed him at Dior. She later told friends that she was confused by Dior’s comment to her, given that he was only 52 at the time.
Shortly after appearing on the cover of TIME on Marcy 4, 1957, the designer died suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation in Italy on October 24, 1957. Rouet, honoring Dior’s request, did promote the now 21-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent to Artistic Director that same year. He was succeeded by Marc Bohan who served in the Creative Director role from 1960 to 1989.
In 1984, Bernard Arnault, then a young real estate developer, discovered that the French government was set to choose someone to take over the Boussac Saint-Frères empire, a textile and retail conglomerate that owned Christian Dior. He became the CEO of Financière Agache and swon the bidding war for Boussac Saint-Frères, buying the group for a ceremonial one franc and took control of Boussac Saint-Frères. Along with Christian Dior, Boussac's assets included the department store Le Bon Marche. Arnault went on to co-found and eventually acquire LVMH.
On 11 March 2022, 30 Avenue Montaigne, historically the place where Christian Dior showcased his first collection once again opened its doors to the public after being closed for two years for renovations.