We take a look at the iconic first ever Dior collection: 'New Look', launched in Paris in Spring 1947. This exclusive extract is taken from 'Dior Catwalk: The Complete Collections' – a treasure trove of couture inspiration featuring over 1,100 images.
The true fashion moment is much mythologized, but seldom encountered. Despite the fashion industry’s assertions to the contrary, there have been few. That is because the true fashion moment requires a tricky set of circumstances to materialize, to transmogrify a mere showing of clothes into something that galvanizes wider culture into taking note, resonating on a larger scale. The true fashion moment is about translating the ephemeral into material, about creating garments that express, somehow, the hopes and fears and aspirations of then and there. A fashion moment is often prophesied, but only a handful of fashion designers – even the greatest of the great – can lay claim to having achieved it.
Fashion’s many proposed ‘moments’ are seldom pinned down as precisely as that which occurred on 12 February 1947, when a young couture house named after its founder, Christian Dior, debuted a spring haute couture collection in a Paris still gripped by winter. The house of Dior had been established less than two months earlier, financed by billionaire textile magnate Marcel Boussac, and envisaged by Dior from the very start as a small and exclusive house, devoted to clothes of grand luxe. Both the metaphorical maison de couture and the physical house itself at 30 avenue Montaigne had been readied at breakneck speed. The final bang of the final hammer was heard as the first clients and press entered the salons.
‘I wanted a house in which every single thing would be new,’ recalled Christian Dior, a decade later, in his autobiography Dior by Dior. ‘From the ambiance and the staff, down to the furniture and even the address. All around us, life was beginning anew: it was time for a new trend in fashion.’ The new was what Dior symbolized, for fashion generally and for Paris specifically. A new fashion, for a new era, sweeping away the austerity of wartime. Dior’s clothes were shown in a salon freshly painted a gentle dove grey, its neoclassical décor a million miles from Gabrielle Chanel’s honey-hued modernism on the rue Cambon or Elsa Schiaparelli’s arresting Surrealist high jinks (shocking pink carpets, Salvador Dalí-installed window displays) in Place Vendôme. Dior’s cabine of mannequins moved differently, too, with a graceful pirouetting walk, a delicacy. Dior was the home of the new.
The couturier himself did not have the temerity to call his clothes new. That came from the entranced editor-in-chief of America’s Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow, who fêted Dior for dresses that had such a new look. But the collection Dior showed then – and there – was more than that. It was a revelation, a revolution, the supreme fashion moment. Ignoring the fashions of the recent past, Dior created something profoundly different: an impression of softness, of fragility, of la femme fleur, tightly fitted bodices like buds moulding a minute waist and emphatic bust and hips, the skirt below spreading like a flower, billowing to the mid-calf.
Carmel Snow was right. Everything about the collection was new. It erased the recent past. If shoulders had been square, Dior’s were rounded; if shoes had been heavily platformed and hats high-piled with fruit, flowers and gewgaws, suddenly ankles were delicate, millinery streamlined. The abundance of fabric, more than anything else, epitomized a move away from the scrimping and saving, the making do and mending, that emblemized wartime strife. Dior’s clothes looked towards a bright future. The key model of the collection? Le Tailleur Bar, a softly curved ivory silk tussore jacket, basques added to set off a handspan midriff, above a skirt pleated from four metres of black wool. It formed an indelible image, one that still resonates with us today, seventy years later. Le Bar is representative, simultaneously, of femininity incarnate, of haute couture’s supremacy, and of the power of fashion.
More than anything else, it looked new.