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.