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The Man Who Changed the Way the World Looked

Posted on 31 Jul 2017

In the House of Dior’s 70th anniversary year, 'Dior Catwalk' brought together for the first time all the collections, from Christian Dior’s first spectacular show in 1947 to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut in 2017. Adélia Sabatini, editor and co-author with Alexander Fury, talks about the detective work involved in unearthing rare photographs and the ways in which Dior’s iconic New Look has been interpreted by the couturier’s successors.

John Galliano’s reworking of the Bar suit in 1997, using fringing instead of padding, as well as a crocodile leather mini-skirt and hat. This collection was inspired by the Belle Epoque of Dior’s mother’s era mixed with the style of the Maasai tribe.

Seventy Years of Dior

Even though his name rapidly became world famous, Christian Dior himself was at the helm of the house for only ten years, from 1947 to 1957, before he died of a heart attack. He was succeeded by Yves St Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and, today, Maria Grazia Chiuri. Dior supported our efforts to create a chronological overview of the house’s creations under all of these different designers over 70 years, and it was fantastic to see a similar perspective echoed by Maria Grazia when she unveiled her first collection for the house at the end of last year. ‘There were incredible artists who worked in the house after Christian Dior, so I decided to look at the brand in a different way – like a curator’, she said, taking inspiration from each of Dior’s successors in her own collection, including the work of Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme.

The Research

The most challenging part was finding photographs of the earlier collections. From 1947 to the 1970s it was sometimes quite tough, but we had precious help from the Dior archive team in Paris, and together we found several images that had never been published before: photographs by Willy Maywald from the early 1950s and previously unknown photographs of 1960s Dior creations drawn from the archives of the Fashion Group in New York. Researching these lost collections was a special experience, as was reading through the original press releases written by Dior and the reviews in 1950s and 1960s American magazines and newspapers, with reports by Vogue editors Jessica Daves and Diana Vreeland and also less well known fashion-show stalwarts such as Eugenia Sheppard at the Washington Post, or Gloria Emerson and Patricia Peterson at the New York Times, who could be quite witty (‘Marc Bohan sent his models trotting out today with the broad, padded shoulders of a high-fashion football team’, wrote Peterson in a – positive – 1963 review).

The Bar Suit

Created by Christian Dior in his first collection in 1947, the Bar suit would become the symbol of the New Look (a term coined in 1947 by Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar), and Dior’s most famous creation. The jacket of the 1947 original, worn over an ample pleated skirt, featured a minute waist set off by rounded hips that were actually padded. It was a very constructed garment, almost like armour, even though it looked quite natural and was designed by Dior to evoke the shape of a flower: ‘I designed clothes for flower-like women’, he would often declare. The four metres of black wool that made up the pleated skirt also made it very heavy and, coming so soon after years of drastic fabric rationing during the war, caused quite a scandal.

Maria Grazia Chiuri’s take on the Bar silhouette is revisited in a lighter, more open version. The jacket is worn over a white T-shirt with a black tulle skirt and knitted lingerie is glimpsed beneath – the complete opposite of the heavy 1947 skirt with its huge yardage.

The Bar Revisited

Updating such an iconic garment, as Dior’s successors from Gianfranco Ferré onwards had to do, inevitably revealed the Zeitgeist of each era. While Ferré, in the hedonistic 1980s supersized it and teamed it with dramatic bows, John Galliano proposed a very different take on it for his first Dior collection in 1997: the jacket was much lighter and shorter, with fringing instead of padding, and teamed with a sexy leather micro mini.

In his first collection, Raf Simons focused on the architectural dimension of the Bar silhouette, and proposed a very modern, more practical Bar ‘tuxedo’: a black jacket with rounded shoulders and rounded hips, worn with black tailored trousers. Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first collection was all about femininity and feminism, with an emphasis on garments that would allow a woman to move more freely. Her Bar jacket was very light and white, casually worn open over a white T-shirt and a transparent tulle skirt (and flat shoes of course).

Dior Catwalk (Catwalk)

The Complete Collections Alexander Fury, Adélia Sabatini