Christian Dior was born in Normandy, France, to a well-off family with his father having a very successful fertilizer manufacturing business. At an early age, Christian Dior loved art, often selling his sketches on the street for money. Although his parents wanted him to be a diplomat, it was his father who bought him a small art gallery that he would go on to sell pieces of art with, alongside one of his friends. However, once the Great Depression hit he was forced to close the art gallery. This was when he was first introduced into the fashion world, as he began working for designer Robert Piguet. He worked under Robert Piguet until he was called into military service in 1940. After completing his service in 1942, he ended up working alongside Pierre Balmain, and together they worked for Lucian Long.
Lucian Long, among other designers, made clothes for the wives of Nazi officers and their French allies in order to preserve the fashion industry. Interestingly enough, while Christian Dior was working at this, his sister Catherine Dior joined the French Resistance. She was eventually captured and imprisoned, but she survived and in 1945 was liberated. It was she who the Miss Dior perfume was named after as tribute later in 1947 when Christian Dior launched it.
He founded Christian Dior in 1946, backed by Marcel Boussac, who was a cotton fabric magnate. Eventually, he chose to launch his first collection in 1947 he created 90 looks titled “Carolle” and “Huit”. With this collection he introduced a new look that had not been popularized before, a singed waist, a fuller bust, and a calf length, full skirt; really bringing a woman’s curves and figure. This was coined the “New Look” and female celebrities like actresses at the time went crazy over it. Christian Dior’s brand was instantly a huge success. Dior was even invited to stage a private showing of the collection for the British royal family.
After the War
In 1948 Dior established a ready-to-wear store in New York, this store was the first of its kind. During this year he also launched Dior perfumes starting with Miss Dior, and the next year following up with Diorama.
In 1949 Christian Dior became the first luxury brand to have licensed production of his designs. He felt that there was importance in a completed look and it could not be a look without the correct Dior accessories. Dior and his business partner Jacques Rouet, licensed his name to many accessories. Soon Dior was being manufactured across the world and his brand name was spreading like wildfire. Licensing was something that made Dior extremely profitable, and although at first he was criticized for it by the French Chamber of Couture, since it was looked at as cheapening the couture industry. Nearly all the other luxury couture brands also ended up licensing their brands when they saw how successful Dior became because of it.
In 1955 a boy named Yves Saint Laurent began working for him as a design assistant. Christian Dior saw that Yves Saint Laurent had a lot of potential, and even told Saint Laurent’s mother that he wanted Yves Saint Laurent to take over as the head of the brand after he passed.
In 1957 Christian Dior suffered from a heart attack and passed away, which is when Yves Saint Laurent took over. His designs were very hit or miss because people were still not used to someone else leading Dior. However his leadership was cut short in 1960 when he was called on to serve the French army. This is when Mark Bohan took over. Marc Bohan was able to stay true to Dior’s roots in femininity and so Dior’s popularity soared once again. It was Marc Bohan who made Dior even more internationally successful, and Dior sky rocketed to the top of the fashion industry.
In 1978, the Boussac Group that had backed Christian Dior since its establishment, filed for bankruptcy and Dior was sold to the Willot Group. Shortly after, Bernard Arnault’s investment group LVMH purchased Dior.
The 1980s and 1990s
In 1989 Marc Bohan was replaced by Gianfranco Ferre, who held this position until 1997.
Bernard Arnault appointed the British designer John Galliano, under Anna Wintour’s influence, as creative director of Christian Dior.
In 1999 John Galliano dropped Dior’s Spring / Summer 2000 collection which featured Dior’s iconic Saddle bag. It was John Galliano who followed in Gucci’s footsteps to make Dior a “sexier” brand.
In 2001 the Dior Homme menswear line came out with Hedi Slimane as the creative director.
Bill Gaytten, who had been John Galliano’s design director, became the new creative director of Christian Dior, although his first collection received mostly negative reviews. He was only the director for that year.
In 2012 it was announced that Raf Simons was appointed as the new artistic director of Christian Dior. Raf Simons’s style was very different from that of John Galliano’s, but the brand was happy to go forward in a brand new direction.
In 2016 Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first woman to ever hold the position of artistic director at Christian Dior. She was able to reinvent Dior into a more modern-day woman style, all while staying true to Dior’s original roots. Her first collection released for the Spring / Summer 2017 was widely loved by fashion lovers as well as critics.
In 2020 due to COVID-19, Dior, like many other brands, had to show its Fall / Winter 2021 collection via a virtual runway.
Christian Dior has had an interesting history, and only time will tell what’s next for the brand in the years to come.