Christian Dior: 7 decades of divine French Fashion

It launched in 1947

Mulenga Hornsby

Since its launch in 1947, Christian Dior has dressed the chicest women in the world, from First Ladies and Princesses to pop divas and screen goddesses, all seduced by the iconic French house's intoxicating promise of femininity, luxury and glamour. If there is one name synonymous with couture, that name is Christian Dior.

The original Monsieur Dior's vision was to offer women starved of romance and joy by the Second World War the unique beauty and mystery of French elegance. His first collection was an immediate sensation, dubbed the New Look by fashion editors for its radical silhouette of tiny waists, curvaceous hips, billowing skirts and narrow shoulders.

From his headquarters in Paris's Avenue Montaigne, Monsieur Dior built a fashion empire that beguiled the world

Dior and the six designers who took up his mantle – chosen for their ability to honour his heritage while marching to the tune of new times – are celebrated in an exhibition that runs until next January in Paris's Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Among the maison's earliest devotees was Britain's Princess Margaret, who found the romanticism of his creations a perfect foil for her delicate wasp-waisted beauty. She described the exquisite Dior ballgown she wore in 1951 for her 21st birthday as "my favourite dress of all".

To Farah Diba, Empress of Iran, Dior's successor Yves Saint Laurent was also a genius. As America's First Lady, Jackie Kennedy mostly limited herself to US designers. However, on the one occasion the chic brunette slipped into Dior she enraptured all present at the White House.

A woman modelling a day dress and sunhat as part of the new Dior collection in 1959

From the movies. the Parisian label found a myriad admirers, including Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. Today's star fans are Rihanna and Charlize Theron. Dior is still 'haute' because from the outset its founder conceived of his label as a brand, picking every detail for the first presentation with care.

The Napoleon III chairs on which guests sat recalled his grandmother's; their crossed diagonal cannage design is now the motif of the house. A perfume, Miss Dior, wafted through the salon. As Dior explained: "I have created this perfume in order to wrap each woman in exquisite femininity, as though each of my dresses had emerged, one by one, from a perfume bottle."

Christian Dior was only at the helm for ten years

It's hard to believe, given his lasting influence over the house, that Christian Dior was only at the helm for ten years. He died at the age of 52 and was replaced by his 'dauphin', Yves Saint Laurent. Still only 21, YSL had one extremely successful season, with cars jamming the street and bystanders gazing at the celebrities, when he launched the 'Trapeze' collection, a softer version of the New Look.

But interpreting the maestro’s vision while adding modern touches is always a difficult balancing act. His 1960 'Beat' designs, inspired by the existentialists of Paris's Left Bank, including a leather jacket embossed with a crocodile pattern which fashionistas would die for now, were criticised.

Marc Bohan came next, providing stability during a tenure of nearly 30 years with deceptively simple, 1920s-inspired designs. In the late 1980s, Dior took what was then a bold step by hiring foreign talent. Gianfranco Ferre boosted the ready-to-wear and accessories division, creating the iconic Lady Dior bag so beloved of celebrities to this day.

John Galliano and Charlize Theron

The Milanese maestro was succeeded by Gibraltar-born British designer John Galliano, who was recommended by Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Once again CEO Bernard Arnault, who has controlled the brand since 1983, was forced to defend the choice, saying: "Talent has no nationality." The enfant terrible of fashion, Galliano kept Dior constantly at the forefront, amazing with the spectacular theatricality of his shows.

The sixth Mr Dior was Belgian Raf Simons, who took the brand in a more minimalist direction. And now, Dior is headed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, its first female chief designer. As she harnesses the girl-power style of the millennial generation, it's clear Dior is set to amaze and delight us for decades to come.

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