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Christian Dior: A Man Who Started His Career At 41, Changed Fashion, Died Early

Icons | March 9, 2020

Christian Dior circa 1950. (Photo by Eugene KAMMERMAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Christian Dior is one of the most well known names in fashion. Following World War II his designs splashed across the pages of magazines and they’re still catwalking down the runway, but when hit the scene he wasn’t some young designer - he was in his 40s. Dior’s story is one a man who spent his entire life trying to reach the heights of the fashion industry after a childhood spent searching for a place to be. When his goal was sidelined by the war he didn’t give up, he picked up right where he left off before he enlisted and turned his name into one of the most trusted brands of the 20th century and beyond. Dior’s success story shows that you don’t have to be young to follow your dreams.

Dior Was The Second Of Five Children

source: hello magazine

Born in the coastal town of Granville, France, Christian Dior was the second of five children in a well to do family. His father, Maurice Dior, was a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer who moved the family to Paris when Christian was five years old. His parents hoped that he would get into politics and possibly become a diplomat, but Dior wasn’t interested in that world. He wanted to be an artist. Initially he sold his own sketches and prints in the streets of Paris for 10 cents a pop, and by 1928 he had enough money (with help from his father) to open his own small gallery. Dior and his friends sold their own work as well as pieces by Pablo Picasso (heard of him?) until they shut down due to financial difficulties during the Great Depression.

Dior Finally Gets Into Fashion

source: biography

With the folding of his gallery Dior was back to selling sketches along the Parisian streets, but he shifted his focus from high art to high fashion. His work caught the eye of designer Robert Piguet, who hired Dior to design three collections. One of the designs, a day dress with a short, full skirt called "Cafe Anglais", was a hit. While working for Piguet, Dior met house designer by Marc Bohan who went only to become head of design at Christian Dior Paris in 1960. Dior later said of his time with the designer, “Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.”

His Dreams Of Design Were Cut Short By World War II

source: WWD

In 1941, Dior was drafted into the military, forcing him to leave Piguet while he served in the south of France. When he returned from his time in the military he went to work for Lucien Lelong, a much larger fashion house than the one where he’d been employed prior to military service. While working in Nazi-occupied France he created designs for French collaborators and the wives of Nazi officers. It wasn’t just the Lelong fashion house doing this, every fashion company in France worked for the Nazis in order to keep their business afloat. Dior’s sister, Catherine, was a member of the French Resistance and was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp where she survived until its liberation in 1945. Two years later Christian named his debut fragrance after her.

Dior Strikes Out On His Own

source: Hello Magazine

After France was freed from the iron hand of the Nazis, Christian Dior decided that he was done working for other designers. He was invited to work for Philippe et Gaston by Marcel Boussac in 1946, but he refused because he wanted to make his own personal statement. Boussac was impressed with Dior’s moxie and agreed to give him a little funding. On December 8, 1946, when he was 41 years old, Dior opened his own fashion house. No longer under the strict the fabric ration that gripped Europe throughout the war Dior decided to create voluptuous shapes for women and to use as many materials as possible in order to create shapely, curvaceous silhouettes.

Dior Wasn't A Hit Out Of The Box

source: pinterest

It took time before Dior’s designs were desirable. Initially women were unsure about his looks because they covered up their legs, and used so much fabric. People just weren’t used to his personal brand of fashion. Dior's designs came to be known as the “New Look,” but there was major backlash from other designers of the era. Coco Chanel shaded Dior by saying:

Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one.

Once the wartime rationing ended, women began to flock to Dior’s designs. In just a few short years he’d revolutionized the fashion industry and returned Paris to the focus of the fashion world.

His Death Is Still A Thing Of Mystery

source: Amazon

Christian Dior burned bright in his final years. His collections were a hit and he became one of the most well known names in fashion in his 40s. While on vacation in Italy on October 24, 1957 he passed away from a heart attack - that much we know. But the details of his death are mysterious. He is said to have choked on a fish bone, but his obituary said that he had a heart attack after playing a game of cards. The most salacious rumor about his death came from Paris socialite Baron de Redé who wrote that Dior passed away from a heart attack after an intense sexual encounter. The cause of his death is still unknown.

Tags: Christian Dior | Fashion | What Did He Do?... | Mysterious Deaths

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.