Christian Dior Biography – From bird droppings to a fashion and jewellery empire

Christian Dior Biography – From bird droppings to a fashion and jewellery empire

Dior childhood home: SimonCourtecuisse, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


“women are lucky for you, and through them you will achieve success.”
-Fortune teller to a teenage Christian Dior


Now synonymous with luxury, the Christian Dior label was founded in October 1946, releasing its first collection in 1947. Shaped by his upbringing and love of art, Christian Dior, the man, instilled those values into Christian Dior, the house. Since the launch of that first collection the clothing and jewellery produced by Christian Dior is known around the world for its femininity, elegance and luxury.


Christian Dior: the man behind the Maison

Christian Dior was born in 1905 and spent his childhood at the family home in Granville, an upmarket seaside town in Normandy France. The large pink and grey pebble dash house perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.  Its interior was decorated in an array of styles which collectively he described as ‘hideous’, however he carried a sense of nostalgia for it throughout his life, with pink and grey recurring frequently in his collections.  He even sought out the sitting room wallpaper to decorate his own home later in life, incidentally, it was yellow.  The former family home now houses the Christian Dior Museum.

The Dior family money was made in fertilizer. Dior’s father, Maurice, ran the family company Dior Sons & Co. The company imported guano, that’s bird poop to you and me, and processed it into fertilizer on an industrial scale.


1928 – 1934 - Art Dealer

Christian didn’t fall directly into a fashion career but first explored many avenues. Suppressing his desire to be creative and trying to please his industrialist father he began by enrolling in a political science course. Having lost interest in that he took a sizable investment from his father and opened a Parisian art gallery with one of his friends. The money was given under the condition that the Dior name should not adorn the shop front as that was seen to be low class and shameful.

The gallery did moderately well, selling paintings by artists from Christian Dior’s social circle including Salvador Dali, Max Jacob and Picasso. A second gallery was opened in 1932 but the repercussions of the financial crash were soon felt, and the gallery was closed. By 1934 he was bankrupt.


Tapestry Workshop

While convalescing in the countryside from a bout of tuberculosis Dior discovered a love of Tapestry making. He even considered setting up a tapestry workshop but was dissuaded by the lack of public interest in tapestries.


Fashion sketches

Upon his return to the city, Dior made money as a freelance artist selling fashion sketches. His first sale yielded 120 Francs for four designs.


1937 - A start in the design world

Eventually his sketches caught the attention of Robert Piguet and Dior was offered a job as a house designer. He flourished and created many successful designs. The outbreak of the second world war led to Dior being deployed to the south of France and having to leave his job at Piguet.


1939 - Farmer

Fortunately for Dior he was stationed near to the home where his father and sister were living. His father had been ruined in the financial crash but Christian tried to keep them afloat for a time by selling off his remaining paintings from his defunct gallery. They decided to put the land that surrounded the home to work and planted crops of peas of runner beans, selling them at the local market.


1941 - Designer

He soon learned that many of the couture houses in Paris were operating during the occupation so in 1941 he took a position as designer at Lucien Lelong.


1946 - His own label

After spending several years learning his craft at Lelong Dior took financial investment and founded his own label, Maison Christian Dior.


How Christian Dior Changed Fashion: The New Look

His first collection was a reaction to years of rationing and deprivation brought about by the economic crisis and the war. He wanted to bring good taste, elegance, femininity and luxury back to fashion.

His first collection was a hit with the editor of Harper’s Bazaar christening it the ‘New Look’. Of particular note is the Bar suit, pictured below. The cinched waist and full skirt made with yards of fabric celebrated the decadence that Dior wanted to introduce back into women’s wardrobes.


The Bar suit by Christian Dior
The Bar suit: SpiritedMichelle, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Not everyone was a fan of the New Look, with one of the fiercest critics being Coco Chanel. Unhappy at the departure from her more practical silhouette and never one to mince words she said of the New Look, “Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one.” Libellous statements aside, Chanel’s opinion was that the New Look with its extravagance and ultra-feminine style was undoing the liberation that women’s clothing had undergone in the previous twenty years.



Christian Dior’s Death

Sadly, Christian Dior passed away at the relatively young age of 52. He had just arrived for a stay at an Italian spa for a food detox of sorts and died of a stroke and heart attack while playing a game of cards. He had frequently described himself as being overly fond of food and reportedly ate an entire foie gras the evening before his death, having already suffered two heart attacks in previous years.

The house of Christian Dior ushered in a new look in fashion and a new era in the business of luxury goods. He introduced own-label perfumes and jewellery very early on with many fashion houses following in his footsteps. The business was enomously successful during his life and has continued to be successful ever since. One wonders if asked now, would his parents maintain their reluctance to display the family name above the door?   A Gadelles favourite is vintage Christian Dior costume jewellery, view our collection.

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