Wednesday, 21 January 2015

He likened his dresses to his children

From an article in Newsweek, citing Christian Dior's impressions of America, when he moved there during the backlash against his extravagant "New Look" designs in what was an age of austerity in Britain and Europe:
“What alarmed me most in the course of my stay in the United States was the habit of spending enormous sums of money in order to achieve so little real luxury,” he said. “The American woman, faithful to the ideal of optimism which the United States seem to have made their rule of life, seems to spend money entirely in order to gratify the collective need to buy.”

Meanwhile, Europeans chose items based on workmanship and beauty, considering the craftsmanship of a piece and how it would be put to use, which, in his opinion, often had the effect of achieving greater elegance. “Poverty is an astonishing magic wand,” he wrote.

“America represents the triumph of the quantitative over the qualitative. Men and women both prefer buying a multitude of mediocre things to acquiring a few carefully chosen articles,” Dior said, openly wondering, “Can one therefore conclude that abundance risks blunting taste?”


Before he opened his doors on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1949, he was called before the American Anti-Trust Department for what he described as a terrifying examination over his insistence that clients sign a contract to not copy his designs. “The famous contract was annulled,” he recounted, “But this episode reinforced my conviction, in which all the serious American couturiers concur, that the pillaging of artistic creation is not only authorized in the United States, but encouraged.”

Immediately after opening his French collections and even before his own clients received dresses delivered to their homes, Dior would frequently hear that forgers were secretly circulating albums that reproduced drawings of his new designs in a process that, in the US, was perfectly legal.

“In 1955 alone, more than 1,000 subscribers procured about 300 models [designs] from the collections of the principal French couturiers by this means,” Dior said. “One hundred and forty-two of my own models figured in the album, of which 57 were exact copies.”

As his showings in Paris and elsewhere strictly prohibited sketching and were carefully policed, he reckoned that whoever was attending the shows and forging his creations must have been doing it by memory and was “exceptionally gifted” to remember dozens of dresses in such detail.

To fiercely guard against fraud, he typically asked his buyers to agree not to allow any of his dresses to be passed on to other members of the fashion trade. To track where his dresses would end up, he would stamp them with “secret marks between the lining and the material of each dress” to catch those who broke their word, so if the dresses ended up in the wrong hands, he would know from which clients they came.

Dior, who likened his dresses to his children, would not allow a single frock to leave his house without being marked with “indelible ink invisible to the naked eye” that could be seen only when the material was put under an ultraviolet ray.
How marvellous. I think I may do the same...

Christian Dior (21st January 1905 – 23rd October 1957)


  1. Hello Jon,

    This is all most intriguing. We had never heard of the invisible ink tagging, how ingenious! Still, Mr Dior should have been flattered indeed that there were so many intent on copying his designs.....surely a recognition, if one was needed, of his greatness as a couturier.

    For us, it was the iconic 1947 collection featuring leopard print that really put Dior on the fashion map. So many wonderful images of that period still circulate around the Internet and do not seem to have been bettered since in terms of elegance and style.

    1. He certainly captured the whole notion of "style" in the post-war era, and influenced so many who followed, not least Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen, and of course Dior's protégés Yves Saint-Laurent and John Galliano.

      Incidentally, Coco Chanel despised the "New Look": "Clothes by a man who doesn't know women, never had one, and dreams of being one" were her words. Dior merely said to her: "Europe has had enough of falling bombs, now it wants to set off fireworks". How gallant. I'd have thumped her. Jx

    2. Absolutely!

      Rather waspish Madame Chanel......

  2. My late Grandmother used to work for Givenchy and Dior. I recall an anecdote of hers where she and her friend Gégé ( a French actress named Capucine now deceased) would often arrive late for fittings and shows but Monsieur Dior was always so kind and considerate. He would laugh it off and he treated his young staff as his children. Unlike Coco who secretly loathed anyone younger than her and pretty.

    1. What a lovely anecdote - and how wonderful that your grandmother was a friend of the beautiful and tragic Capucine (read my tribute to her). As for Coco Chanel, I don't think she liked many people - and the feeling was mutual. Jx

  3. The chapters of Carmel Snow's autobiography, about being with Dior at the launch of the New Look is exciting reading. It also sounds like his vendeuses and the women who were the managers of his salon were the toasts of the town in those days.

    1. From what I understand (and I have never read Miss Snow's book), despite the obvious outrage with which the extravagance of the New Look was met by many, there were hordes of women who thrilled at being allowed to reclaim their femininity in such a sumptuous style. Toast of the town, indeed! Jx


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