Examining the origins and importance of Christian Dior’s hourglass silhouette, 70 years after its debut. By Laird Borrelli-Persson
Postwar Paris, still under rationing, was in the process of getting back on its feet and rediscovering its voice. The weather, moreover, was proving no ally to recovery: The Spring collections were presented during the worst winter in Europe since 1870. In those circumstances, Dior’s triumph took on mythic proportions.
“The opening of Christian Dior's new Paris couture house,” noted Vogue in its April 1947 issue, “not only presented an extraordinarily beautiful collection; it gave the French couture a new assurance in its own abilities; and because the luxury trades are economic necessity in France, Dior's flashing success was, in Paris, more than fashion. It was on a par with current political and economic news. Here—once again—things were done on a grand scale.”
Dior himself was an unlikely hero. No young buck, he was 42 when, backed by the textile magnate Marcel Boussac, he founded his own house. Gentle-mannered and jowly, Dior, a child of privilege, had been a gallerist before turning to fashion. In 1945 Vogue noted that he was working alongside Pierre Balmain chez Lucien Lelong.
Despite his mild appearance, Dior had an unbending vision and strength of will, qualities that were the bedrock of his empire, one in which past and present coexisted. "The maintenance of the tradition of fashion is in the nature of an act of faith,” the designer said. “It is the outward sign of an ancient civilization, which intends to survive.”
Three years later, the magazine summed up its (symbolic) importance, imagining the silhouette being worn by a woman named Centura. “Nowhere about her is a trace of skimp or skeleton to be seen. Her bosom, her shoulders, and her hips are round, her waist is tiny as her grandmother’s, her skirt’s bulk suggests fragile, feminine legs beneath. By these means, she and Christian Dior announce to the world that peace is at hand, and parsimony past, and every woman’s a woman again.”