Christian Dior: The New Look

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christian Dior's reputation as one of the most important couturiers of the twentieth century was launched in 1947 with his very first collection, in which he introduced the "New Look." Featuring rounded shoulders, a cinched waist, a very full skirt, the "New Look" celebrated ultra-femininity and opulence in women's fashion. After years of military and civilian uniforms, sartorial restrictions and shortages, Dior offered not merely a new look, but a new outlook.  Born in Normandy, France, Dior moved with his parents to Paris when he was ten years old. After studying political science, he served in the military. His design career did not begin until 1935 when he returned to Paris and began selling sketches. The designer Robert Piguet hired him in 1938. During World War II, Dior served in the south of France, then returned again to Paris in 1941 and worked for Lucien Lelong at a much larger design house. In 1946, backed by textile manufacturer Marcel Boussac, he opened his own house. 
"Bar"Jacket, spring/summer 1947
Dior's "New Look" collection was a repudiation of the styles of the 1920s and 1930s, and it was also clearly indebted to the styles and body-shapers of the late 19th century. The Bar suit was considered the most iconic model in the collection, manifesting all the attributes of Dior's dramatic atavism.Documents in the Dior archives demonstrate that the original version of the "Bar" suit employed a notched collar. This variation with a shawl collar, perhaps the result of a client's demand, was officially photographed by Dior at the time of its creation, indicating the imprimatur of the House of Dior.

Although Dior created many notched collars, he was a fervent advocate of shawl collars and curved necklines. Arguably, the shawl collar plays effectively with the curvaceous forms Dior articulated at the shoulders and hips. The notched lapel is more often found in the work of Adrian and other suit makers of the 1940s who stressed angled geometries.

The "Bar" suit also reveals the hand stitching at the inside of the collar and hand-stitched self-covered buttons of the atelier tailleur.

Dinner dress, spring/summer 1947

"Chérie" exemplifies "The New Look" in all its salient elements: sloped shoulder, raised bustline, narrowed waist, and a monumental volume of skirt falling away from a padded hipline to below the calf. The New Look arrived uncompromised and complete, not as a tentative suggestion or stage in evolution. Here, the skirt is made of the full width of the fabric, selvage to selvage, disposed horizontally. Consequently, at the waist the necessary folding under of the pleated fullness creates a compressed, 13-and-1/2 yard seam allowance, the substantial bulk of which pads the hips.

This virtuoso achievement in dressmaking was reached by the compression of vast volume into an adjoining sculptural reduction. "Chérie" contains over 13-and-1/2 yards of fabric that are pleated into the wasp waist. The accomplishment of grand to mince is possible only because of the couture’s expert manipulation of cloth. Dior prided himself on the handwork in his creations, especially when the craft generates formal possibility. Here, the stitches that anchor each pleat can actually be seen. Signs of artisanry, they are not obsessively hidden.

Coat, 1948

In 1948, the supposed "new" that was initiated in 1947 was challenged to proceed. As "The New Look" fixed itself as name to Dior's enterprise, each collection promised a newer impression under a rubric that had to justify and celebrate the change.

To those who thought Dior ludicrous and criticized his work as historicist souvenirs and imprisoned bodies, the 1948 collections reinforced the constrained body and the New Look silhouette.

In the paradoxical combination of looking back and championing the new, Dior's "New Look" combined tailoring reminiscent of the late nineteenth century with fine detailing seen in the insertion of light blue wool in the collar as well as facings of the cuffs. The light blue is pieced and inserted to look like an extended facing, harkening back to earlier dress, but assuming the principle of modernist decoration through minimal composition.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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