Christian Dior, couturier du rêve

from 5 July 2017 to 7 January 2018

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior. This lavish and comprehensive exhibition invites visitors on a voyage of discovery through the universe of the House of Dior’s founder and the illustrious couturiers who succeeded him: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and, most recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Exhibition conceived by Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, realized with the support of the Maison Christian Dior, and the generous sponsorship of Swarovski


The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the creation of the House of Dior from 5 July 2017 to 7 January 2018. This lavish and comprehensive exhibition invites visitors on a voyage of discovery through the universe of the House of Dior’s founder and the illustrious couturiers who succeeded him: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and, most recently, Maria Grazia Chiuri. The selection of over 300 haute couture gowns designed between 1947 and the present day has a unifying thread of emotions, life stories, affinities, inspirations, creations and legacies. Alongside the dresses is the most wide-ranging display to date of atelier toiles and fashion photographs, as well as hundreds of documents, including illustrations, sketches, documentary photographs, letters and notes and advertising documents, and fashion accessories, including hats, jewellery, bags, shoes and perfume bottles. Reflecting the fact that Christian Dior was also a knowledgeable art lover who adored museums, designs from over 70 years interact with a selection of paintings, furniture and objets d’art. These works highlight and develop Christian Dior’s outlook by exploring the ties he forged between couture and all forms of art, defining the House of Dior’s enduring influence. The two curators, Florence Müller and Olivier Gabet, convey their message with a chronological and themed exhibition design that inhabits and brings together the museum’s fashion areas and the nave for the first time, a space of almost 3,000 square meters.

Christian Dior, Opéra Bouffe gown, Haute Couture, Fall-Winter 1956
Aimant line Short evening gown in silk faille by Abraham. Paris, Dior Héritage.
© MAD / Nicholas Alan Cope

The last Parisian retrospective dedicated to Christian Dior was held in 1987 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. It focused on ten years of the couturier’s designs, from 1947 to 1957. To celebrate the House of Dior’s seventieth anniversary, the new retrospective shows how Christian Dior and the six artistic directors who followed on his heels devised the brand and built up the influence of a name that is the very embodiment of haute couture in France and throughout the world. Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and today’s director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, have all drawn on their own creative sensibilities to formulate a style and a vocabulary that stay true to the original concept and to help define the House of Dior’s identity through the prism of its relationship to its era. This exploration of haute couture is enriched with Frédéric Castet’s fashion fur designs, beauty creations by Serge Lutens, Tyen and Peter Philips, as well as perfume creations by François Demachy.

A leading figure in the world of 20th-century fashion once he launched his New Look spring/summer collection in 1947, Christian Dior took the feminine shape in a totally new direction, relegating the masculine silhouette of the war years to the past. His dresses expressed a modern femininity, incarnated by his flower woman and producing a shape characterised by flowing curves and the bearing of a classical ballet dancer. The New Look featured soft shoulders, accentuated busts, nipped-in waists and hips amplified by swirling corolla-like skirts. Christian Dior relaunched the textile industry with his insistence on the use of great swaths of fabric, a controversial move after the years of shortage under the Occupation. He succeeded in breathing new life into the couture tradition, giving a central role to embroiderers and craftspeople making costume jewellery and accessories. He invented an internationally-focused couture that put Paris back in the spotlight as the capital of fashion.

Christian Dior, Junon gown, Haute Couture, Fall-Winter 1949, Milieu du siècle line
Long crinoline evening dress embroidered with sequins by Rébé. Paris, Dior Héritage.
© MAD / Nicholas Alan Cope

The exhibition opens with the story of Christian Dior’s life: his childhood in Granville, the Roaring Twenties when he discovered the avant-garde art world and the pleasures of Parisian entertainment, his training as a fashion illustrator and his entry into the haute couture world. Before turning to fashion, Christian Dior ran an art gallery from 1928 to 1934 in partnership with his friends, first Jacques Bonjean then Pierre Colle. This part of his life is illustrated with a series of paintings, sculptures and documents that depict an eclectic approach to curating, the older generation of established artists rubbing shoulders with young artists who were Dior’s peers. These up-and-coming talents included Giacometti, Dalí, Calder, Leonor Fini, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard. Christian Dior was a lover of antiques and objets d’art, an Art Nouveau collector, a decorator enthralled by the 18th century and a garden enthusiast. He drew on all these sources of inspiration to embellish his private residences and define the aesthetic for his couture house and designs. The exhibition shows us that his gowns were full of references to painting and sculpture as well as everything that makes up the art of living: wallpapers, fabrics, china and chinoiserie.

All these creative themes, revisited by his successors so that they have become an integral part of the Dior spirit, are revealed one by one: art and photography, a profusion of colours and textures, austere Parisian elegance, references to the neoclassical decorative style, the joys of exoticism, a fascination for floral motifs, and so on. Nathalie Crinière presents the themes in successive settings that suggest an art gallery, an atelier, a street, a boudoir, journeys, and a fabulous garden. Throughout the exhibition, paintings, sculptures and decorative objets d’art illustrate the couturier’s tastes and sources of inspiration as well as a creative sensibility shared by all the artistic directors who have followed in his footsteps.

The visit continues in the nave with a chronological display spanning the 70 years from 1947 to 2017, showing the energy that set it all in motion and the legacy of the Dior spirit down the years. The iconic shape of the Bar suit that embodies the New Look opens the door to this voyage through time. The black-and-white ensemble demonstrates every aspect of the innovation Dior introduced with his new aesthetic, triggering a golden age of fashion. The suit has continued to haunt the imagination of the fashion world and many of its couturiers and designers ever since.

Raf Simons for Christian Dior, Haute Couture, Fall-Winter 2012
¾- length yellow duchess satin evening dress with Sterling Ruby SP178 shadow print, Paris, Dior Héritage.
© MAD / Nicholas Alan Cope

But the enduring nature of the Dior spirit also stems from the different artistic directors who carried on the couturier’s work after his death in 1957. A succession of six galleries is dedicated to these figures, analysing how their designs contributed to the quest to stay faithful to Dior’s vision of haute couture. The daring choice of the very young Yves Saint Laurent was followed by Marc Bohan’s more rational appointment. Next came the flamboyant arrival of Gianfranco Ferré, the dramatic era of fashion punk John Galliano, the minimalist statement of Raf Simons’ appointment and, lastly, the choice of a woman, Maria Grazia Chiuri, and her feminist vision of fashion.

The expertise and techniques that are the lifeblood of haute couture are presented in an atelier where seamstresses are at work, surrounded by models, dressmakers, sketches and toiles. One of the galleries provides an overview of how the Dior line and allure have developed since 1947, illustrated with gowns and extracts of films and catwalk show videos.

Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Palladio dress, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 1992
In Balmy Summer Breezes line. Long embroidered and pleated white silk georgette sheath dress. Paris, Dior Héritage
© MAD / Nicholas Alan Cope

The expertise and techniques that are the lifeblood of haute couture are presented in an atelier where seamstresses are at work, surrounded by models, dressmakers, sketches and toiles. One of the galleries provides an overview of how the Dior line and allure have developed since 1947, illustrated with gowns and extracts of films and catwalk show videos. The exhibition ends in the lavish setting of the nave, transformed into a ballroom for a presentation of a series of truly sumptuous ball gowns, including several glittering creations seen together for the first time in Paris. Some of them have been worn by famous customers who have helped to build the success of the House of Dior, including Princess Grace of Monaco, Princess Diana, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence. An unusual member of this family of ball gowns, unearthed thanks to research for this project, is a dress named Soirée Brillante, presented at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs during Christian Dior’s time, in November 1955.

The occasion was an exhibition of pieces by leading 18th-century French cabinetmakers. Christian Dior was one of the people who lent objects to the exhibition, and the presence of his designs turned the inauguration into a fashionable and elegant cultural event. On that Wednesday, 30 November 1955, the Dior models strolled around the show in evening gowns, posing among the pieces of furniture and objets d’art. The event clearly demonstrated the natural part women’s adornments play in the applied arts and the importance of the role played by Christian Dior in the history of the decorative arts.

Most of the works that feature in this ambitious project are from the Dior Héritage collection and have never before been seen in Paris. The remaining pieces are special loans from the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Union Française des Arts du Costume, Palais Galliera, Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, De Young Museum in San Francisco, Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, Museum of London and Musée Christian Dior in Granville, as well as prestigious works of art representing many different eras, from the collections of the Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, Château de Versailles, Centre Pompidou, Musée des Arts Décoratifs and numerous private collections.

« The Essence of Couture », Florence Müller

Extracts from the book.

Arik Nepo, dress from the Fall-Winter, 1948 Haute Couture collection, Ailée line
Vogue Paris, october 1948
© Arik Nepo / Vogue Paris

The beginning of the Dior saga paved the way for the most extraordinary epic in the history of Haute Couture. Bearing the promise of a bright new fashion future, Christian Dior was perceived by the world as a hero of the postwar period, a Frenchman of even greater renown than General de Gaulle. Invited to tour the United States in 1947, he was fervently welcomed by the Americans who saw in him the “product of three centuries of elegance that run back to the reign of Louis XVI. At a time of rationing and shortages, the fashion world was languishing, no longer sparking desire or inspiring change. Christian Dior brought a breath of fresh air, the hope of a better world where women would be free to make themselves beautiful and attractive. […]

Henri Cartier-Bresson, model Alla having the May dress fitted before the fashion show, 1953
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Christian Dior gave a similar boost to French Haute Couture in 1947. His vision of elegance found expression in a profusion of new forms, materials and adornments. He called a successful design “a veritable painting!” Neiman Marcus, who awarded his fashion “Oscar” to Dior, knew that the industry as a whole stood to benefit from the New Look, whose full skirts had hems measuring from nine to over forty yards (from sports to day wear). Before long, the House of Dior alone accounted for over half of France’s Haute Couture exports; internationally, it was seen as the quintessence of French taste and style. […]

Dior’s couture style is cultivated, measured and artistic—classical in spirit but with touches of the boldness of French baroque. […]

William Klein, Dorothy + Little Bara with a cello, Paris 1960, Moderato Cantabile dress, Fall-Winter 1960 Haute Couture, collection, Souplesse, légèreté, vie line, Vogue
US, September 15, 1960, models Dorothy McGowan and Little Bara
© William Klein

The friction between nature and artifice sparked a synergy: “My prime inspiration is the shape of the female body,” said Dior, “for it is the duty of the couturier to adopt the female form as his point of departure and use the materials at his disposal so as to enhance its natural beauty.”3 The concept of the line arose from this exercise in structure. With his announcements concerning the lines that represented each season’s new styles, Dior invented a new form of dialogue with the press. […]

But Dior knew how to temper his taste for the sensational with expressions of gentleness and simplicity. The New Look created a “flower-woman” silhouette; the swing of the corolla skirt gave its wearer all the charm of a ballerina. “After woman, flowers are the most lovely things God has given the world,” said the couturier, whose view of femininity was inspired by his passion for gardens and rose beds. […]

His spectacular but measured vision brought the House of Dior an instant success that was exceptional in fashion history. […]

Dior’s heirs stood by his desire to “make women happier and more beautiful.”

Michal Pudelka, Baiser rouge dress, Spring-Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection, model Ruth Bell
© Michal Pudelka

The perpetuation of the Dior spirit—a harmony of elegance, splendor and simplicity — found expression in the ever-changing designs of successive creative directors. Each new appointment represented a radical break, but each respected the fashion house’s founding principle. The risky choice of the young Saint Laurent was followed by a rational response with the appointment of Marc Bohan. Then came the flamboyance of Gianfranco Ferré, the sen-sationalism of fashion punk John Galliano, the “minimalism” of Raf Simons, and the unexpected recent choice of Maria Grazia Chiuri, a woman designer with a commitment to Girl Power.

« Christian Dior, his musee imaginaire », Olivier Gabet

Extracts from the book.

Brassaï, Christian Dior in his apartment at 10 Rue Royale in Paris, late 1946 to early 1947
Granville, Musée Dior, Catherine Dior collection
© Estate Brassaï - RMN-Grand Palais

The place of Christian Dior within the museum world ‒ and within that of art history itself‒seems self-evident today. Various aspects of his multifaceted identity emerge from his autobiographical writings ‒ among which his book Dior by Dior comes across as particularly sincere ‒ and from texts by authors and biographers with access to the relevant archives: Dior the couturier; the inspired gallery owner; the brilliant writer and lecturer who captivated his audience at the Sorbonne; the postwar fashion visionary; the lover of ornament; the discreet player on the dazzling, exuberant stage of Parisian café society.

Dior by Dior seems to offer a relatively true reflection of his solid personal culture, which combined the contemporary taste and sensibility of his milieu with evocative ref-erences to painters or architects.[…]

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the 1930s
© MAD, Paris

Dior must have loved the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, judging by his discerning descriptions of the décor of his childhood home in Granville with its penchant for Japonisme, and of his subsequent Parisian homes and the architectural design of 30 Avenue Montaigne. With its non-profit status, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs had closer connections to Parisian high society than most national museums: its board members included both senior officials and representatives of the social elite where Dior the gallery-owner found his clients and Dior the couturier his admirers. [...]

Room from the exhibition “Décor de la vie en 1900-1925” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1937
© MAD, Paris

Other acquaintances of Dior joined over the years, including his friend the architect Emilio Terry, an advocate of the “Louis XVI style” of neoclassicism tinged with surrealist fantasy. Christian Dior exhibited a number of his drawings and models at the Galerie Bonjean in 1933, including the double-spiral house that Salvador Dalí featured in his painted portrait of Terry the following year. This now famous model, presented at the MoMA in New York in the 1936 exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism,” was donated by Terry to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1965.

There are a surprising number of connections between works in the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and their presence ‒ actual or alluded to ‒ in Dior’s home or professional world.

« Christian Dior’s appartment », Patrick Mauriès

Extracts from the book.

Frank Scherschel, Christian Dior in his apartment at 10 Rue Royale in Paris, 1947
© Gettyimages / Frank Scherschel

Dior’s memory was essentially one of shapes, colors, textures, spaces, furniture and objects. He discussed his own path through his memory of the rooms he lived in, and which in turn fashioned his approach to style. [...]

While Dior was fascinated with architecture and houses before shifting to fash-ion, he was also drawn to painting, and very nearly made this his field. People often forget that once he had completed his military service, he joined forces with one of his friends, Jacques Bonjean, with the reluctant support of his parents, “to open a little gal-lery at the end of a rather squalid cul-de-sac off the Rue de la Boétie.” This simple and relatively ephemeral gallery had a certain importance in the history of modern art; the discreet but significant role that Dior and Bonjean played—along with Pierre Colle, a former student of Max Jacob who would become an exceptional gallery owner—in the artistic economy of the period. […]

In Dior’s biography, the apartment on Boulevard Jules-Sandeau occupied a middle ground between two interiors, each of which met the specific needs and different purposes of the moment, and which were interdependent. The first, the Coudret mill in Milly, created a natural link with his provincial childhood and the memory of trips to the countryside. It featured a group of buildings, stables and barns around a horseshoe-shaped farmyard; it fulfilled his dream of “a house something like those houses in the provinces, those whitewashed convents with their well-polished parlours, where children are brought to talk politely to their relations, of which I preserve tender memories.” [...]

The garden also added considerably to Milly’s charm (“I wanted it to look like the peasants’ gardens which decorate the sides of the roads in my native Normandy”). It was painstakingly expanded by transforming the marshes and the forest. The second place, in contrast to this enclosed garden of flowers and medicinal herbs, both in terms of time and space, was the forty-eight-square-meter ornamental pool and fifty-hectare field of the Château de La Colle Noire, which Dior purchased in 1950 near the village of Callian in the Var département, not far from where his father had lived.

Aerial view of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s house in Montauroux (Var)
© Christian Dior

Once again, he felt it was essential to recreate an interior that felt as if it were lived in, that reflected transformations that had occurred over time, with furniture and objects added by successive generations—an impression the owner constantly sought to create.

Eugene Kammerman, model Renée Breton at the fashion show in the large salon at 30 Avenue Montaigne, 1953
© Eugène Kammerman / Gamma-Rapho

As opposed to these two country homes, concurrent in time, and his professional locations—the salons on Avenue Montaigne—the apartment on Boulevard Jules - Sandeau was where Dior really lived, “a townhouse for me, as urban and cozy as Mi lly has been rural and simple.” A lair with an elaborate blend of styles, with disparate elements that mutually enhanced one another: “a Matisse drawing was to hang side by side with a Gothic tapestry, a Renaissance bronze, a Jacob ornament.”

The Dior Gardens

The scent of childhood is the loveliest scent of all. For Christian Dior, this scent was rooted in the Granville family garden, perched on the cliffs of the Normandy coast, overlooking the Channel and scoured by the wind. This bucolic oasis created by his mother Madeleine gave Christian Dior a taste of paradise and a love of flowers that stayed with him throughout his life. The young boy would pour over the Vilmorin-Andrieux gardening catalogues that taught him everything about the flora he wished to tame. When destiny led him to the world of Haute Couture, he did not forget the scent of his childhood flowers, incorporating them into his collections. And they brought him success, in the form of the New Look and its flower-woman with her full corolla-shaped skirt and narrow calyx-like bodice. The Dior style was beautifully defined by flowers, his dresses scattered with individual blooms or bouquets, embroidered with meadow flowers or draped in the shape of a rose, like the Opéra Bouffe gown.

Claude Monet, Le Jardin de l’artiste à Giverny, 1900
Oil on canvas, Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Just like the impressionist painters, Christian Dior liked to draw his collections outdoors, in his garden at Milly-la-Forêt or La Colle Noire, surrounded by his silent muses.

Miss Dior perfume, 1947
© Philippe Schlienger

Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré and John Galliano, all keen gardeners, also decked the House of Dior collections in flowers with bold, brilliant, and expert touches. Raf Simons proved himself to be equally talented with his first Dior collection, featuring doubleface dresses, one side strewn with traditionally embroidered flowers, the other with contemporary floral ornaments. As for Maria Grazia Chiuri, she shows her dresses for blooming young women in enchanted gardens, decorating her airy ball gowns with discreet bouquets of hand-dyed silk petals that seem to rise from an herbarium. Thanks to the sophistication of the skills that make up the House of Dior, flowers in all their delicacy bloom again in the form of Haute Couture creations.

Artistic Affinities
Man Ray, view of the exhibition “Exposition surréaliste. Sculptures, objets, peintures, dessins”, Galerie Pierre Colle, June 1933 / Salvador Dali, Buste rétrospectif d’une femme et La Chaise atmosphérique, 1933
© MAN RAY TRUST / Adagp, Paris, 2017 / © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali / Adagp, Paris, 2017

When the House of Dior was inaugurated in 1947, a crowd of artists and collectors came to admire the creations of the man they knew from his years running art galleries. Christian Dior paid tribute to the established and up-and-coming artists whose work he used to exhibit in his galleries by designing dresses inspired by Picasso, Braque, and Bérard. This close relationship to the art world has always marked the history of the House of Dior.

It forms part of Monsieur Dior’s legacy to his successors, as illustrated by Marc Bohan’s new take on Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings for his 1984 collection, and Gianfranco Ferré’s 1995 couture interpretation of Cézanne’s Harlequin character.

John Galliano for Christian Dior, Spring-Summer 1999 Haute Couture collection
Long mermaid-line crêpe sheath dress with draped shoulder straps and black glove motif at the hips, Paris, Dior Héritage
© MAD, Paris / Nicholas Alan Cope

John Galliano’s time at Dior abounded in artistic references, including the Shéhérazade outfit in 1998, a reminder of the orientalism favored by Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes. The British designer liked to explore Surrealism and the ties of friendship that bound Dior to Dalí and Jean Cocteau. His collections celebrated Picasso’s work, with a Harlequin costume that conjured up the Spanish artist’s Blue and Rose periods, and paid homage to Christian Bérard and his bold lines surrounded by black detailing.

Raf Simons also explored contemporary art through his collaboration with Californian artist Sterling Ruby. Together they revisited the Spray Paintings series with a collection of dresses that transpose the layer of paint into shadow print satin. The Belgian designer continued his exploration with two pastel-hued dresses echoing the work of American artist Agnes Martin.

Miss Dior display cabinet, inspired by the Temple of Love at the Petit Trianon in Versailles, 1950
© Philippe Schlienger

Christian Dior was very attached to the 18th century, frequently conjuring up an era that reminded him of his childhood. The drawing rooms of the family house in Granville and the Parisian apartment occupied by the Diors were both decorated in neo-18th-century style. When he took possession of the townhouse at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Christian Dior turned to his friend, the architect and decorator Victor Grandpierre. Together they created a neo-classical interior design that the couturier felt was the perfect setting for his collections and dresses.

Customers arriving on the other side of the neo-Regency façade find themselves in a world of muted elegance, made up of white beading and Trianon gray paneling, neo-Louis XVI medallion chairs, and frames decorated with Fontange bows, where harmony and restraint reign supreme. The artist Christian Bérard, Dior’s friend and artistic alter ego, brought his feel for sumptuous but unpretentious design to the ground-floor Colifichets boutique. Hung in Jouy toile, the boutique recreates the mood of an 18th-century shop selling luxurious trifles, with counters, Louis XVI-style chairs, and an artistically arranged pile of Dior hat boxes. The entire House, from salons to corridors and fitting rooms, is bathed in a luminous and airy atmosphere, in homage to the Enlightenment.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Gabrielle Yolande Claude Martine de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac, 1782
Oil on canvas, Versailles, Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
© RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Christian Dior and his successors have often created contemporary versions of the dresses worn by Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon. Victor Grandpierre adopted a similar approach to presenting the Dior perfumes, a notable example being a display stand based on the Temple of Love that stood in the middle of the Queen’s English garden at Trianon. Christian Dior had a soft spot for the women of pre-revolutionary France, who can also be admired in the work of Madame Vigée Le Brun, the sovereign’s favorite portrait painter.

The Dior Ball
Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Madame Rimsky Korsakov, 1864
Oil on canvas, Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Vénus, Junon, Coup de théâtre, Soirée brillante: with their dazzling names and flamboyant styles, they guaranteed the women wearing them a spectacular entrance to any ball. Graceful, bold and supremely elegant, they played a part in the renaissance of society life after the war and revealed the extent of Christian Dior’s creativity. The couturier liked to venture beyond the confines of the haute couture world and design for costume balls, such as the “Entrance of Giants” outfits created with his friend Salvador Dalí for the Ball of the Century organized by Charles de Beistegui at the Palazzo Labia in 1951. There was nothing Dior loved more than a lavish ball, and he attended them dressed as characters who reflected his fertile imagination: the king of the jungle at the Kings and Queens ball thrown by Étienne de Beaumont in 1949, and Barbey d’Aurevilly at the Artists ball hosted by the Noailles in 1956.

John Galliano shared his passion for costumes and taking on different roles: in July 2007, he used the Versailles Orangery as the setting for a catwalk show on the theme of the Artists ball to mark the House of Dior’s 60th anniversary. From Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen to Linda Evangelista, all the top models took part, wearing gowns inspired by the works of Renoir, El Greco, and Michelangelo.

Maria Grazia Chiuri for Christian Dior, New Junon dress, Spring-Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection
© MAD, Paris / Nicholas Alan Cope

When she joined Dior as the new artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri understood the important role played by balls in the history of both the House and its founder. For her first show, she turned the Rodin museum gardens into a labyrinth inhabited by the head-turning swirl of her diaphanous dresses. One of them, the New Junon dress, strewn with delicately folded pastel-colored petals, paid tribute to a design from the legendary Milieu de siècle 1949 winter collection, dedicated to Roman goddess Juno, the queen of the gods.

Around the World in Dior

Christian Dior could contemplate the great expanse of the sea from the window of his childhood bedroom, where he may well have dreamed of travelling to far-off places. England was the first country he visited in his youth.

Christian Dior, Palmyre gown, Fall-Winter 1952 Haute Couture collection, Profilée line
Evening gown in satin by Robert Perrier, embroidered with Swarovski crystals, metallic thread, gemstones, pearls and sequins by Ginesty, Paris, Dior Héritage
© MAD, Paris / Nicholas Alan Cope

After a voyage of discovery to Russia in 1931, Christian Dior carried on exploring the world and travelled to the USA in 1948. That was the same year that Neiman Marcus presented him with the Fashion Award in Dallas. The couturier then set off on a triumphant tour of the American continent, cementing the resounding transatlantic success of his New Look.

The art and culture of the world’s continents provided Christian Dior and his successors with numerous sources of inspiration. John Galliano and Raf Simons were very interested in ornamental African art and traditional Maasai adornments. Marc Bohan and John Galliano offered a new take on Ancient Egypt.

Peter Lindbergh, Kusudi and Kitu dresses, Spring-Summer 1997 Haute Couture collection
Models: Kiara Kabukuru and Debra Shaw
© Peter Lindbergh

Christian Dior paid homage to calligraphy and Chinese dress. John Galliano dedicated his entire Summer 2003 collection to encounters between the Far East and the West. Christian Dior, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri all reinterpreted an array of Japanese themes, from shibori, fukusas, kimonos, and obi knots to Hokusai’s paintings and flowering cherry trees.

The Americas also made an appearance: Christian Dior and John Galliano produced designs inspired by Mexico and Peru, in the colorful tones of Inca art as well as the more somber shades of the conquistadors. References to European art have been an enduring presence, as demonstrated by Christian Dior’s and Yves Saint Laurent’s fondness for subjects tackled in Spanish painting by artists from Goya to Zurbaràn.

Stars in Dior
Mark Shaw, Elizabeth Taylor in the Soirée à Rio dress, Spring-Summer 1961 Haute Couture collection
Slim Look
© Mark Shaw /

Right from when it first opened its doors, the House of Dior has always been a favorite of the goddesses of the silver screen, winning them over with bold and graceful designs that bolster their star status. Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, and Olivia de Havilland very quickly chose Christian Dior as the couturier who could best convey the Hollywood dream. The Dior creations form the different facets of magnificent femininity, embodied on red carpets right round the world by Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Isabelle Adjani, Monica Bellucci, and Sharon Stone.

The decidedly modern House of Dior also dresses the younger generation of actresses, who serve as the new faces of Dior: Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marion Cotillard, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Rihanna, and Felicity Jones. The House of Dior’s close relationship with the movie world is also illustrated by the hundred or so films it features in, made by famous directors such as Luis Buñuel, Stanley Donen, Terence Young, Jean-Luc Godard, Charlie Chaplin, François Truffaut, Costa-Gavras, Claude Lelouch, Pedro Almodovar, and Woody Allen.

Christopher Polk, Jennifer Lawrence receiving the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, 2013
© Gettyimages / Christopher Polk

The Dior outfits worn by queens, princesses, and first ladies have given us seventy years of legendary images. The Duchess of Windsor, Princess Margaret, Jackie Kennedy, Farah Diba, Grace of Monaco, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy have all helped to spread the influence of the Dior style of French elegance throughout the world. As for Lady Diana, she will forever be linked to the House of Dior. In December 1996, the Princess of Wales wore a daring negligee dress at the gala event held by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. On her arm was the Lady Dior bag. Named in her honor, the bag made her an undisputable icon of fashion.

30 avenue Montaigne

Even before he founded his prestigious couture house, Christian Dior had set his heart on number 30 of Paris’ legendary Avenue Montaigne. He admired the understated elegance of this little townhouse “on the modest scale of [his] ambitious dream” and its 18th-century-style façade, dreaming of making it his own one day. His wish was granted, and he turned the illustrious address into

the symbol of his house, which he originally planned to be “small and secluded, with very few workrooms.” The immediate success of his designs and the international reputation that followed decided otherwise. 30 Avenue Montaigne has become one of the capital’s major attractions, drawing visitors who want to worship at the temple of good taste.

The birthplace of an endless line of magnificent creations, such as the Bar suit unveiled on the first floor there for the first time on February 12, 1947, the House of Dior was bustling with activity. Christian Dior loved the atmosphere of a humming hive that still characterizes all aspects of daily life at the House of Dior, from the Haute Couture ateliers to the design studio.

Aurora Borealis: An iconic stone for a visionary designer

Christian Dior explained: “You can never go wrong if you take nature as an example”

Aurora Borealis Swarovski crystal
© Swarovski Corporate Archives

Swarovski is honored to partner Les Arts Décoratifs in staging Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve, which pays eloquent tribute to Christian Dior’s talent and limitless creativity in founding one of the most innovative and influential fashion houses, now 70 years old.

For over 120 years, Swarovski has been an incubator for fashion creativity and craft. The founding of the house in 1895 also coincides with the birth of haute couture. Company founder Daniel Swarovski, a young visionary and entrepreneur, invented a machine for cutting and polishing crystals to an unprecedented quality. At home in the glass and jewelry-making region of Bohemia, he decided to take his machine and resettle in the Austrian Alps and there launched his family company. His innovative process succeeded in creating a flawless stone with brilliant multiple facets.

Working with the early stars of haute couture in Paris, the company went on to provide creative inspiration and glamor to many top designers of the era and among them, one of the most iconic of all, Christian Dior and his revolutionary New Look.

The 1947 hourglass silhouette was a vision of luxury for the new woman and accessories were crucial to Dior’s vison: a total look for every outfit, down to the last details of jewelry and perfume. Indeed, he believed that beauty and expression exceeded the value of jewelry. He blazed a new trail of more accessible, yet extremely refined fashion jewels, seamlessly fusing fashion and jewelry. It was the abundance of Swarovski crystals, from limpid, drop-shaped crystals set like antique diamonds to lush clusters of vibrantly colored beads that made this possible.

In 1956, Manfred Swarovski, grandson of the founder, began to work personally with Christian Dior, to produce a special crystal tone to embody Dior’s now well-recognized vision. The encounter between these two visionaries, both pursuing innovation and perfection, led to spectacular results: the creation of an extraordinary new crystal effect, which gave the whole world a new shine. A micro-thin layer of vaporized blue metal was used to coat the lower facets of crystal, shooting explosive iridescent, rainbow glints of light through the crystal. The result was dramatic and beautiful, otherworldly, like the Northern Lights, and the stone was named Aurora Borealis, or “AB” as it came to be known.

The new effect enjoyed incredible success, and the stone became a fashion phenomenon. Its appeal lay not only in the theatrical nature of the crystal effect but also in the versatile way in which it complimented colors and textures by picking up individual tones in fabrics. AB added an entirely new element to traditional crystal stones. It first gave Dior the opportunity to scatter crystal on jewels and then use the effect for embroideries, down the sides of dresses and sleeves, or on the trains of evening gowns.

“The necklaces are renewed by several notable innovations: the “Aurora Borealis” stone whose iridescent reflections are at the same time lively and discreet and match all colors.” Extract of Christian Dior’s Autumn Winter 1955 -1956 Collection Press Release.

The sparkle not only brought glamour and style to the garments in the collection; they also added elegance by subtly embellishing the grace of movement. It helped give women an extra dimension of femininity, and at the same time, preserved their modesty. The mania for Aurora Borealis, especially for beads, reached a peak in the late fifties and continued in the sixties.

Advertisement, Christian Dior, dress by Lanel with Swarovski crystals,1964
© Swarovski Corporate Archive

The success story of Swarovski’s celebrated Aurora Borealis stone is today still one of the ultimate illustrations of the company’s symbiotic ties to fashion. Over the course of its 70-year collaboration with Dior, Swarovski has provided millions of crystal stones, and has worked with all of its seven emblematic artistic directors: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Swarovski crystals and AB allowed them to create hundreds of breathtaking crystal looks and accessories. They each adapted their individual style and vision of Dior by selecting and using the cuts, colors, and effects in a whole range of different ways, and in the process, challenged the limits of the world’s finest craftsmanship.

Together they achieved dazzling collections, and they created some of the most exceptional garments and accessories in the past half-century. Swarovski is very proud that many of these sumptuous creations are now included in this beautiful exhibition because they serve to illustrate the unique bond and shared history between two historic, yet innovative and avant-garde houses.

The Book

In 1947 – seventy years ago – Christian Dior presented his first collection and heralded the birth of a new fashion silhouette for women. After the austerity of the war years, the cinched waistlines, full skirts and soft shoulders of the New Look signalled a revival of Parisian luxury. Paris regained its place as the global capital of fashion and the name of Dior became a synonym for haute couture. For this book, designed by Fabien Baron, seventy of the most memorable looks created by Christian Dior and his successors – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri – have been specially selected and photographed in intimate detail.

These wonderful designs are also featured in original sketches, runway shots and fashion shoots by the world’s greatest fashion photographers.

The classic elements of Dior are explored in depth: the concept of line and architecture in fashion; the influence of history and art (the Palace of Versailles, the Empire style, Impressionism, the Belle Époque, the Ballets Russes, Picasso, Dalí, Pollock); the use of colour; the influence of gardens and landscapes as sources of inspiration; and, of course, the brand’s famous muses and clients: the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Grace of Monaco, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Isabelle Adjani, Princess Diana, Marion Cotillard, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence, among many others.

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