Christian Dior SE, commonly known as Dior, is a French luxury goods company controlled and chaired by French businessman Bernard Arnault, who also heads LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group. Dior itself holds 42.36% shares of and 59.01% voting rights within LVMH. Since 1997, the CEO is Sidney Toledano.
The company was founded in 1946 by designer Christian Dior. It currently designs and retails leather goods, fashion accessories, footwear, jewelry, timepieces, fragrance, makeup, and skin care products, while also maintaining its tradition as a creator of haute-couture under the Christian Dior Couture division. The Christian Dior label remains largely for women’s offerings, although the company also operates the Dior Homme division for men and the baby Dior label for children’s wear. Products are sold throughout its portfolio of retail stores worldwide, as well as through its online store.
The House of Dior was established on 16 December 1946 in “a private house”at 30 Avenue Montaigne Paris B. However, the current Dior corporation celebrates “1947” as the opening year. Dior was financially backed by wealthy businessman Marcel Boussac. Boussac had originally invited Dior to design for Philippe et Gaston, but Dior refused, wishing to make a fresh start under his own name rather than reviving an old brand.The new couture house became a part of “a vertically integrated textile business” already operated by Boussac. Its capital was at FFr 6 million and workforce at 80 employees. The company was really a vanity project for Boussac and was a “majorly owned affiliate of Boussac Saint-Freres S.A. Nevertheless, Dior was allowed a then-unusual great part in his namesake label (legal leadership, a non-controlling stake in the firm, and one-third of pretax profits) despite Boussac’s reputation as a “control freak”. Dior’s creativity also negotiated him a good salary.
“Bar” suit, 1947, displayed in Moscow, 2011
On 12 February 1947, Dior launched his first fashion collection for Spring–Summer 1947. The show of “90 models of his first collection on six mannequins” was presented in the salons of the company’s headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne. Originally, the two lines were named “Corolle” and “Huit”. However, the new collection went down in fashion history as the “New Look” after the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Carmel Snow exclaimed, “It’s such a new look!” The New Look was a revolutionary era for women back in the forties. When the collection was presented, the editor in chief also showed appreciation by saying; “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian!” The debut collection of Christian Dior is credited with having revived the fashion industry of France. Along with that, the New Look brought back the spirit of haute couture in France as it was considered glamorous and young-looking. “We were witness to a revolution in fashion and to a revolution in showing fashion as well.” The silhouette was characterised by a small, nipped-in waist and a full skirt falling below mid-calf length, which emphasised the bust and hips, as epitomized by the ‘Bar’ suit from the first collection. The collection overall showcased more stereotypically feminine designs in contrast to the popular fashions of wartime, with full skirts, tight waists, and soft shoulders. Dior retained some of the masculine aspects as they continued to hold popularity through the early 1940s, but he also wanted to include more feminine style.
The New Look became extremely popular, its full-skirted silhouette influencing other fashion designers well into the 1950s, and Dior gained a number of prominent clients from Hollywood, the United States, and the European aristocracy. As a result, Paris, which had fallen from its position as the capital of the fashion world after WWII, regained its preeminence. The New Look was welcomed in western Europe as a refreshing antidote to the austerity of wartime and de-feminizing uniforms, and was embraced by stylish women such as Princess Margaret in the UK. According to Harold Koda, Dior credited Charles James with inspiring The New Look. Dior’s designs from the “New Look” did not only affect the designers in the 1950s, but still some of the newer designers we know from now in the 2000s, including Thom Browne, Miuccia Prada, and Vivienne Westwood. Dior’s evening dresses from that time are still referred to by many designers, and they have been seen in different wedding themed catwalks with multiple layers of fabric building up below the small waist (Jojo, 2011). Examples include Vivienne Westwood’s Ready-to-Wear Fall/Winter 2011 and Alexander McQueen’s Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2011 (Jojo, 2011).
Not everyone was pleased with the New Look, however. Some considered the amount of material to be wasteful, especially after years of cloth rationing. Feminists in particular were outraged, feeling that these corseted designs were restrictive and regressive, and that they took away a woman’s independence. Fellow designer Coco Chanel remarked, “Only a man who never was intimate with a woman could design something that uncomfortable.” Despite such protests, the New Look was highly influential, continuing to inform the work of other designers and fashion well into the 21st century. For the 60th anniversary of the New Look in 2007, John Galliano revisited it for his Spring-Summer collection for Dior. Galliano used the wasp waist and rounded shoulders, modernised and updated with references to origami and other Japanese influences. In 2012 Raf Simons revisited the New Look for his debut haute couture collection for Dior, wishing to update its ideas for the 21st century in a minimalist but also sensual and sexy manner. Simons’s work for Dior retained the luxurious fabrics and silhouette, but encouraged self-respect for the woman’s body and liberation of expression. The design process for this collection, which was produced in only eight weeks, is documented in Dior and I, presenting Simons’s use of technology and modernist re-interpretations.
The death of the head designer left the House of Dior in chaos, and general manager Jacques Rouët considered shutting down operation worldwide. This possibility was not received graciously by Dior licensees and the French fashion industry; the Maison Dior was too important to the financial stability of the industry to allow such an action. To bring the label back on its feet, Rouët promoted the 21-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent to Artistic Director the same year. Laurent had joined the House’s family in 1955 after being picked out by the original designer himself for the position of the first ever and only Head Assistant. Laurent initially proved to have been the most appropriate choice after the debut of his first collection for Dior (the mention of Dior from this moment on refers to the company) in 1958. The clothes were as meticulously made and perfectly proportioned as Dior’s in the same exquisite fabrics, but their young designer made them softer, lighter and easier to wear. Saint Laurent was hailed as a national hero. Emboldened by his success, his designs became more daring, culminating in the 1960 Beat Look inspired by the existentialists in the Saint-Germain des Près cafés and jazz clubs. His 1960 bohemian look was harshly criticized, and even more in Women’s Wear Daily. Marcel Boussac was furious, and in the spring, when Saint Laurent was called up to join the French army—which forced him to leave the House of Dior—the Dior management raised no objection. Saint-Laurent left after the completion of six Dior collections.
Christian Dior Haute Couture suit designed by Marc Bohan, spring/summer 1973.
Adnan Ege Kutay Collection
Laurent was replaced at Dior by designer Marc Bohan in late 1960. Bohan instilled his conservative style on the collections. He was credited by Rebecca Arnold as the man who kept the Dior label “at the forefront of fashion while still producing wearable, elegant clothes,” and Women’s Wear Daily, not surprisingly, claimed that he “rescued the firm.” Bohan’s designs were very well esteemed by prominent social figures. Actress Elizabeth Taylor ordered twelve Dior dresses from Bohan’s Spring-Summer 1961 collection featuring the “Slim Look”. The Dior perfume “Diorling” was released in 1963 and the men’s fragrance “Eau Sauvage” was released in 1966. Bohan’s assistant Philippe Guibourgé launches the first French ready-to-wear collection “Miss Dior” in 1967. This is not to be confused with the already existing New York Ready-to-Wear store established in 1948. Designed by Bohan, “Baby Dior” opens its first boutique in 1967 at 28 Avenue Montaigne. The Christian Dior Coordinated Knit line is released in 1968 and management of the Fashion Furs Department of Christian Dior is taken by Frédéric Castet. This year as well, Dior Parfums was sold to Moët-Hennessy (which would itself become LVMH) due to Boussac’s ailing textile company (the still-owner of Dior). This, however, had no effect on the House of Dior operations, and so the Christian Dior Cosmetics business was born in 1969 with the creation of an exclusive line.
Following this, Bohan launched the first Christian Dior Homme clothing line in 1970. A new Dior boutique at Parly II was decorated by Gae Aulenti and the “Diorella” perfume was released in 1972. Christian Dior Ready-to-Wear Fur Collection was created in France in 1973, and then manufactured under license in the United States, Canada, and Japan. The first Dior watch “Black Moon” was released in 1975 in collaboration with licensee Benedom. Dior haute-couture graced the bodies of Princess Grace of Monaco, Nicaraguan First Lady Hope Portocarrero, Princess Alexandria of Yugoslavia, and Lady Pamela Hicks (Lord Mountbatten of Burma’s younger daughter) for the wedding of HRH The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. In 1978, the Boussac Group filed for bankruptcy and so its assets (including those of Christian Dior) were purchased by the Willot Group under the permission of the Paris Trade Court. The perfume “Dioressence” was released in 1979.
In 1980, Dior released the men’s fragrance “Jules”. After the Willot Group went into bankruptcy in 1981, Bernard Arnault and his investment group purchased it for “one symbolic franc” in December 1984. The Dior perfume “Poison” was launched in 1985. That same year, Arnault became chairman, chief executive officer, and managing director of the company. On assuming leadership, Arnault did away with the company’s mediocre textile operations, to focus on the Bon Marché department store and Christian Dior Couture. Operations for Christian Dior drastically changed for the better under Arnault. He repositioned it as the holding company Christian Dior S.A. of the Dior Couture fashion business. On the 40th anniversary of Dior’s first collection, the Paris Fashion Museum dedicated an exhibition to Christian Dior. In 1988, Arnault’s Christian Dior S.A.’s took a 32% equity stake into the share capital of Moët-Hennessy • Louis Vuitton through its subsidiary Jacques Rober, creating what would become one of the leading and most influential luxury goods companies in the world. Under this milestone merger, the operations of Christian Dior Couture and Christian Dior Parfums were once again united. Italian-born Gianfranco Ferré replaced Bohan as head designer in 1989. The first such non-Frenchman, Ferré left behind traditional Dior associations of flirtation and romance, and introduced concepts and a style described as “refined, sober and strict.” Ferré headed design for Haute Couture, Haute Fourrure, Women’s Ready-to-Wear, Ready-to-Wear Furs and Women’s Accessories collections. His first collection was awarded the Dé d’Or in 1989. That year, a boutique was opened in Hawaii and the LVMH stake by Jacques Rober rose to 44%.
Further Dior boutiques were opened in 1990 in upscale New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo shopping districts. The stake in LVMH rose again, to 46%. Another collection of watches named “Bagheera” – inspired by the round design of the “Black Moon” watches – was also released in 1990. Having fired the company’s managing executive Beatrice Bongbault in December 1990, Arnault took up that position until September 1991, when he placed former Bon Marché president Phillipe Vindry at the post. In 1991, Christian Dior was listed on the spot market and then on the Paris Stock Exchange’s monthly settlement market, and the perfume “Dune” was launched. Vindry dropped ready-to-wear prices by 10%. Still, a wool suit from Dior would come with a price label of USD 1,500. 1990 revenue for Dior was USD 129.3 million, with a net income of $22 million. Dior was now reorganized into three categories: 1) women’s ready-to-wear, lingerie, and children’s wear 2) accessories and jewelry 3) menswear. Licensees and franchised boutiques were starting to be reduced, to increase the company’s control over brand product. Licensing was in fact reduced by nearly half because Arnault and Vindry opted “for quality and exclusivity over quantity and accessibility.” Wholly company-owned boutiques now opened in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Cannes, and Waikiki, adding to its core stores located in New York City, Hawaii, Paris and Geneva. This held a potential to increase direct sales and profit margins while maintaining high-profile locations.” In 1992, Dior Homme was placed under the artistic direction of Patrick Lavoix, and the “Miss Dior” perfume was relaunched. Francois Baufume succeeded Vindry in 1993 and continued to reduce licenses of the Dior name.
The production of Dior Haute Couture was spun off into a subsidiary named Christian Dior Couture in 1995. Also, the “La Parisienne” watch model was released – embodied in the watch “Parisian Chic”. By that year, revenue for the label rose to USD 177 million, with a net income of USD 26.9 million. Under the influence of Anna Wintour, editor and chief of Vogue, CEO Arnault appointed British designer John Galliano to replace Gianfranco Ferré in 1997 (Galliano on CBS News: “without Anna Wintour I would certainly not be at the house of Dior”).
This choice of a British designer, once again instead of a French one, is said to have “ruffled some French feathers”. Arnault himself stated that he “would have preferred a Frenchman”, but that “talent has no nationality”. He even compared Galliano to Christian Dior himself, noting that “Galliano has a creative talent very close to that of Christian Dior. He has the same extraordinary mixture of romanticism, feminism, and modernity that symbolised Monsieur Dior. In all of his creations – his suits, his dresses – one finds similarities to the Dior style.” Galliano sparked further interest in Dior with somewhat controversial fashion shows, such as “Homeless Show” (models dressed in newspapers and paper bags) or “S&M Show”. Meanwhile, Dior licenses were being reduced further by new president and CEO Sidney Toledano. On 15 October 1997, the Dior headquarters store on Avenue Montaigne was reopened –it had been closed and remodeled by Peter Marino – in a celebrity-studded event including Nicole Kidman, Demi Moore and Jacques Chirac. That year, Christian Dior Couture also took over all thirteen boutique franchises from Japan’s Kanebo.
In May 1998, another Dior boutique was opened in Paris. This time the store opened its doors on the Left Bank, Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Also this year, Victoire de Castellane became lead designer of Dior Fine Jewellery and the first Dior Fine Jewellery boutique opened in New York City. Paris itself would witness the opening of the first Parisian Dior Fine Jewellery boutique the following year, at 28 Avenue Montaigne. The perfume “J’adore” was released in 1999, and on 5 October 1999, Galliano released the Dior Spring-Summer 2000 ready-to-wear fashion show, debuting the new Saddle bag. In the same year, Dior’s long watch partner Benedom joined the LVMH group. In 2000, Galliano’s leadership was extended to Ready to wear, accessories, advertising and communications. The first campaign under his leadership was photographed by Nick Knight and featured two women simulating intercourse.
While other brands in the late 1990s, notably Gucci, had resorted to porn chic as a mean to draw attention, Dior ads had such an impact that porn chic became a trend in most fashion ads. Galliano ignited the escalation of porno chic advertisements, which culminated with Ungaro’s zoophilic ads, shot by Mario Sorrenti, and Gucci’s ads, which featured a model with pubic hair shaped like the signature Gucci logo. As a matter of fact, it is considered that Galliano had revolutionized Dior more through his advertising campaigns than through his designs.
On 17 July 2000, Dior Homme lead designer Patrick Lavoix was replaced by Hedi Slimane. Notable Dior releases that year were watches such as the distinctive “Malice”, which features bracelets made of “CD” links, as well as the “Riva”. Hedi left Dior Homme in 2007 and replaced by Kris Van Assche.