When Christian Dior created his famous ‘New Look’, he not only saved France’s economy but also lay the foundation for what was to become a fashion empire, known throughout the world.
I think I will always have a soft spot for great artists who acknowledge the role their mothers played, like Bergman. Similarly, Dior’s New Look was influenced by the rustle of his mother’s dresses as she came into his room after a party to kiss him good night, and he remembered her perfume. This was known as La Belle Epoch.
And so he created his ‘New Look’, a look that shocked the fashion world. This was after WWII.
I couldn’t help thinking of him with so much compassion after watching Vogue’s short film on Dior, featuring Rihanna. I think Dior became human to me after I read about his waiting on his mother to enter the room after a party. I had similar feelings for Yves St Laurent, who secretly stole out of the house to watch his mother dance by heaving himself up so he could see through the window.
But back to Rihanna and Dior. I loved watching it. I also could not help wondering why we make so much of the feminine mystique and yes, the rustling of dresses (although we can’t hear it in the Rihanna film). There is Versailles. The voluptuous empty spaces, waiting to be filled, the lone figure of the woman. We will have to ask, at some stage, why is she alone. Why does a man not appear, mysteriously, to hold her by the waist, to plant a kiss on her voluptuous lips? Why is it that the Dior woman is alone?
Dior’s New Look
Perhaps it is the image of his mother, and in his childhood dreams his mother kissed only him? His mother always entered the room alone, his father forever absent.
It is in advertising agencies that these scenes are plotted and designed. I can imagine the creative director, saying, no, no man. She is alone. She is mystique. A man entering will make it commonplace. She is waiting to be fulfilled but not now.
Anyway, I found the Dior short thrilling.
I could never completely reconcile the rather mundane figure of Dior with his creations, a rather plump gentleman in a suit, with his voluptuous creations. But there he stood, directing things as his models stepped onto the catwalks of Paris. A not-imposing figure but a figure of such great import. For instance, when he introduced his New Look.
If I remember correctly from my reading it was snowing in Paris when the editor of, for instance, British Vogue made her way to the showing. There was an air of expectancy. But actually, no one knew what to expect. Then the first model appeared on the catwalk and every gasped, and the New Look was born. I just so love that it was born of the rustle of his mother’s skirts, her perfume, and the nocturnal kiss planted after a party.
Was Christian Dior lonely?
By all accounts yes. Of course he was.
So he met a boy, a boy from Algeria.
This was the sixties. Such things were scandalous. But Dior was beyond caring. He was seen holding hands with him in public. It was sad, perhaps, depending on how you looked at it: a plump, elderly gentleman holding hands with a young man, perhaps merely a boy, but a boy with his whole life ahead of him, good looking, and here was this plump, famous aging, sad person holding his hand.
Imagine. He had built a fashion empire, which, in a way saved France. All he needed was to be loved.
And so he found love, or so he thought.
He had gained so much weight. He wanted to appear attractive to his Algerian boy. So he decided to visit a health spa in Italy. Well, I think it was in Italy. I could check. But I do think it was in the Alps.
At this time, he was strongly advised by his clairvoyant not to go to the spa. She saw only darkness if he went. But Dior wanted to lose weight. He wanted to appear beautiful before his boy.
His clairvoyant was the one who had originally advised him to go into business. He followed her advice. And from then on he did not move without first consulting her.
On this occasion, blinded by love, his ignored her advice.
He depended so much on her. Sometimes, before a show, he would not be able to leave the car and the chauffeur would have drive around the block endlessly. His clairvoyant would be called. She was the one who persuaded him to get out of the car.
But this time, he ignored her advice.
Now, on the train, on the way to the health spa, he devoured two foie gras. Perhaps more. But not a good start when trying to lose weight. I imagine the train, rattling through the night, the dimly lit windows, appearing to anyone still about, perhaps wanderer, who sees the yellow lights of the passing train. And inside, a man alone with his passion, foie gras, devouring, his mouth greasy as he stuff the foie gras into his mouth, fingers covered in fat - fat, fat delicious fat.
Then in the spa. In a white gown. Dior is some way into the cure, the diet cure, dressed in a soft white gown. They are playing bridge. His niece is with him. He has the Ace of Spades in his hand but he his dreaming of his love back in Paris. He will return slim and young to him, and kiss him on his lips, a rejuvenated, young Christian Dior as once he was.
But his dreams froze, because, possibly with a good hand of cards, he died in his chair without a word. His niece might even have looked up and said ‘Your call.” The weight loss regime had proved too taxing for him.
I like Christian Dior. I empathise with him. I can’t help empathising with sad, lonely people who have good taste, who are so knowledgeable about art, who visit the galleries, who read, who speak softly but intelligently around dinners table and who live with such longing in their hearts. I prefer the little fat Dior so much more than Karl Lagerfeld, the smug, self-assured Karl Lagerfeld who is only happy when he can tell people they are fat.