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Dior's 'New Look' – Romance or Reversal?

Dior's 'New Look' – Romance or Reversal?

‘There are moments when fashion changes fundamentally. When it is more than a matter of differences in detail. The whole fashion attitude seems to change – The whole structure of the body. This is one of those moments. - Vogue on Dior’s ‘New Look’, 1947

Written by Hannah Mae Webster

The House of Christian Dior was founded on December 16, 1946, just weeks prior to his first, spellbinding collection, ‘New Look’, formerly known as the two lines, ‘Corolle’ and ‘Huit’. The morning of February 12, 1947, was one of both chaos and great anticipation, as clamorous crowds gathered like honey bees to 30, Avenue Montaigne, Paris, anxiously awaiting the debut collection by the powerhouse of a couturier, Christian Dior. Notable figures amongst the crowds included Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow; Lady Diana Cooper, Viscountess Norwich; and Bettina Ballard of American Vogue. Ballard spoke of the ‘electric tension’ on the day of the show and discussed an atmosphere that she “had never before felt in the couture”, highlighting the impact of Dior’s ‘New Look’, which launched the fashion house into success.  Interestingly, it is rumoured that Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow inadvertently named the collection following the show, as she wrote in a letter to Dior, “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have a new look” 

The collection celebrated ultra-femininity, extravagant designs, and curve-accentuating silhouettes, including full skirts that sat just over 14mm from the floor, padded hips, corset waists, and rounded busts, all in which juxtaposed the minimal, modest attire of the Second World War. Despite the immense success and popularity, Dior’s ‘New Look’ was also haunted by controversy.  

The ‘New Look’ triggered protests and uproar from women who believed that Dior’s revival of corsets and impracticality was a reversal in feminism and conflicted ideas of freedom and emerging equality.  Due to war restrictions and rationing, prior to Dior’s collection, women’s fashion had adopted an element of masculinity, which reduced the gap of inequality, whereas the opulence and femininity introduced in the ‘New Look’ seemed to, in some ways, support an element of the previous suppression. Despite feminism playing a major role in the disapproval of Dior’s collection, others criticised the excessive use of material, many considered this unnecessary following the desperation and practicality during the war. However, despite the negativity, many women embraced the message, as it offered a sentiment of separation from the memories of war clothing, therefore welcoming a new era of joy and pleasure. The scandalous nature of the collection acted as a catalyst to its success and recognition. 

Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall - four actresses that introduced Dior to the silver screen. Following their debuts wearing Dior’s designs, any doubts and criticisms fizzled into the backdrop of an era of magnificently dressed movie stars.  

When discussing her lead role in Henry Koster’s 1951 film, ‘No Highway in the Sky’, German American actress Marlene Dietrich had one condition; that Christian Dior design her costumes. Her contract also stated that she would keep all the Dior costumes. Christian Dior once stated, “Of course fashion is transient, egotistical indulgence, yet in an era as sombre as ours, luxury must be defended centimetre by centimetre”This statement is the perfect way to defend Dior’s message behind ‘New Look’ as he introduced a dazzling age of splendour, enhancing and celebrating femininity that, despite being laced with controversy, acted as a metaphorical medicine to the bleakness and darkness of the Second World War. 

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