Today marks what would have been Christian Dior’s 109th birthday, and while the man is indubitably the master, he had a couple of important muses along the way — not to mention, a long journey to the top.
Dior was born in northern France in 1905, but spent most of his youth in Paris. Despite his love for the arts, Dior caved to pressures from his wealthy family and studied political science with the intention of becoming a diplomat. Eventually he found his way back to the creative world by opening a small art gallery that would come to host the work of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. After a couple of years of success, he was forced to close due to tragic family deaths and the crumbling of his father’s business. He ended up closing the gallery and began selling fashion sketches to make ends meet.
In 1935, he was hired by magazine Figaro Illustré and a few years later became a design assistant to couturier to Robert Piguet. During World War II, he put his design career on hold and served as an officer in the French army.
Following the war, he began work with couturier Lucien Lelong alongside Pierre Balmain. When Balmain decided to open his own house, Dior was inspired to open his own eponymous label, complete with a new maison de couture of postwar fashions. Luck was in his favor as he received a large investment and was able to set up shop at his famous locale: 30 Avenue Montaigne.
In 1947, he debuted his sensational New Look — which featured big volume, miniature waists, and prominent busts — and went on to become a major player in the revival of couture in France. Here are 6 individuals that inspired Dior through his most fruitful years, whether they were modeling his clothes or serving as one of his fashion disciples.
1. Mitzah Bricard
Of all of his muses, Mitzah Bricard is one of the most recognizable thanks to her affinity for leopard print and dramatic beauty. Bricard was a luxury hat designer who served as Dior’s chief stylist and close confidante, playing a prominent role in shaping the Dior aesthetic. In 2011, the Dior Mitzah Collection was released as a tribute to Bricard’s signature makeup.
Kouka was one of Dior’s star models and has been a longtime supporter of the house. In fact, she attended Dior’s show over the weekend during Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris. Below, she recalls how Dior helped show her the world, speaking specifically of a time that she, the designer, and slew of other models went on a trip to Moscow together.
3. Victoire Doutreleau
Victoire Doutreleau played a significant role in Dior’s ’50s heyday as one of his favorite models, and thus, a face of the New Look. She will be featured in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent biopic, as she influenced many designers of the time.
4. Yves Saint Laurent
Dior took a young Yves Saint Laurent under his wing and groomed him to be his successor. After Dior’s death, 21-year-old Saint Laurent revived the house with his fabled Trapeze line in 1948. “Dior fascinated me,” Saint Laurent once recalled. “I couldn’t speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at by his side.”
5. Josephine Baker
After the second World War, Josephine Baker made waves in America by donning many of Christian Dior‘s over-the-top confections. She helped the designer revive French haute couture with her international fame — so much so that that Princess Diana was outraged at a Dior retrospective she attended that didn’t feature Baker. “You don’t even have a dress of Josephine’s,” she said. “You don’t even have a picture. You should be ashamed.”
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