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Fashion Rebels: Christian Dior and the flower woman

How Dior’s “new look” reshaped women’s dress and re-established Paris as the fashion capital after WWII.

Dramatic changes in fashion often took place at times of historical turnovers, as happened in ancient Rome, in the mediaeval Caliphate and in post-war Europe as well. Fashion trends go far beyond the aesthetic values. Designers show their approach towards a new life with the help of their creations.

The first Dior shows were all about new shapes, femininity and glamour, but some days later, while foreign photographers were shooting the pieces in Montmartre, sales ladies from the Quatre Saisons literally leapt forward and tore apart the dresses. Nobody guarantees that a new look will be accepted by the whole of society. Pictures of women ripping at the model’s skirt published in Paris Match showed the start of anti-New Look protests.

Women were against Dior’s designs because they covered the legs, which was quite unusual due to the previous limitations on fabric during the Second World War. There were also negative reactions on the amount of material used in a single Dior piece. During another photo session, the models in a Paris market were attacked by female vendors over such extravagance. Christian Dior himself met with the negative reactions to the “new look” later in 1947. On his first American trip, he was quickly evacuated from a Chicago train station because of the crowd of angry housewives, wielding posters and chanting, “Down with the new look!”, “Burn, Monsieur Dior!” and “Christian Dior, go home!”

But the protest wasn’t limited to Chicago. In Louisville, more than a thousand women believed that the “new look” was not only unpractical but also anti-feminist, and signed an anti-Dior petition as participants of “The Little Below the Knee Club”.

In August of 1947, Harper’s Bazaar said that fashion was touched at its core: “Visualise yourself as you looked on a beautiful autumn day last year. There’s not much of the picture that survives. Not the hemline, waistline or the shoulderline (…). You’ll like the feel of a longer, fuller skirt flowing around you as you move (…). You’ll enjoy having hips again – without apologies; and the satisfaction of a small, rounded, tapering waist and of having it show in the snug bodice tops. You can have it all.”

The „new look” reshaped women’s dress and re-established Paris as the capital of the fashion world after World War II. Dior said that he had designed a flower woman. The dresses flare out from the waist, giving his models a very seductive look. His designs said that the war was over and it was time to be a woman again, with all the silhouettes, tight waists and padded hips.

Dior’s death in 1957 nearly led to the downfall of his entire business. The real circumstances of his death remain unnamed until the present day. But then, an unknown, 21-year-old couturier was made artistic director to save the company. His name was Yves Saint Laurent.

Stay tuned for the upcoming article about Saint Laurent’s impact on the fashion world.