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Sep 27, 2023

What is the Dior factor? Empowering women with every stitch

It was a big Tuesday in Paris as Maria Grazia Chiuri led the way. As always, some might say referring to the success of Dior’s current creative director of womenswear and haute couture, season after season.

As Chiuri redefines the codes of the 30 Avenue Montaigne maison in her unique way, let us take a moment to reflect on those who have also taken the reins of Dior’s womenswear before her. After Christian Dior’s reign from 1946 to 1957, Yves Saint Laurent took over from 1957 to 1960. Then came Marc Bohan from 1960 to 1989, followed by Gianfranco Ferrè from 1989 to 1997. John Galliano led from 1997 to 2011, and Raf Simons restored order after chaos from 2012 to 2015. After a brief interlude by Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier, Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016 to date) joined Dior as the first woman to run the Dior atelier alone in the brand’s entire history.

Curious to know more? We are pleased to unveil the one and only Dior factor. Spoiler alert: it’s all about empowering women through every seam.


Dior by Christian Dior: How it all began 

Christian Dior had a dream: to make women happier and more beautiful. That may be the right way to start a business because Christian Dior’s label has thrived for nearly 77 years. 

Maison Dior was founded in Paris in 1946 by the French designer born in Granville, a seaside town in Normandy. Monsieur Dior had been passionate about art and creativity since childhood, along with a deep love of flowers. After initially studying Political Science in Paris, he was ultimately seduced by the world of arts.

In 1938, he was hired as a design assistant by Robert Piguet, one of the most renowned designers of that time, and started to build a reputation as a designer. However, his career was interrupted by World War II when he was called for military service. 

By the final days of 1941, fashion houses reopened in Paris, so Dior started working for Lucien Lelong, one of the biggest couture houses at the time. He perfected his design techniques during this period and eventually surpassed his mentor. Finally, on December 16, 1946, the house of Christian Dior opened in Paris at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The opening was a huge success. 

Dior brand debuted with a haute couture show of 90 looks, which deeply impressed journalists worldwide. Fashion magazines had an overwhelmingly positive reaction. In the words of Carmel Snow, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look”.

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The collection was aptly named New Look after that and marked a turning point in fashion history. It was revolutionary, as it introduced a whole new way of dressing.

Dior showed his fondness for the female form, which he accentuated with beautifully structured garments made from the finest materials, designed to emphasise the curves and create the illusion of an hourglass figure. That style is recognised as his signature.


Women and flowers  

One may wonder what made Dior a revolutionary and successful brand. The answer is simple; besides Christian’s exceptional talent as a fashion designer, he had a passion for women and a great business vision. “After women, flowers are the most divine creations,” were Monsieur Dior’s own words.

His admiration for femininity was evident in every seam and stitch of his designs. Each of his creations, whether it was the remarkable ‘Bar Suit’ – a perfectly tailored jacket with a snatched waist paired with the most splendid voluminous skirt – or enchanting evening gowns enriched with cascades of petals and exquisite embroidery, were a testament to his love of women and the delicate gracefulness flowers.

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Dior’s iconic designs were synonymous with femininity and romance, capturing the essence of female beauty and empowering women to feel confident and alluring. His visionary approach recognised the post-war desire to see beauty, elegance and luxury; it fulfilled this demand by creating a luxury fashion empire that satisfied the cravings of women around the world.

Dior’s ability to understand women’s needs and desires was his biggest strength. He identified the need to adapt his designs to suit the tastes and preferences of each region and period. He also introduced the brand to what women love the most: accessories.


Yves Saint Laurent: A visionary heir for Dior’s legacy

Unfortunately, Christian Dior’s story had a very sudden and abrupt ending. His unexpected death in 1957, while on vacation in Italy, caused shockwaves throughout the fashion industry and left the House of Dior with an uncertain future, facing the challenge of finding a successor capable of stepping into Christian Dior’s “magnificent” shoes.

The chosen one was the young Yves Saint Laurent, who had been working as Dior’s assistant since 1955 and was then nominated as the head designer of the House of Dior. 

During Saint Laurent’s creative direction, the brand underwent a successful transition, marking a new era for Dior. His first collection for the house, “Trapeze”, showcased the new designer’s innovative and youthful talent while still being true to Dior’s feminine aesthetic.    

Saint Laurent’s designs were ahead of their time and greatly admired by clients and the press. Sadly, he had to serve in the military, leaving the brand searching for a new creative leader. In 1961, he was replaced by Marc Bohan.


Marc Bohan: The longest reign  

Marc Bohan was responsible for the House of Dior for 30 years. He brought his own peculiar style with refined elegance and timeless appeal and greatly contributed to the brand’s evolution.

Dior expanded its global presence significantly during his time as head designer, launching Dior’s “Miss Dior”, “Baby Dior”, and “Dior Homme” lines, also expanding Dior’s fragrance business and creating Dior’s first complete beauty line.

Bohan achieved Christian Dior’s major goal of being responsible for a woman’s full look and beauty. Like Dior, he was able to please his female customers with timeless elegance. “Don’t forget the Woman,” was his famous quote.


Then came an Italian designer: Gianfranco Ferré

After Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré took over the brand’s reins as head designer after the French giant Lvmh bought it. He was the brand’s first creative director who was not French and brought a sense of contemporary sophistication to it.

His most notable contributions were the launch of new accessories, especially the iconic “Lady Dior” bag, which became a symbol of the brand. The bag’s timeless and versatile design, as well as its association with influential figures such as Princess Diana, who was a huge fan of the bag and was often seen carrying it, contributed to its iconic status. 

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John Galliano: A fabulous extravaganza by a fertile and febrile mind

In 1996, John Galliano became the creative director of Dior and held the position for 15 years. He presented a bold and theatrical vision for the house during his tenure. Galliano pushed boundaries and designed with much creativity and imagination; his collections were always full of extravagant details, and his fashion shows were dramatic spectacles. 

One of his most remarkable collections was “Le Bal des Artistes” . The fashion show was held in the Orangerie at Versailles palace and featured the most desired supermodels of the time, including Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bündchen. They wore extraordinary nightgowns that combined historical references with a modern twist.

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Galliano’s most notable creation was the Saddle Bag, inspired by the equestrian saddle. It became a fashion sensation and remains a highly sought-after must-have to this day.


Raf Simons – from flamboyant to sleek

After Galliano’s flamboyance, Raf Simons brought some minimalism to Dior when he took over as designer from 2012 to 2015. He injected a fresh and contemporary vision into the brand, as seen in the beautiful documentary “Dior and I” (a must see). For his first collection, he beautifully reinterpreted Dior’s archives, offering a fresh take on the iconic New Look.


We should all be Maria Grazia Chiuri 

The Dior House owes its success to its commitment to its core values. Every creative director who has worked for the label has retained part of Christian Dior’s vision, celebrating femininity and upholding timeless elegance, with men at the helm.

However, in 2016, Dior appointed its first female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. Known for her feminist and socially conscious designs, Chiuri made history with her iconic ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirt, which debuted in the Spring-Summer 2017 fashion show.

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Despite the vast number of modernist designs, Maria Grazia Chiuri has managed to draw inspiration from historical fashion, which holds great significance for the house. One of her most recent achievements is the spectacular fashion show in India for Dior’s Fall 2023 collection.


A big “what if”

Dior has a rich legacy, and Maria Grazia Chiuri is doing an excellent job maintaining the brand’s high standards of creativity without going overboard like some of her predecessors or being too conservative.

The intriguing part is, had Christian Dior’s destiny been different, and had he continued to lead the brand, would Dior be what it is today, or not at all?



Eduarda Guth
MA in Fashion Promotion Communication & Digital Media