Dior’s Practically Unparalleled Design History
In the sphere of luxury fashion, Dior’s richness of history is practically unparalleled. As stylist Kate Young says, Dior dresses “make the images that really symbolize time and moments in fashion history that are so essential.” The brand’s evolution is currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum’s “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibition (through Feb. 20, 2022), where the latest episode of Hello Fashion, Young’s YouTube show created with The Slowdown, was filmed. In the episode, Young takes us through Dior’s aesthetic trajectory—one contoured by fluctuations in style, historical context, and creative leadership.
Young begins with the conception of the brand by Christian Dior, in 1946. As she explains, French women’s clothing at the time was utilitarian and pared down to the essential, as World War II had recently ended. In contrast to this trend, Dior made headlines upon his introduction of the “New Look,” an elegant hourglass style characterized by a wasp waist and a full skirt. An essential component of this first collection was the Bar jacket—a highly structured piece with a cinched waist and a full, padded hip. The full skirt symbolized luxury and excess, which, Young explains, were initially seen as quite scandalous in the postwar era. Soon, the look garnered attention in America, and Dior quickly rose to international fame.
Young goes on to discuss Dior’s death in 1957, at the age of 52, and the house’s evolution thereafter. As she explains, Christian Dior was very superstitious, often relying on psychics and tarot card readers to predict his future. So, when he died suddenly, he had already named the person who would succeed him: Yves Saint Laurent, a then unknown 21-year-old assistant at the atelier. Although Saint Laurent’s directorship lasted only four years, his leadership marked a distinct turn away from the New Look and toward a younger, looser silhouette.
Young then profiles Saint Laurent’s successors, including Mark Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons. She notes that Galliano was particularly revolutionary for the brand. “He broke down the codes, he made things different,” Young says. She highlights one Galliano design in particular: a yellow-green floor-length gown worn by Nicole Kidman to the 1997 Oscars. “This dress is maybe why I do my job,” Young says. “I love the idea of the best dress in fashion on the most exciting woman at any given time, and that image sort of symbolizing the world we’re living in at the time.”
Young ends the video by describing the ongoing influence of Maria Grazia Chiuri, who came to the house in 2016 as its first female design director. Chiuri, Young says, adeptly walks the line between incorporating political activism and modern artists’ work into her own, while also staying true to the essential codes of the house. “Her work is really an homage to her time, to feminism, and to Mr. Dior himself,” she says.
While Dior will intrigue for decades to come, the brand is made exceptional by virtue of its storied past as well as the codes that have become embedded in its foundation over time. “There’s so much to explore, and understand, and explain,” Young says. “Not every house can have an exhibition like this. Not every house is able to create so much beauty and so much visual language that we all can relate to.”
Watch new and previous episodes of Kate Young’s YouTube show Hello Fashion at youtube.com/kateyoung.