Christian Dior is a name known across the world. You are probably familiar with the signature Lady Dior bags, the iconic fragrances, or the hilarious Sex and the City scene where Carrie Bradshaw trips on the slippery floor of the Dior store at Avenue Montaigne in front of high fashion pieces.
The history of this iconic fashion house is quite fascinating and full of lessons on how to do politics in our everyday life. It wasn’t just Dior’s creativity that made him an outstanding fashion designer worldwide known. It was also his vision, the way he presented himself to the world and related with the people around him.
In the end, there are common core skills that people from different fields can use to succeed in their careers. Yes, talent definitely is one of the most important ones, but even with talent, there are other aspects about the way you present yourself, talk, and think that can benefit you to keep moving forward in your career.
So here we’ll learn about Christian Dior, the not-so-known aspects of his career and life that made him so successful, and how we can apply those aspects in our life.
Age is just a number
Every person has a different path. We have politicians who started their career at a very young age, and we have others who started their careers after retiring. There are “early birds” and “late bloomers,” but it’s easy to get frustrated with lists of 30 entrepreneurs under 30 years and the social pressure of being “successful” at an early age. The fashion icon and legend Christian Dior exemplifies how it is never too late to start a career. For several decades, Dior was a gallery owner and dedicated his life to art. In his 30’s, he started doing fashion illustrations and selling them to fashion magazines and newspapers. This was a significant source of income for Dior, as the Germans arrived in France during a time of political instability. So it was until he turned 42 years old, after two world wars, long periods of recession, and drastic changes in society and politics, that Christian Dior made his first fashion collection of 90 models at his brand new fashion house, the House of Dior, based at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris.
Having a Point of View
Philosophy leaders are remembered in textbooks for their strong points of view. In the process of developing their ideas or proving their theories, many of them had to confront their government, their faith, or even risk their life as Thales of Miletus, who believed that water was the originating principle of nature, and died after a heat stroke.
Having a clear point of view is important because by truly knowing what you believe in, you will have a solid opinion which then translates into the values and messages of the work you are doing.
Christian Dior lived a pivotal moment when he lost his mother, and saw his father business close. But the real challenge for Dior came when he got tuberculosis and traveled to the Balearic Islands in Spain to go with specialists. After overcoming this disease, he realized he wanted to pursue a career in fashion.
After all the years of reading about architecture, working with paintings and artists, and making fashion illustrations, Dior understood the common ground in these fields: beauty, proportions, and balance. Key factors to make successful pieces in any discipline. All of this knowledge helped him to put together his first collection.
Dior knew that thinking of high fashion in the middle of an economic crisis wouldn’t be well received entirely. Still, he believed in portraying optimism and a fresh start after the crisis that World War II brought to his country. He understood that elegance and sophistication in clothes could bring a sense of joy to the user, so his clothes reflected that idea.
His work received mixed responses. King George V, for instance, refused to let Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth wear clothes by the french designer because the king believed it could be perceived as an arrogant and unempathetic attitude in the postwar era. Even the United States rejected the idea of high fashion during this time, and most people preferred to wear clothes with modest textiles and leave high fashion for another time. However, Dior didn’t adjust his designs to accommodate the people’s desires who didn’t support his vision. Time passed, the fashion house grew and Christian Dior ended up dressing Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday, and Christian Dior stores arrived in New York and Los Angeles, becoming iconic stops for tourists and residents of these big cities.
The job of a fashion designer goes beyond creating aesthetically pleasing clothes. It is about making designs that represent what people think and want because these are the clothes that consumers will buy and wear. Fashion is not arbitrary. Every decision regarding design and textile selection should be thought thoroughly in order to create successful designs.
Christian Dior introduced the New Look in 1947, two years after World War II ended, and left people with financial challenges, fear, and a sense of sadness after the war’s fatalities. So the New Look is a visual representation of optimism, that aimed to make people feel better with themselves in a time of recovery. It invited consumers to choose these elegant clothes to overcome the crisis. It is a very similar idea to the famous saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” If you dress as if the crisis is over, you will feel encouraged and motivated to work and help to overcome the crisis quicker.
The name of “The New Look” comes from the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar at that time, Carmen Snow, who believed in Dior’s talent and was impressed with the accentuating, elegant, and sexy lines that the designer was proposing with his collection. Snow called this The New Look and was immediately adopted by the international press to refer to Dior’s fashion proposal.
Of course, the New Look wasn’t approved and liked by all consumers, even after the fashion house received international attention. In fact, one of the people who didn’t like Dior’s work was the also legendary Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. She was an advocate for feminism in all forms, which included the right for women to feel comfortable in their own clothes. Chanel believed that Dior’s corsets were “old-fashion” and “unnecessarily uncomfortable” to the women of that time. That’s the beauty of having a strong point of view, and a purpose with the clothes you are making, every point of view helps to diversify the ideas found in fashion. Dior and Chanel are two strong fashion houses with a different yet very followed point of view.
Ultimately, the message and purpose of Christian Dior’s designs are one of the many factors that influenced his success because there are many people who can design pretty clothes, but it takes determination and lots of thought to create designs with a purpose that conveys a message.
The Power of Networking
A likable personality is able to achieve great things. Barack Obama charmed the voters in 2008 with a charismatic smile eating in fast food restaurants during his campaign and greeting the people he encountered. The Kardashian family built an empire of businesses, reality shows, and social media campaigns by showing their true and vulnerable selves to the audience. The powerful skill of socializing makes you be liked by people, which then helps you to grow in your career, whether that is in a political campaign, in the entertainment industry, or any other field whatsoever.
So it wasn’t just Christian Dior’s point of view and creativity that made his work widely famous. He was a very smart businessman who had a very close relationship with the hundreds of workers he hired in the fashion house and with everyone around him.
In the ’50s the fashion designer visited several countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. His charming personality and businessman abilities, helped him to expand his fashion empire to all five continents within a matter of years.
“Dior doesn’t dress women; he upholsters them.”
It is often said that you have to be highly knowledgeable in the field where you are working. If you are a doctor, you should constantly be reading about scientific research, tools, and treatments. If you are a politician, you should understand laws, society, and the several factors that the government handles. If you are a fashion designer, you should be familiar with the wide variety of textiles, types of construction, and what makes a design successful.
And even though being highly knowledgeable in your field is ideal, being open to learning about other fields would help you to be skilled in other areas, which ultimately can benefit your career or help you pursue other projects.
Christian Dior grew up in the north of France, his father was the owner of a successful fertilizer manufacturer, and his house had a huge garden with a wide variety of flowers. During his childhood, Dior became familiar with the aromas of these flowers; he had his favorite ones and memorized the characteristics of each flower and its aroma. He didn’t know it back then, but this familiarity with flowers became important when he started creating fragrances for his fashion house Christian Dior. He believed that an elegant dress is incomplete without an elegant fragrance. So the designer was very involved in the process of developing the aroma, with his previous knowledge and passion in an area that was outside of the clothing spectrum.
Another area in which Christian Dior was fully knowledgeable was in diplomatic relationships and politics. He wanted to study architecture as he always had a passion for design, shapes, and structure, but his father pushed him to study Political Science at the École des Sciences Politiques. Even though this wasn’t Dior’s true passion, this professional preparation helped him to understand better the customer he was dressing at his fashion house, a sophisticated, elegant woman who attended lots of social events and was constantly seen.
Some of the famous people that Christian Dior dressed include Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and First Lady of Argentina, Eva Duarte.
Before opening his fashion house during World War II, Dior worked as an assistant in other fashion houses, which at that time, made clothes for the family members of Nazi soldiers. This was a very frustrating and complicated moment for Dior, because his young sister Catherine was a French Resistance fighter and was arrested and taken to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was tortured. After the war ended, Catherine spent most of her life working with flowers. She was a source of inspiration for Miss Dior; the fragrance Christian Dior made for his debut in the fragrance business. The mix of flowers and citric fruits was a project in which Christian Dior worked for several years. He wanted to create a sense of liberty, relief, and empowerment that reminded him of his sister. His ability to use these powerful emotions as an inspiration to one of his professional projects helped him to be a great storyteller that makes Miss Dior one of the most popular fragrances to this day.
That's who Christian Dior was, a knowledgeable, highly skilled, perseverant and talented person, who was constantly listening and looking for inspiration. You never know where the next great idea will come from. We need to keep our eyes open.