The famous villa, where the world-renowned fashion designer, Christian Dior spent his early years, is located in Granville (Manche) on the coast of Normandy, in the north of France. Since 1997, the villa has been the only museum in France entirely dedicated to a fashion designer.
By Katie N. @bambinnio
January 18, 2016
In 1906, shortly after the future famous couturier was born on January 21st 1905, his mother Madeleine Dior saw this villa overlooking the sea built at the top of a cliff in the style of Belle Époque, and she knew she had to have it.
Constructed by a ship owner at the end of the XIX century, it bore the name Les Rhumbs, indicating 32 divisions of the wind rose reproduced in mosaics at the entrance to the house.
Madeleine convinced Christian’s father Maurice Dior, the wealthy fertilizer manufacturer, to buy the house with adjoining beautiful winter garden. She decorated the house and transformed the garden into a gorgeous English-style park full of flowers, that would years later inspire Christian Dior into the creation of flower-like dresses, perfumes and jewelries.
Roses and lilies of the valley become his favorite flowers and will inspire his perfume Diorissimo in 1956.
Christian Dior loved that place. Working in the garden on the landscape and planting the flowers, little Christian developed his taste in art and beauty, sharpened his senses. He will later write in his autobiography “Christian Dior and me”: “The house of my childhood… I have the most tender and incredible memories. What am I saying? My life, my style owe almost everything to its location and architecture.”
Christian was the second of the five children of Dior family. When he was about five years old, the family moved to Paris, but returned to Granville for the summer holidays.
Art in Dior’s Life
Dior’s family hoped he would become a diplomat, however Christian was very artistic and was not interested in diplomacy. His parents refused to let him attend the school of fine arts, saying that he had to find a real job. However, Dior did what he wanted: he would sell his fashion sketches outside his house for about 10 cents each. Later, he enrolled at the Institute of Political Science in Paris, mainly because it allowed him to enjoy the fantastic night life of Paris.
At the age of 23, Dior founded a small art gallery on the money received from his father. The gallery showed the works of the artists, many of whom became famous afterwards: Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, Maurice Utrillo… and Pablo Picasso.
Three years later, after Dior’s mother and brother died, the Great Depression hit Maurice Dior’s fertilizer business, which led to the shutdown of the gallery. On top of that, the family lost Les Rhumbs to the city of Granville that opened the garden to the public in 1938.
Christian Dior was very superstitious, believing in signs of fate. Fortunetellers accompanied him throughout his whole life, oftentimes helping him make career choices. Once a palm reader said to Dior “You will be penniless, but women will be good to you and it is thanks to them that you will succeed. You will make large profits and be obliged to make numerous crossings.” Everything came true.
Dior’s Early Steps in Fashion World
“Chance always comes to the aid of those who really want something”, Dior wrote in his memoirs.
In 1937, he started working for the fashion designer Robert Piguet, who gave him the opportunity to design three Piguet collections. Later he would say, “Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.” Dior left Piguet when he was called up for military service.
In 1942, after having left the army, he joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong that became notorious for designing dresses for the wives of Nazi officers, as did other French houses trying to preserve fashion industry during the war, including Nina Ricci, Jeanne Lanvin, and Jean Patou. While Dior dressed Nazi wives, his sister Catherine, who was a member of the French Resistance, was captured by the Gestapo and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, from where she was liberated in May 1945.
Christian Dior Fashion House
In 1946, Marcel Boussac, the richest man in France at the time, invited Dior to create designs for Phlippe et Gaston, a large Paris fashion house. Dior refused and decided to open his own fashion house instead, “where everything would be new, from the state of mind and the staff to the furniture and premises”. Backed up by Boussac, on December 8, 1946, Christian Dior founded his fashion house. Master of shapes and silhouettes, he constructed his voluptuous dresses like an architect. Dior is often quoted as saying “I have designed flower woman.”
On February 12, 1947, Dior launched his first fashion collection for Spring/Summer 1947. The original line named Corolle marked the milestone in the fashion history as the “New Look” after Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief exclaimed, “It’s such a New Look!” The silhouette was characterized by a very small waist and a full skirt falling below the knee. At the time of post-war textile restrictions, Dior would use up to twenty yards of luxury fabrics, his favorite being Robert Perrier textiles.
Dior’s “New Look” was extremely popular, and he acquired a number of prominent clients among European aristocracy, as well as from the U.S., notably Hollywood. Dior’s “New Look” revolutionized women’s dress and reinstated Paris as the world fashion center after World War II.
In 1947, the Dior corporation launched its first perfume, Miss Dior, which was named after Dior’s sister Catherine. The perfume quickly became very popular with the ladies. From 1947 to 1950, Pierre Cardin worked as the head of Dior workshop.
By the end of 1949, Dior opened the first Christian Dior boutique in New York City. That year, Dior sales made up 75% of Paris fashion exports and 5% of France total fashion revenue. In 1950 Christian Dior became the exclusive fashion designer of Marlene Dietrich’s dresses in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Stage Fright.
The first Dior shoe line was launched in 1953. By the end of the year, the company was operating established locations in Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and Italy. With the big success of Christian Dior house grew the counterfeiting fueled by the women who could not afford Dior’s luxury goods. By the mid-1950, the Dior’s House operated well-respected luxury fashion empire. Christian Dior launched more successful fashion collections between 1954 and 1957. However, none of them came close to the success of “New Look”.
In 1955, Dior opened the Grande Boutique on Avenue Montaigne, where all high fashion houses set up their boutiques. Even today, this street boasts numerous haute couture stores, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Valentino, and others. Same year the first Dior lipstick was released.
Christian Dior was featured on the cover of TIME dated March 4, 1957.
Shortly afterwards, on 23 October 1957, Dior died while on vacation in Montecatini, Italy. According to some reports, he died of a heart attack, however the exact circumstances of Dior’s death remain undisclosed. Dior’s creative genius left a great impact on the fashion world and standards, as well as earned him the recognition as one of the history’s most prominent fashion figures.
Dior without Christian Dior
After Christian Dior’s death, 21-year-old Yves Saint-Laurent becomes Artistic Director of Dior Fashion House. Laurent joined the House in 1955 after being selected by Christian Dior himself for the position of the first and only Head Assistant. Laurent proved to be the right choice after he launched his first collection for Dior in 1958.
His designs were just as detailed and perfectly proportioned as Christian Dior’s, however the young designer made them lighter, softer and easier to wear. Later on, his collections became bolder, such as 1960 Beat Look and bohemian look that was harshly criticized, which made the Dior management furious. When Saint-Laurent was called up to join the French army and thus forced to leave the Dior House, the Dior management didn’t object.
Marc Bohan replaced Yves Saint-Laurent in late 1960. His more conservative designs attracted prominent social figures. Elizabeth Taylor ordered twelve Dior dresses from Spring/Summer 1961 collection.
In 1970, Bohan launched the first Christian Dior Homme line for men.
In 1973, the first Dior Ready-to-Wear Fur Collection was created in France.
In 1989 Gianfranco Ferré with his romantic designs replaced Marc Bohan as head designer. In the following years Dior’s head designers were controversial John Galliano in 1997, not very successful Bill Gaytten in 2011, minimalist Raf Simmons in 2012 up until today. Raf Simmons’ strict and classic designs contrasted with the dramatic previous designs of Dior under John Galliano.
In 1997 the villa Les Rhumbs became Musée Christian Dior having his fashion designs on display as well as Dior House later designers’ collections, such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Bill Gaytten, and Raf Simmons. Every year, the expositions have a new theme, marking different highlights and periods in the history of the Dior Fashion House.
While there, you will also have a unique chance to take a walk in the beautiful rose garden, where little Christian would spend his days cultivating his beloved flowers.