Yakov Rabinovich

 

Dior

 The Eternal Feminine

Part Two

  

 

Envol dress, 1948

 

 

The Newer Look

 

Once the New Look had been launched, the challenge was to evolve it into variations that would perpetuate its novelty. This Dior did in 1948 with slanted, skewed, flared and diagonal designs which he appropriately called  ZigZag, Envol (“Take-Off”) and Cyclone. They included such features as jutting, literal wings on the back, an effect achieved by fabric stiffened with buckram.

    An interesting parallel is to be found in the first appearance of tailfins on a car, in the 1948 Cadillac — inspired by Lockheed’s P-38 fighter plane.

 

 

1948 Cadillac Series 61 coupe fastback

 

With his 1948 lines, Dior, like Cadillac, was prophetically designing for a “space age” aesthetic that would not fully manifest until Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

    Dior’s new aerodynamic skirts tended to narrowness, with uneven hemlines, or hem-fabric folded multiply back upon itself in revers (turning-back of fabric to show the lining). These stratagems built into the dresses themselves the swooping lines so dear to fashion illustrators and now beginning to make a strong showing in industrial design. The rightness of Dior’s Zeitgeist intuition was once more confirmed by commercial success, and his 1948 lines were obediently imitated by the rest of the fashion world the following year.

 

Day dress, Abandon, 1948

The ZigZag at its most alluring

 

 

In 1949 Dior presented his Trompe l’Oeil and Milieu du Siècle (“Mid-Century”) collections: these were the final flourish of the New Look before Dior began evolving what would become his lanky later style.

 

Cocktail dress, Moulin à Vent (Windmill), from the 1949 Trompe L’Oeil collection

 

He established his ideal shape with the New Look, then whipped it into zig-zags in the wind of futuristic fashion. Now in the Trompe l’Oeil collection he played with the surface itself.  The term trompe l’oeil is taken from painting, and it means creating an illusion of three-dimensional reality. Dior took collars, buttons and revers, and made these essentially 2-D features, which define and border the inflected parts of a garment, project beyond their size and place into abstracted, nearly independent 3-D forms.

    In a witty commentary on the way he had made free forms of mere folds, Dior quoted from the vocabulary of origami in the Pisanelle and the paper-crane-like Cygne Noir.

 

Ball gown, Cygne Noir (Black Swan), 1949

 

 

Cocktail ensemble, Pisanelle, 1949

 

This was Dior’s visual imagination at its most stylistically audacious, without ever sacrificing femininity.

 

Dinner dress, 1949 We are verging on costume here, but the extremity of the design is redeemed by the startling beauty of the shapes and the masterful control of the fabrics.

 

 

Hat from the same ensemble: in itself a splendid abstract sculpture

 

Milieu de Siècle, the name of the autumn half of the Dior’s 1949 collection, indicated he was already planning what we now call a “mid-century modern” aesthetic, and an abrupt break with the patterns he had established in the first three years.

    Looking back from the later Dior, the ZigZag  and its sister lines may seem the final death struggle of Diorian femininity, extreme in anguish as in angles, and Trompe l’Oeil  a final farewell stroking of the surface of the beautiful corps.

 

 

Coat, 1950. A late and somewhat ironic reprise of the excesses of Trompe L’Oeil

 

 

 

 

Ephemeral Architecture

 

Pentecost ensemble, 1950.  The New Look stretching thin.

 

The New Look set the trend of fashion, dictatorially, from 1947 through 1950. Then Dior moved on stylistically, and spent the last seven years of his career attempting to create a synthesis that was no longer possible: a reconciliation of pleasing feminine form with the utilitarian, abstracting demands of modern design. It was no longer a matter of opposing feminine forms from the Belle Époque to the mannish fashions of the first half of the twentieth century. The conflict had escalated into a formal one between elegance and austerity, pleasure and purity of form.

    From 1950 on the corseted, curvy contour of the New Look would flow into a straighter body line. The flower that was the New Look (which he had named the Corolla ) would be, so to speak, absorbed by the stem. Even the edges and fastenings that articulate a dress, which he had so enjoyed exaggerating, melted into it. The form which dominated for Dior, as for everyone else in couture, was, essentially, a tailored tube of cloth. Be it a sheath, a fitted shift or a narrow skirt with a bodice, the essential outline is the same, and is the defining woman’s silhouette of the twentieth century.

    Under these new and narrowed wrappings Dior’s woman still has a slightly slinky contour for the torso, but one that derives not from antique corsetry but from the modern girdle. The waist maintains its natural position, but the whole figure is elongated, as if stretched thin. Flawlessly elegant in the abstract, later Dior is generally wearable only by leggy, small-breasted women, and then only if it may be considered advantageous to exaggerate these traits.

    Dior now exhausted his ingenuity attempting to maintain the poignance of the female silhouette despite the gangly angularity of the form he now favored. He strove to find some place between the neckline and the hem to reintegrate the pleasuring shapes of femininity by subtler, more Cartesian contours and inflections of fabric. But the more striking his results, the less wearable they were.

Long Line dress from 1951. For none but the tall. An hourglass shape is created by the hat, not by the meager bosom with its dainty bow.

 Finally, Dior embraced geometric extremes, producing garments that seemingly took their cues from mathematics more than anatomy. The difficulty in wearing such clothing may be conveniently seen in the A Line .

 

 

A Line ensemble, 1955

 

The full-length A Line is really only suitable for tall women, and then only up to a point — for the sharp apex of the dress requires an unambitious bosom. Long legs are also mandated, for unless you have enough height to put this cone aloft, it won’t look like you’re wearing it — it will look like it landed on you. The reason for this is that the geometric shape overwhelms the figure beneath it, in large part canceling its curvature. Unless the legs are very visible below, the wearer will look like a lamp overwhelmed by its shade.

    The problematic nature of the A Line received a geometric indirect proof in the early sixties, when a number of designers adapted the A Line to create the miniskirt and trapeze dress : essentially an A Line dress with a shorter skirt.

 

The Royal Mail honors the Mini Skirt’s creator.

 

This was a style which could be worn to advantage by shorter women, since it gave the leg fuller play. And what length of leg one had would be further emphasized by brightly colored tights and high shiny go-go boots. With the exposed legs and the small bosom, this made for a very young look, and ideally suited the small boyish figure of a Twiggy. It may be noted that in fact this style was worn by virtually every woman in the sixties, and  modeled by tall women like Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree, whose legs it exaggerated to the point of caricature. But fashion is not always about what will give one ideal proportions, more often it is about allowing you to clothe yourself in illusions — and in the sixties, the most craved illusion was youth

 

But the mini-skirt was unimaginable for Dior, a man so formal that he refused to receive male callers who did not wear a tie. Dior always kept skirts low, hiding the knee, which he considered the ugliest part of a woman’s body. In addition to his sense of decorum, his obsession with guarding the “mystery” of the legs meant he could not adopt geometric styles in a way that would suit shorter women.

 

 

Looking over the collections from 1950-1957, we should note that although the lines have two different names a year, these denote variations within narrow perimeters. Dior himself obliquely acknowledged their sameness by naming many of them after letters of the alphabet. The H, broadened at its base, became the A. The A in turn was  inverted to become the Y. The Y, with the waistline forced even higher, yielded the Flèche (“Arrow”).

 

An H Line suit from 1954

 

The most extreme of these was the H line. Carmel Snow, Dior’s earliest advocate in the fashion press, who christened the New Look, now called Dior’s style “the flat look.” Others, less generous, compared it to a string bean.

          We must ask ourselves why Dior shifted gears so dramatically, and produced designs so apparently at variance with his avowed intention of pleasing  — he was, after all, no austere theorist.

          It is a question especially worth pondering since he himself never really addresses it in his otherwise circumstantial 1956 autobiography Christian Dior et Moi, published a year before his death. There he touches on the later collections with offhand remarks, which are notable their obtuseness. That a man as deliberate, eloquent and entertaining as Dior could offer such platitudes — that the later lines are the “antithesis” of the New Look and achieve “the liberation of the waist” —suggests to me he had a great deal to say, but nothing he was willing to go public with while his new lines were still being drawn. Indeed, he can hardly be expected to reveal his strategy and reasoning while still in the full tide of successful experiment.

          It is however my task to infer what he would not say, and reveal the multiple motivations behind his later amazing creations.

 

The Terror of History

 

Gerard, Empress Josephine at Malamaison, 1801. The Bonapartes are unspoiled by success, as the republican simplicity of Josephine’s gown announces.

 

The columnar, less-inflected dress silhouette Dior finally adopted was first glimpsed in the gowns that arose from the French Revolution. Best known as the “Empire” style, it enjoyed a decade of vogue through the Directory into the reign of Napoleon, before disappearing for another century. In its quotation of classical costume, the style was meant to signify the achievement of the revolution’s republican ideals. A hundred years later, when égalité was actually being realized for women, the Empire look returned, implacable as Marat.

 

Georges Lepape, 1911 illustration of two of Poiret’s dresses

 

Throughout the twentieth century femininity in fashion was in retreat, and today it is more readily met with among transvestites than among women. The trend begins with Paul Poiret whose neo-Empire dresses, orientalizing sheathes and hobbles, intensely hued as a Fauve painting, hung austerely from the shoulders, uninterrupted in their classical fall by breasts or hips.

 

 

The height of flapper fashion, and nearly the height of its hemline

 

Then came the flappers, binding down their bosoms for a boyish look to match their bobbed hair and bare legs. 

 

Chanel wool jersey day ensemble 1927, an instance of the famous “little black dress”

 

Chanel with her drab little black dresses was a high-style part of the general trend, one which Poiret characterized as pauvreté de luxe  — “high-priced poverty.” The first World War put women in men’s clothes when they replaced their mobilized menfolk in the workforce. The second World War put them in pants once more. Then came Dior’s brief counter-revolution.

 

Dress, 1951. The wide decolleté, no less than the girlish puffs  and ruchings, make this a dress to suit a tall, small-breasted, long-waisted adolescent. Already by 1951, the womanly ideal of the New Look was vanishing.

 

The same simplifying, pragmatic trend had subordinated men’s fashion to the demands of work since the eighteenth century, ending in the dull decorousness of the monochrome three-piece suit — which differs little from the outfits worn by Voltaire’s contemporaries. The breeches lengthened into pants, the stockings were reduced to socks, the vest and coat were shortened and their fabrics lost their brocades, but it’s essentially the identical functional, unambitious garment. Now this aesthetic of the workplace operated against female splendor with similarly cylindrical effect.

   The sixties in general, and women’s liberation in particular, would finally destroy everything Dior stood for: elegance, femininity, aristocracy. But the fashion-leveling trend of total consumerism was gaining momentum long before the Hippies flouted every decency of dress. In America, Claire McCardell was, even in the forties, defiantly designing dresses and especially sportswear that made presentable comfort an alternative to elegance. She was, as it turned out, a prophetess, though even she might have been horrified to see the final ravages of masculinization and utilitarianism in women’s clothes.

   The true grandeur of high fashion for women died with Dior: gone as the Gibson girl, just as men’s sartorial splendor vanished in the era when the gorgeous Cavaliers were vanquished by Cromwell’s dour plain-dressed Puritans. Not that there aren’t still costly, well-made dresses to be had, but the splendiferous femininity of an evening gown by a Dior or a Balenciaga is no longer imaginable. At least not without irony à la Gaultier. For we who live in the age after Fashion, a look must be assembled out of eclectic elements, if the demands of practical life (not to say of a realistic budget!) are to be reconciled with the desire for style, if we are to ride the subway to the party where we will be able to display. Of course, much can yet be done, and a nice outfit can be pulled together, but the triumphs must be minor, as a truly elegant ensemble has for us been relegated to the realms of boring formality, lost as an integral part of daily life.

 

Compiègne ball gown, 1954. As usual the handling of fabric is dazzling, but so is the exaltation of geometry over anatomy while the legs lengthen and the bosom wanes.

 

One easily understands Dior’s style shift after considering how the entire weight of history was ranged against this shy, sweet, pink and portly Norman gentleman who slightly resembled a marzipan pig. And history imposes its laws not only on the grand scale, but the small — and in some ways the weight of the past takes second place to the weight of the present.

    Fashion is the daughter of time. Like popular music, it captures perfectly the feeling of a period, and by its synchronized agreement appears irrefutable, almost divine — it gives shape to what everyone feels and hasn’t yet succeeded in expressing. But its immediacy is also its limit, and when its day is done, all that seemed appealing can suddenly become ridiculous. Dior wrote,

 

The most successful fashion wears itself out the quickest, because it is over-imitated and over propagated.

 

New Look couture within reach of the humblest pocket-book.

 

After three years of the New Look, varied with incredible powers of invention, the alarm-bell had sounded — and Dior decamped before it became a knell.

     In his autobiography, Dior’s recalled how, in the hour of the New Look’s triumph his friend the artist Christian Bérard had said,

 

“. . . savor this moment of happiness well, for it is unique in your career. Never again will success come to you so easily: for tomorrow begins the anguish of living up to, and if possible, surpassing yourself.”

      At the time I listened to his words without taking n their meaning. The poison of success had not yet had time to work in my veins.

 

 Dior’s Line

 

Sketches by Dior

 

 

A further and more positive explanation of Dior’s new aesthetic may lie in his graphic arts background. Despite his family’s wish to see him embrace a diplomatic career, Dior only played at attending the École des Science Politiques so as to enjoy living in Paris in the gay literary-artistic milieu dominated by Cocteau. In 1928 he opened a gallery, where he dealt in the paintings of his heroes, Picasso, Braque, and Matisse — until the Depression closed his doors in 1932. Then in 1933 Dior learned how to do fashion illustration; for the next five years he sold his designs to couture houses (including Schiaparelli, Balenciaga and Ricci)

     In 1938, at the age of thirty-three, Dior apprenticed to the couturier Robert Piguet. Now, after four years as a gallerist and five years drawing clothes, he learned the art of constructing them. In 1939 the war called him away for a year. Demobilized by the 1940 armistice, he went to work for the Lucien Lelong in 1941. There he completed his training as a couturier and there he  remained until Boussac backed the opening of Dior’s own maison in 1946.

 

Sketches by Dior

 

Between running an art gallery and opening his own house,  Dior spent nine years dealing art and illustrating fashion, then six succeeding years plying a needle. His lengthy and primary art and illustration training may explain the wearing problems of his later couture which would not be obvious from the sketches. He created each of his lines in a few days, cloistered in his office, making drawings by the hundreds, while his servants tiptoed around the house in felt slippers so as not to disturb the creative trance.

    Dior was thinking more like a graphic artist than like a sculptor in cloth. This is part of the reason why all his creations photograph so well, both from a distance and close-up, and why there is always something oddly planar, even genderless about even his most feminine silhouettes.

 

 

Modernist Aesthetic

 

Arsène Lupin, an H Line Theater Dress, 1954

 

The name of the last New Look collection, “Mid-Century,” provides a decisive clue to Dior’s reasoning. In the 1950’s the new was already coming into view in every other area of design. Dior embraced the austere, geometric modernism of the age in his new lines, as evinced even by the names: Vertical, Oblique, Long, Sinuous, Streamlined, Arrow, Spindle. In the same spirit Dior named collections after the most angular letters of the alphabet — H, A, Y. This also imparted an air of a scientific simplicity, and implied Dior’s new models were new models in the engineering sense.

 

1950 Rispal floor lamp: leggy and graceful as an adolescent ballerina

 

The engineering ideal was not a late inspiration for Dior, rather it was there from the start, in the infrastructure of the New Look, of which he said,

 

An ethereal appearance is only achieved by elaborate workmanship: in order to satisfy my love of architecture and clear-cut design, I wanted to employ quite a different technique in fashioning my clothes from the methods then in use — I wanted them to be constructed like buildings.

 

The 1954 evening ensemble Zémire

 

 In the section of his autobiography called "The Adventure of My Life," Dior says

 

We all have our own little weakness, our faiblesse, which is at the same  a source of strength because the thought of it . . . gives motive force to our toils.  . . My weakness, as you will have guessed, is architecture, which has fascinated me ever since I was a child. Prevented by my family and by my circumstances from ever gratifying this passion, I found an outlet for it in couture. I think of my work as ephemeral architecture, dedicated to the beauty of the female body.

 

Giacometti, Woman of Venice, 1956

 

 

The general aesthetic of mid-century modernism delighted in slimming and elongating any upright shape, bringing the clean, sweeping  lines of the engineer  to every branch of design. Much of this was a late popularization of modernist ideas that had been around since the Bauhaus. Indeed, some of Dior’s latest creations look like they could have been designed by Le Corbusier — a “machine for wearing.”

 

Van der Rohe and Johnson’s 1957 Seagram building:

beautiful apotheosis of the H Line

 

Dior, after reviving the Belle Époque past, embraced the utterly modern, and did so with an absoluteness, even an extremeness, that put him at the very edge of dress design. Dior was always a curious combination of the revolutionary and the conservative. Revolutionary in his means, conservative in his values. “Reactionary” was the self-description he liked — partly because, like all conservatives, he enjoyed shocking people. Also, his reactionary nature explains his dislike of the only two styles he ever publicly criticized: Schiaparelli’s surrealist fashions and the style of the Zazous — the French zoot suiters. The combination of conservatism and extremism we find in Dior, surprising  artistically, is familiar enough from politics, where we often see the farthert left and the farthest right converge through their very extremism. Perhaps we should acknowledge a political dimension in Dior, his quixotic defense of many a fine ideal lost, long before, in the mud of Flanders.

          Dior’s final designs, whatever they sacrificed in soft femininity, show an astonishing richness of imagination. His box jacket and pencil skirt ensembles present an abstracted form of singular purity.

 

Claro ensemble, 1957. Fashion of the future, forever new

 

The nearly genderless perfection looks modern and modish today, more than half a century later, while so many other attempts at a futuristic, engineered look seem quaint. Nothing ages so quickly as the future.

   But still, but still, the problem remains that all of these geometric garments, from the A line to the box jacket ensemble, only works on tall women unless the hemline is raised considerably. And even then, the look comes dangerously close to looking like a costume — for the Bauhaus Triadic Ballet.

 

 

Oskar Schlemmer’s 1927 Triadic Ballet at the Bauhaus. Attempts to bring about a convergence between geometry and design have been one of modernism’s ongoing projects.

 

 

 Dior maintained that the box jacket was almost as essential to a woman’s wardrobe as a suit, that it was always elegant, and particularly nice for women who were “a little bit plump” because “it hides everything.” Well, that it does, and not only figure flaws. 

    One cannot help wondering about this enthusiasm for hiding everything.

 

 

 

 

Ambivalence to Women

 

The evil queen of fashion, Coco Chanel excoriated the New Look’s adherents thus,

 

Fools, dressed by faggots living out their fantasies. These designers wish they were women, so they try and make real women look like transvestites.

 

Indeed, the New Look, contrasted with the masculinizing fashions Chanel purveyed, looked like a drag act. But this is not so much a measure of how much femininity Dior had, as of how much women had lost.

   There is a gay element in Dior’s work, but it is not to be sought in his feminization of women. His desire to make them womanly was actually the straightest thing about him. 

   Still Dior did have a certain ambivalence to females, and in fact it accounts in part for his appeal, even to women. As someone said in a line everyone has quoted, “Other men undress women with their eyes, Dior dresses them.”

   His own account of the phenomenon is fascinatingly candid,

 

That terrible, calculating professional’s eye which I apparently possess — I suppose I shall never lose it. I have been told that women feel undressed beneath my stern regard! They are wrong: I am simply redressing them in quite different clothes. But even this harmless intention must shine out of my eyes, for it embarrasses the lady I am speaking to, and also gives me a complex once I discover what is happening. But I apply it to all women, to close friends as to a strange woman I see coming into the room for the first time.

 

The testimony of the women, that they felt “undressed” under Dior’s gaze, is not to be dismissed, any more than we can reject Dior’s assertion that he was deliberately “redressing” them. The contraries are both true, for here we touch upon the gay male ambivalence to women, the sublimation of desire which results in emulation and exaltation of the feminine. The homosexual male is still a male, and responds, if only unconsciously, to female charms. But this response results in anxiety, an anxiety which Dior ceaselessly redressed — like a grievance.

     I need not here demonstrate in detail the general validity of this insight. It is quite sufficient if one can see how it applies to Dior. It would be naive to rule out the concept of ambivalence when we consider a man who, supposedly indifferent to women, spent a lifetime throwing cloth over them. It would be similarly shallow to suggest that gay ambivalence explains away to any degree the greatness of Dior’s achievements. But the notion of ambivalence does enhance our understanding of some aspects of his work which would otherwise remain conundrums — and this is the only justification for introducing it here.

 

 

Marie Antoinette Barbie: the archetype of femininity, finally dressed the part.

 

There is something oddly sexless about Dior’s vision of femininity. The doll-like perfection of both the earlier and the later Diorian proportions implies sexuality without actually possessing it. The idealization is like that of the Barbie doll, with the big eyes, the curvaceous torso and the legs that go up to her ears,  whose diminutive designer dress conceals a flat dead level of unfledged and textureless plastic in place of a mons veneris. Barbie is all femininity and only incidentally female.

    What is femininity? Our best guide may be Barbie herself. Launched in 1959 as a fashion doll, Barbie is, as every little girl knows (and no Feminist has guessed), all about the clothes. Garments, makeup and manner are what create femininity: it is a civilized, artificial quality (as Dior appreciated when he said his goal was to “save women from nature”). A naked woman per se is not feminine: she is simply female; for that matter, a naked man is not masculine, he is merely male.

    We can set aside without further ado Chanel’s assertion that Dior promoted femininity out of homosexual Venus-envy. All femininity is artifice, and that which Dior created is no more, or less, unnatural than Chanel's. 

    We should also take this opportunity to dismiss the critique that is nowadays leveled frequently at contemporary fashion: the tiring observation that fashion designers are all gay men who enjoy making women into gangly, flat-chested boys.

 

The trend in dresses that favors tall under-endowed women was in fact pioneered by female designers (such as Vionnet, Lanvin and Chanel) who predominated in the early twentieth century, and was motivated by the desire to give women a freedom of movement unattainable in a garment that depended on structure. This point is amply substantiated by the above summary of how this developed, from Empire gowns, through Poiret and the Flappers, to wartime Utility Fashions.

   

    Ease of movement, required for sports or work, is finally antithetical to the basic form of a dress. Women’s dresses were narrowed and retracted from their nineteenth-century hoop-skirt apogee, but such compromises finally failed. The column of cloth enclosing the legs, however modest, must bifurcate into trousers if the principal goal is not elegance but ease of movement. The fact that the intermediate stage in this pragmatic masculinization of women’s wear favors a boyish figure is structurally necessitated, and can’t fairly be blamed on gay male designers — who in fact often admire women more than other women do. 

    Still there is a subtle gay quality to Dior’s work, which can be intuited as much from the exaggeration of his feminizing designs from the New Look period, as from the zeal with which he embraced masculinizing geometries in his later work. And it may be more than suspected from the glee of his adoption of details from menswear for women’s dresses. Admittedly these are all traits he shared with the other designers of his time, but the particular satisfaction he took in such tropes, though it cannot decisively demonstrated, may still be responsibly inferred.

 

In Dior’s autobiography, among the extremely circumspect and deliberately unhelpful remarks about his later lines, there is one paragraph, about the H Line where his annoyance at having it characterized as “the string bean” and “the flat look,” coupled with his excellent graphic arts background, led him to reveal something of considerable interest:

A line which was tremendously criticized, deformed, and abused, was my so-called ‘String-Bean’ line: and I think it as well to recall what it did consist of. It was based on the length and flattening of the bust, and suggested the tapering figure of a young girl, like the nymphs of the famous Fontainebleau school of painting. Love of style, purity, reserve, and elegance characterized this particular epoch of the Renaissance when the art of Jean Goujon flourished. 

 

Jean Goujon, Diana the Huntress, early 1550-54.

 

The precedent Dior cites is indeed precise. Goujon’s Diana has a perfect H Line figure. In the sculpture she is actually clothed in the sheerest of shifts, but the fullest nudity would have added no further femaleness to this long-waisted, genderless figure. Diana, like the Amazons, like Athena, like all the armed women of Greek mythology, is symbolically desexed by deliberate virginity, a condition reflected in her anatomy. By mythological referent, as much as by physical form, the H Line ideal is as far from female as one could go without actually changing sex.

 

And this Dior actually does from time to time. One of the more surprising masculinizations Dior performs is his reversal of before and behind, causing the dress to point, discreetly but definitely, to the buttocks as the erogenous zone.

 

Envol dress, 1948

 

Truly, a Dantean deformation — what the girls are wearing this season in hell.

 

I have already discussed the psychological role Dior’s mother played in the genesis of the New Look. The idealization of the mother, the unattainable love-object, began Dior’s extraordinary mastery of the feminine. Though there is nothing particularly gay about a couturier making women’s clothing that is feminine, there is something gay about the absence of eros in Dior’s dresses. Earlier I made a comparison with Barbie, for the sake of clarity. Now, for the sake of fairness, I will, with better justice, compare it to Greek statuary, the godlike calm that the Hellenes observed even when depicting the most gruesome or piquant myth. There is an Olympian sublimity about all of Dior’s creations, the very models seem to enjoy calmer and more blessed mode of being than mere mortals. The work of Dior’s contemporary Balenciaga, perhaps Dior’s only equal in beauty of design, never has the Dior coolness. Balenciaga’s dresses give the women who wear them a more corporeal, though no less dignified beauty. In his early corset-shaped models, as in the later geometric mode, Dior always elevates us to the archetypal realm. Dior’s love affair with the female form is always Platonic. Above the transitory clouds of fashion, the “ephemeral architecture” of its every shifting shapes, Dior’s Mater Gloriosa shines like Goethe’s vision at the end of Faust: — flat-chested A-Line virgin, mother robed in the Mystère, day-coat, Queen and Goddess in the Juno ball gown — as Goethe put it

 

All that’s ephemeral

is only than a likeness;

here the unattainable

takes place, becomes fact,

the most inexpressible

simply occurs;

the eternal feminine

lifts us all

and exalts.

 

 

 

1947 Eugenie Ball Gown:

 

 

 

Chronology of the Dior Collections

 

1947

Spring, Corolle and 8

1948

Spring: ZigZag and Envol (Take-off); Autumn: Cyclone

1949

Spring: Trompe L’oeil; Autumn: Milieu du Siècle (“Mid-Century”)

1950

Spring: Verticale; Autumn: Oblique.

1951

Spring: Naturelle; Autumn: Longue.

1952

Spring: Sinueuse; Autumn: Profilée (“Streamlined”)

1953

Tulipe, Vivante (“Alive”);

1954

Muguet (“Lily of the Valley”); H Line

1955

A Line, Y Line;

1956

Flèche (“Arrow”), Aimant (“Magnet”);

1957

Libre (“Free”). Fuseau (“Spindle”).

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