Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society, Reviews  |  November 1, 2017

Christian Dior and Granville: Roots of a Legend Exhibition

‘I look back on [our house in Granville] with mingled tenderness and wonder. In a certain sense, my whole life was influenced by its architecture and situation. […] My childhood home was roughcast in a very soft pink, mixed with grey gravel, and these two shades have remained my favourite colours in couture.’

The Musée Christian Dior is situated in Dior’s historic family home of Les Rhumbs in the picturesque coastal resort of Granville, Normandy. I visited the museum, the only one in France dedicated to a couturier, to view ‘Christian Dior and Granville: Roots of a Legend'. The exhibition explores the designer’s early life and marks the seventieth anniversary of the iconic fashion house.

Christian Dior was born on 21st January 1905 to Maurice (1873-1946) and Madeleine Dior (1880-1931). Dior was two years old when the family moved to the clifftop property of Les Rhumbs, which his fertiliser industrialist father bought from a ship-owner. Dior enjoyed the sheltered family life of the large pink and grey villa (colours which would inspire the décor of 30 Avenue Montaigne) which he shared with his siblings: Raymond, Jacqueline, Bernard and Catherine. Granville had been a fashionable resort for Parisians since the 1870s and Dior explained that it ‘was for nine months of the year a peaceful little port and for the three summer months a fashionable suburb of Paris.’  In 1911, the Dior family moved to Paris, where they set up the Dior Sons & Co headquarters, but the family would continue to spend their summer holidays at Les Rhumbs.

The ‘Christian Dior and Granville’ exhibition is a dual historical and stylistic journey through the beautiful Les Rhumbs villa, owned by the Dior family from 1906 until 1938. When Maurice Dior was declared bankrupt in 1932, the villa was eventually sold to the City of Granville who turned the large garden into the municipal park it is today. It was in 1987 that Jean-Luc Dufresne, a cousin of Christian Dior, created an exhibition at Les Rhumbs to celebrate forty years of Maison Christian Dior. Through acquisitions and donations from some of Dior’s collaborators and, in particular, his sisters Catherine and Jacqueline, Dufresne persuaded Granville to transform Les Rhumbs into France’s first museum solely dedicated to a designer. Exhibits include objects from the designer's childhood, dresses dating from 1947 onwards and garments by the subsequent creative directors who have remained faithful to the codes of the house of Dior.
Madeleine Dior was a large inspiration for her son, as much for her taste in flowers and gardening as for her interior design skills that she put into practice at Les Rhumbs. Madeleine, with the help of a young Christian, created an English-style garden with a reflective pool, pergola and rose garden with breath-taking views over the English Channel. The flowers, the colours and the fragrances of the garden would provide much inspiration for Dior in the forms, fabrics and embroidery of his dresses. His love of flowers, which he shared with his mother, would motivate him to create and sell perfumes early on in his career. The scent of Miss Dior (named after Christian’s sister Catherine) fills the museum. One of Madeleine’s Edwardian dresses is on display in the exhibition alongside pastel coloured Edwardian-style designs by John Galliano for Christian Dior, cementing the impact the elegant Madeleine had over her son’s image of the feminine ideal.

Granville’s annual balls and carnivals saw some of Christian Dior’s earliest designs brought to life in fancy dress costumes for friends and family. In 'Christian Dior and I', Dior states that at Les Rhumbs ‘the place I loved more than any other – was this fate? – was the linen room. […] there I lingered, forgetting my books and my brother, absorbed in watching the women around the oil lamp plying their needle’.  Photos from the exhibition show Dior and friends, including Serge Heftler-Louiche, the man behind the legendary Miss Dior perfume, in fancy dress at the ‘Flower Festival.’ Representing the themes of fancy dress and costume through its Spanish colours, a beautiful red and gold embroidered ‘New Look’ inspired couture dress by John Galliano for Dior, Fall 2007, is displayed. When Christian Dior founded his fashion house in late 1946, he called upon his close childhood friends from Granville to assist him. Serge Heftler-Louiche, a former director of Coty perfumes, suggested launching a line of perfumes. Nicole Riotteau became Dior’s first ‘saleswoman’ and Suzanne Luling became the Dior’s Salon Director. In his memoirs, Dior recalled: ‘So we all came together again, as we had in our youth for picnics, fishing trips and croquet. But this time, we were to face a different battle’.

The Musée Christian Dior is open daily during the two annual exhibitions, outside which it is closed. Year round access to the garden at Les Rhumbs villa is free.

The exhibition has recently been extended until 7th January 2018.

Further Reading
Dior, C. (1957). Christian Dior and I. New York, E. P. Dutton & Co.
ECL (ed.) (2017). Connaissance des Arts Special Issue – The Musée Christian Dior, Granville. Paris, SFPA.



CS Ambassador, Victoria Haddock, visited France's only museum dedicated to a couturier to see a special exhibition marking 70 years of Dior. Here, Victoria gives us an insight in the special relationship between Christian Dior and his beloved childhood home of Les Rhumbs in the picturesque coastal resort of Granville, Normandy.

  • Dior et Granville Exhibition, ©Musée Christian Dior
  • John Galliano for Christian Dior Fall 2007 Haute Couture, ©Alessandro Lucioni
  • Les Rhumbs villa, Victoria Haddock
  • Madeleine Dior, ©Musée Christian Dior