Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society | March 31, 2017
Report: Ambassador Victoria Haddock on Dior by Dior, Soizic Pfaff at the Fashion Museum
Dior by Dior Twilight Talk
On the evening of Thursday 16th February, I attended the Dior by Dior Twilight Talk at the Fashion Museum, Bath. Commemorating the 70th anniversary of Christian Dior’s first collection, coined the New Look by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, the Fashion Museum invited Soizic Pfaff, Chief Archivist at the House of Dior to provide an insight into the history of one of the most influential Paris couture houses. Pfaff has worked for Christian Dior since 1974 and is in charge of a vast archive that contains documents from the very beginning of the House of Dior, including sketches, haute couture samples and programmes from fashion shows (which she had kindly bought facsimile copies of for us to view).
She began her talk by describing how Dior’s love of fashion started with the hats worn by his very elegant mother, Isabelle, during his youth in Granville. After a career as a gallerist in Paris from 1928-34, Dior’s first design experience came in the mid-1930s through creating fashion sketches for Le Figaro of other designer’s collections. He joined the designer Robert Piguet in 1938, where he worked alongside Pierre Balmain, and was given the opportunity to design three collections. Dior would later say that ‘Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come’. Dior left Piguet in 1939 when he was called up for military service, but joined Lucien Lelong in December 1941, where he and Balmain were the primary designers.
With the backing of the entrepreneur Marcel Boussac, Dior was able to found his own fashion house in 1946. The couture house he purchased in October on 30 Avenue Montaigne strategically faced the fashionable Plaza Hotel, attracting wealthy clients from the beginning. Eighty five members of staff were hired, and Pfaff explained that most of the top positions were filled by friends and confidantes of Dior. The first collection was hurriedly prepared in December ready for showing on 12th February 1947. For each collection Dior prepared in the countryside and usually sketched three or four times as many garments as he actually needed for a collection. The Corolle ‘New Look’ line featuring the Bar Suit, and the 8 Line featuring the Jungle print ensemble were indicative of Dior’s passion for architecture and the construction of garments was a crucial element of all of his designs. Dior named all of the garments in each of his collection, for example: Bazaar, Elle and Figaro, after the magazines that had supported his career. Soizic Pfaff told the audience that construction of the ivory silk ‘Bar’ jacket was entrusted to Pierre Cardin, then premier of the atelier tailleur. The Bar Suit was promoted in magazines through sketches to avoid copies being easily made and sold. Pfaff explained that Dior viewed the angry reactions felt towards the ‘New Look’ collection, due to the length of material being used during rationing, as a fantastic advertisement for the collection and he won the Neiman Marcus award for his first collection in September 1947. He quickly increased his sales opportunities by opening up stores in New York in 1948, in London in 1952 and his first boutique in Caracas in 1953.
Christian Dior was very superstitious and Pfaff showed examples of the ‘Dior codes’ that have been in use in Dior designs from the very beginning and have been re-imagined by future designers at Dior, such as: stars, bows, ovals and roses. One of the most interesting documents held in the Dior archive was a small catalogue dating from 1951 that shows that Christian Dior was one of the first designers to expand his fashion house by proposing a range of accessories, perfumes and gifts for women and men, that could all be sent to a client by plane!
Soizic Pfaff was extremely knowledgeable about the collections she cares for and the history of Dior and the talk was extremely well received, so much so, that Pfaff was nearly late for her plane. Answering a question about how to become an archivist, Pfaff gave a great answer that I think Monsieur Dior would have approved of – have passion!
Victoria Haddock, February 2017
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