I keep an ongoing list of vintage books that I want to acquire, and this one, Christian Dior and I, has been on it for a while. The book was actually reprinted several years ago (and in the UK as Dior by Dior), but I was hoping to find a reasonably priced copy of the original. And I did.
The book is marketed as Dior’s autobiography, but it really is not so much the story of his life as it is the story of the House of Dior. He does tell bits about his childhood, and about how he became a designer, but the bulk of the book is concerned with telling how a couture house operates. It’s a fascinating and personal look inside fashion at the highest level.
Dior starts with how he conceives the ideas for a collection. A collection’s development began the day after the first showing of the last collection. Dior would leave Paris for his country home where he would try to not even think of fashion for several weeks. After that, he began the process by doodling, scribbling, drawing on individual sheets of paper which he kept stacked. From these sketches, his ideas for the new collection emerged.
The finished sketches then went to the premiere of the atelier, where she and Dior would analyze and discuss the designs. Then the workshops went to work on the toiles, or muslin patterns. Dior and the head of each workroom would then tweak the design, and sometimes discard the idea completely. Fabrics were chosen for the successful designs, and the work began on the models.
Over the next weeks, Dior would study each dress, and make changes, and then the day came when all the finished work was viewed, studied, analyzed, and altered. No wonder Monsieur Dior did not want to look at the dresses after the first official showing!
Dior also explained how sales operated in his house. He actually had nothing at all to do with the sales, and usually was not there when women came in to view the collection (which was done in the form of a show every afternoon). A couture customer would pick out the models she wanted, and then the workshops would make the dress to her measurements. A retail customer, like Neiman Marcus, would buy the toile so that the dress could be reproduced for sale in the US.
I read this book slowly, as to absorb the details of the workings of the House of Dior, but there is a lot of material, and I’ll be rereading this one very soon.
The book was published in 1957. In the last lines of the book Dior talked about how he hoped to someday retire to his home in Provence. “I think of this house as my real home, the home to which, God willing, I shall one day retire…” But it was not to be. That same year, Dior died of a heart attack.