The French touch
On February 12, 1947, 42-year-old designer Christian Dior held his first fashion show as an independent designer and head of his brand-new couture house. The show made fashion history, and Carmel Snow, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, coined the phrase “New Look” for his smash-hit collection.
Shaking up the staid fashion universe, Dior’s New Look, with its long billowing skirts, represented an exuberant liberation after the forced austerity of the war years, when fabric was in short supply. Full skirts stood for luxury, and with padding, cinched waists and bustiers on top, Dior’s silhouettes highlighted women’s curves—elegant and ultra-feminine, the collection ushered in a radical change from the boxy styles of previous years.
Over the next decade, Dior’s name became synonymous with excellence in haute couture and a byword for Parisian chic. In 1954 he wrote The Little Dictionary of Fashion as an aid to understanding the French touch in fashion and achieving its inimitable panache. An English translation has now been published for the first time. Subtitled “A Guide to Dress Sense for Every Woman,” the small volume presents Dior’s essential fashion dos and don’ts: A is for accessories and how to match them with clothes; C is for colors and how to choose them, and H underscores the importance of the hat. As he runs through the fashion alphabet, some of his advice seems irresistible. Pink, we’re told, is the color of happiness and femininity, so—think pink!—it should always be a factor in every woman’s wardrobe. Dior thought high heels could be vulgar and uncomfortable, and that low heels might create a masculine look; his sage solution was medium.
The book’s old-rose cover and black-and-white illustrations are a reminder that the original French version of The Little Dictionary of Fashion was first published more than a half-century ago. Dior’s advice may seem a bit old-fashioned and conservative today, but its real focus is bon goût—good taste—and that will never go out of style.
The Little Dictionary of Fashion by Christian Dior (Abrams, New York)