In 1946, just a year after the end of World War II, Christian Dior founded his own haute couture fashion house. This was no easy ambition in postwar Paris. The German occupation had meant that the heart of the fashion world had shifted from Paris to New York. Moreover, European buyers no longer had the financial means to purchase luxury apparel. But this did not stop Christian Dior. After gaining experience with such designers as Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong, he took the risk and began creating designs under his own label.
Christian Dior’s first collection, for Spring-Summer 1947, was a sensation. It included the En Huit and Corolle lines, and would later become known as the New Look. The term ‘New Look’ was coined by Carmel Snow, then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. She described the New Look as a return to forms and ideas that had prevailed before the war, with corsets, small waists and sumptuous, full skirts that looked both young and luxurious. This was in stark contrast to the sober and sleek looks worn during the wartime years. Dior’s daring first collection immediately put Paris back on the map as the fashion capital of the world.
This evening gown in the MoMu Collection was part of the Envol line, presented in the 1948 Haute Couture Spring-Summer collection. Christian Dior was always in search of ways to innovate and improve his work. With this dress, he did so by creating volume at the back, referencing historic tournure from around 1880 with a steel construction worn under the skirt at the back. As the wearer walked, the volume of the skirt first rose and then fell like a train. This garment also embraces all the characteristic elements of the New Look, including a fitted bodice and narrow waist, thus highlighting the shoulders and arms, and a round, bellowing skirt.
Christian Dior’s dresses and gowns were exclusive. No fewer than 48 metres of organdie, in varying tints of pink, were used to make the skirt alone. This was unheard of in a period in which people were still dependent on food coupons and raw materials were very scarce. It earned him both criticism and publicity. Dior named the gown Flamant Rose, the French name for the Greater Flamingo. He seemed to be referring to the subtle gradations in colour in the plumes of the flamingo, which were reworked into the nine layers of the skirt.
A page from the so-called collection chart for Spring-Summer 1948 gives us interesting additional information. Within a collection scheme, the looks are divided according to different themes. In addition, they also indicate what time of day they were meant to be worn. The Flamant Rose was categorized as a robe diner, or evening dress. Mme. Monique, head of Atelier Flou, was responsible for the manufacture of the dress. Atelier Flou produced dresses and suits made of soft, flowing fabrics, such as silk, organdie, chiffon and organza. In the collection chart, along with the name and the function of the dress, the materials were listed, with samples of the fabrics pinned in. The accompanying sketch for the garment was also often included.
This gown was worn on the catwalk by Tania Janvier-Kousnetzoff, a Russian model. She had also shown the Tailleur Bar at the presentation of the 1947 Spring-Summer collection, with which Christian Dior put himself on the fashion map.
This gown is also highly valuable from an historical perspective. It came about at a moment when Europe was in the depths of recovering from the war. Paris was slowly emerging from the devastation. The fact that Dior was creating such voluminous, luxurious silhouettes stood in sharp contrast to the poverty still being suffered by so many. It is also probable that this was the only one that was ever made. In the 1940s, the same haute couture dress would not have been sold more than once, avoiding the awkward circumstance of two women wearing the same dress at any given event.
Finally, the colours of this gown held strong sentimental value for Christian Dior. In his autobiography, Dior by Dior, published in 1956, he spoke of his family villa, Les Rhumbs. “My family home had a soft pink colour, combined with grey pebbles, and these two tints have continued to be my favourite colours in couture.” The fact that the Flamant Rose is this colour makes it exceptionally special. For Christian Dior, this was “the colour of femininity and happiness”.
Christian Dior was a true trendsetter. Each season, he presented a new collection, inspired by specific themes and forms. He died in 1957, from a heart attack, leaving his extraordinary legacy to the young Yves Saint Laurent.
Author: Bas Verwaetermeulen
Photo above: Stany Dederen