Next year, Dior is marking the 70 years since its foundation with an ambitious project in collaboration with fashion-favourite publisher Assouline: a series of beautiful limited edition books (£130 each) that will be published over the next two years and, in turn, document the contribution made by each of the seven designers who have so far been in charge of womenswear. The initial offering – launched this month, with the first 50 available at Maison Assouline exclusively until the end of January – charts the house’s foundation and the principles established by Christian Dior, which every successor has followed in their own way.
Next will come Yves Saint Laurent, who had a brief tenure at Dior before setting up his house, but created waves while there. Then Marc Bohan, who started in the design studio that the house then had in London and steadied the ship for almost 30 years before handing over to Gianfranco Ferré, who epitomised Dior’s version of 1980s style and is the subject of the fourth book. The fifth will be about the Briton John Galliano, whose soaring imagination created controversy and wonder before crashing in disgrace and was followed by the calm, more intellectual approach of the Belgian Raf Simons. The final book will be about the work of the first woman and second Italian to lead the house, Maria Grazia Chiuri, but as she has only designed one collection so far, there will be time for her repertoire to expand before it appears.
If all the books are as beautiful and informative as the first one, this will be quite some collection, and the definitive work on Dior’s changing style. It is written by top Paris curator Olivier Saillard, who explains Dior’s background in art and illustration before he came to fashion design, and describes Dior’s feelings about his business and his creations in the designer’s own words, taken from his journals and the descriptions containing his thoughts that were handed to clients and press at his shows. In the context of postwar, rationed Europe, it is easy to see how revolutionary the New Look was: “clothes for flower-like women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts”, as Dior described shapes that are still the epitome of elegance.
Saillard then goes through Dior’s early inspiration – flowers, travel, art, music, theatre, architecture – and documents each silhouette he created, with entertaining asides about the rich and famous women who bought them, and background on the ateliers where they were made. He does the same for every season of the decade over which Dior was the king of couture, until his sudden death in 1957.
The photographs are ravishing: key outfits from the Dior archives and private collections simply and atmospherically pictured on mannequins, balanced with iconic original images by the great names of mid-20th century photography, such as Beaton, Avedon and Clarke, and wonderful close-ups of craftwork from beading to corseted underpinnings. This monumental work is a beautifully produced joy. Start your collection now.