Since Christian Dior’s sudden passing, the fashion house has had a long lineage of designers. Boasting some of the biggest names in the industry, it has been helmed by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, and Hedi Slimane. From challenging post-war restrictions to promoting feminism, each creative has brought something different to Dior. Our comprehensive guide introduces all of them and details their respective contributions.
Continue reading to learn about the artistic directors behind the French couture house, starting with Monsieur Dior himself.
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On January 21, 1905, Christian Dior was born in Granville, a small seaside town on the coast of Normandy, France. Though he only lived there until he was five years old, when his family moved to Paris, it served as a great source of inspiration for him throughout his life. Its sprawling, English-style garden influenced his future designs and fragrances. Today, the manor houses the Christian Dior museum.
Though he was passionate about art and dreamt of working as an architect, Dior’s parents expected him to become a diplomat. He went on to attend École des Sciences Politiques. Following his graduation in 1928, Dior’s father bought him an art gallery, which exhibited works from prominent artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali; however, upon the Great Depression, death of his mother and brother, and the failure of his father’s once thriving fertilizer business, he was forced to close it in 1931. To make ends meet, he sold fashion sketches to Harper’s Bazaar until he was offered a design position under Robert Piguet. After Dior was called to military service in 1940, his fashion career was briefly put on pause. In 1942, he resumed at couturier Lucien Lelong, where he honed his technique alongside Pierre Balmain.
On April 18, 1946, as Dior was debating over whether or not he should leave his position at Lucien Lelong, he received a sign that would forever change his life.
photo by Willy Maywald/Portrait de Christian Dior 1957
Photo by WWD official website
At the age of 14, Christian Dior sat with a fortuneteller for the first time. He had helped her sell ‘magical’ objects at a local charity fair, and she showed her gratitude by reading his palm at the end of the day. She predicted, “You will suffer poverty. But women are lucky for you, and through them you will achieve success. You will make a great deal of money out of them, and you will have to travel widely.” Her prophecy proved true.
Ever since that compelling reading, Dior depended on fortunetellers to ease his mind and help him make decisive career choices. He visited one before every major fashion show. To supplement his visits, Dior always kept lucky charms on him: a four-leaf clover, two hearts, a piece of wood, and a gold coin.
Quite superstitious, Dior also found solace in other objects, seeing them as telltale signs or comforting reminders of his past.
The Golden Star
As Dior walked down Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, contemplating if he should accept an offer to be the artistic director at Philippe et Gaston, he tripped over something on the sidewalk. A five-pointed, golden star that had fallen off a horse carriage, it had dropped in the exact spot where his friend had convinced him to take a meeting with an investor at the house. Dior believed the star was guiding him, indicating the correct path to follow. The next day at his appointment with Marcel Boussac, the investor and a cotton magnate, Dior decided he would not resign from Lucien Lelong to start at Philippe et Gaston. Madame Delahaye, the fortuneteller he frequented most regularly, had urged him to start his own couture house instead. With Boussac’s financial backing, Dior opened the House of Dior. For good fortune, he kept the star with him at the atelier throughout his entire career.
Lily of the Valley
Reminding him of the garden at his childhood home in Granville, Dior loved flowers. When he showed his first collection, the room was filled with bouquets and one of its lines was named Corolle (meaning ‘flower petals’ in English). In his memoir, Dior recalled, “I designed clothes for flower-like women with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and handspan waists above enormous spreading skirts.” The line featured ample skirts that resembled upside-down flower buds.
Symbolizing hope, good luck, and renewal, lily of the valley was Dior’s personal favorite. He had a florist cultivate the spring blossom year-round, so he could hide a dried sprig in the hemline of each of his couture designs. A look never went down the runway without lily of the valley at hand.
The Figure Eight
Christian Dior was interested in numerology. Favoring the number eight, he tried to incorporate it into the House of Dior as much as possible. After much unwavering persistence, he opened his flagship at 30 Avenue Montaigne, which was situated in Paris’s eighth arrondissement. As his brand grew, it expanded from the famous townhouse into a building directly behind it. The extra space was eight stories high and divided into eight studio workshops.
When Dior showed his first collection at his atelier, one of its lines was even named Huit (meaning ‘eight’ in English). Inspired by the sensual silhouette of a figure eight, it featured pieces with an emphasized bosom, hollowed waist, and accentuated hips.
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
The House of Dior was founded on December 16, 1946; though, because its first collection was presented on February 12, 1947, it considers this to be its official day of origination.
The couture collection featured a staggering 90 looks, which belonged to two different lines. Named for the silhouettes they highlighted, they were known as Corolle and Huit. Consisting of calf-length, full-bodied skirts, cinched waists, and exaggerated busts, they each accentuated the hourglass shape of a woman. Dior explained, “I wanted my dresses to be ‘constructed’, moulded on the curves of the female body whose contours they would stylize.”
The collection was revolutionary. Rebuking wartime rationing, every piece required an average of 20 yards of fabric. They were elegant and opulent, starkly contrasting with the gloom and uniformity that had overcome post-war fashion in Europe. Dior’s collection redefined womenswear, reintroducing indulgent, seductive femininity (in direct opposition to his rival Coco Chanel, who designed androgynous pieces that prioritized comfort) and reestablishing Paris as the haute couture capital of the world.
While the entire collection was met with critical acclaim, the Bar Jacket was its signature piece. Named after the bar at the Plaza Athénée, where Dior was a regular, it was an impeccably tailored coat. Crafted of cream-colored, silk shantung, it was padded at the hipline and had rounded tails to mirror the shape of the bosom. Forever immortalized in a photo by Willy Maywald, the Bar Jacket was paired with a pleated, swinging skirt and styled with black gloves and a pillar-box hat. Dior redesigned and released it in every one of his 22 couture collections, and it has since been updated by every designer that has succeeded him.
Following its debut, Dior’s first collection was met with a standing ovation. Upon seeing it come down the runway, Carmel Snow, the then-editor-in-chief at Harper’s Bazaar, celebrated, “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!” Unknowingly, she had christened the collection the New Look, further distinguishing it from the post-war austerity that had been the norm.
After some of Hollywood’s most notable celebrities became clients, such as Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, the house’s profile raised significantly. Dior was even invited to stage a private viewing of the New Look for the British Royal Family; though, King George VI forbade Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from wearing it, as rationing was still in effect.
Since it showed over seven decades ago, the New Look has had an enduring legacy. It has served as a style template for designers at Dior and beyond, including Miuccia Prada, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood.
House of Dior Expansion
Following the success of the New Look, Dior rapidly expanded its product line and production.
During the war, Christian Dior’s sister joined the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation and was captured by the Gestapo. Though she was imprisoned at Ravensbrück concentration camp, she survived and was released upon its liberation in 1945. Three years later, Dior launched its perfumery department, and Miss Dior, its inaugural fragrance, was named in honor of her, as she represented the strong, courageous, and rebellious Dior woman. In remembrance of their time spent together in Grasse in the South of France, Miss Dior is a light floral scent with notes of rose (Grasse is famous for its pale pink rose that blooms in May), pink pepper, bergamot, and rosewood.
One year after this, in 1949, Dior became the first couturier to license the production of his designs. To create a complete, head-to-toe New Look, Dior licensed his name to luxury hats, gloves, and shoes. He also allowed his perfumes, stockings, and furs to be produced in regional centers rather than just the headquarters in Paris, spreading his brand around the world. While the French Chamber of Couture accused Dior of cheapening the industry, his decisions proved extremely profitable and nearly every fashion house followed his lead.
Miss Dior parfume
Christian Dior's funeral, October 1957, Photo by history of Pinterest
The Death of Dior
On October 24, 1957, while on vacation in Montecatini, Italy, Christian Dior suffered his third heart attack and passed away at 52 years old. Around 2,500 people attended his funeral, and he was buried in Cimetière de Callian in Var, France.
Shortly after, Yves Saint Laurent, who was hired as Dior’s design assistant in 1955, was promoted to artistic director. At just 21 years old, he received complete creative control over one of the most prestigious maisons.
When Christian Dior died, the house was already earning more than $20 million a year.
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Yves Saint Laurent
In 1957, Christian Dior spoke with Yves Saint Laurent’s mother, revealing to her that he had already chosen her son to replace him at Dior. Because Dior was still so young, she was relatively confused by his statement and did not take it too seriously. Shortly after, Dior lost his life and Yves Saint Laurent became the world’s youngest couturier.
Saint Laurent (officially Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent) was born on August 1, 1936, in Oran, Algeria (then under French rule). Growing up with his two older sisters, Saint Laurent would use scraps from his mother’s wardrobe to craft clothing for their dolls, dressing them in couture looks and staging fashion show presentations. As he got older, Saint Laurent moved on from dolls and began dressing the women in his family.
At the age of 17, Saint Laurent moved to Paris to enroll in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. His sketches caught the eye of Michael de Brunhoff, who was the editor-in-chief of Vogue France at the time. Though impressed, he advised him to finish his studies. The two remained in contact, as Saint Laurent continued to send him sketches and seek career advice. In 1955, Brunhoff arranged a meeting between Dior and Saint Laurent at 30 Avenue Montaigne, where the young designer was immediately hired. Though he styled the Dior boutiques at first, Saint Laurent was gradually entrusted with more responsibility. The year of his death, Dior admitted, “Yves Saint Laurent is young, but he is an immense talent. In my last collection, I consider him to be the father of 34 out of the 180 designs. I think the time has come to reveal it to the press. My prestige won’t suffer from it.”
As the world mourned Christian Dior, Saint Laurent got straight to work. He had only a couple of months to design the Spring/Summer 1958 collection, which was set to show on January 30. He created over 600 drawings in just 15 days!
Saint Laurent’s first collection pushed the House of Dior in a completely new direction. Called Trapeze, it strayed from Dior’s iconic New Look, featuring oversized, A-line silhouettes that used far less fabric and hid the female body. It was met with a standing ovation and even some tears.
According to a press release, under Saint Laurent, “the figure was lost in favor of style.” He created six collections for Dior, before he was drafted into the Algerian War of Independence in 1960. Though he did not serve long, as he was hospitalized for depression after 20 days of brutal hazing from the other soldiers. Because he deserted the French army, the House of Dior decided to replace Saint Laurent as its artistic director and sent Pierre Bergé to the hospital to deliver the news. Saint Laurent responded, “We will found a haute couture house together, and you will manage it.” Saint Laurent sued the House of Dior for breach of contract and used his winnings to start Yves Saint Laurent together with Bergé (who would become not only his business partner, but also his lover). Yves Saint Laurent was officially established in July 1961.
Though he was at the helm of Dior for almost 30 years, Marc Bohan is its most overlooked artistic director.
When Bohan was appointed in 1961, he had long been in the fashion industry in positions at Robert Piguet (just like Christian Dior himself), Molyneux, and Jean Patou. In 1958, he attempted to start his own label, but due to a lack of financial backing, it failed. After, he started at Dior, working as the house’s director of English operations in London before he was promoted to artistic director upon Saint Laurent’s dismissal.
Bohan is widely credited with making Dior’s couture more wearable. His cardinal collection, for Spring/Summer 1961, was heralded as classic. His update to Dior’s New Look, Bohan referred to it as the Slim Look. More svelte, its pieces had natural shoulders, flat hips, and gently flared skirts. The Slim Look earned Dior more distinguished clients like Sophia Loren, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Elizabeth Taylor (immediately upon its release, she purchased 12 dresses!).
Due to his focus on branding and expansion, Bohan is also attributed with turning Dior into a globally recognized house. In 1967, he created Dior’s now-signature Oblique logo (named after a collection created by Christian Dior for Fall/Winter 1950-1951); however, Bohan did not reveal it to the public until Spring/Summer 1969. Resituating the brand’s name into a slanted format, the Oblique logo originally covered luxury luggage, but has since been added to streetwear by John Galliano and re-interpreted on handbags like the Book Tote and Saddle by Maria Grazia Chiuri. In 1968, Bohan designed Dior’s first ready-to-wear collection. Up until that point, Dior had only been a made-to-measure, couture house. Over the years, he further grew Dior, starting Baby Dior and Dior Homme and opening boutiques in London, New York, and Hong Kong.
The longest acting artistic director at Dior, Marc Bohan left in 1989 in attempt to revive Norman Hartnell, a London-based couture house that was best known for designing Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress and coronation robes.
From Legnano, Italy, a suburb outside of Milan, Gianfranco Ferré was the first non-French artistic director at Dior. When he replaced Marc Bohan in 1989, it caused quite an uproar. Pierre Berge, former friend of Christian Dior and then-chairman of Yves Saint Laurent, spoke for the entire French fashion community when he critiqued, “I don’t think opening the doors to a foreigner – and an Italian – is respecting the spirit of creativity in France.”
Ferré was also the first to never have worked with Christian Dior himself, as Saint Laurent was his design assistant and Bohan led the London line before his death. Though Dior and Ferré never collaborated, they shared an interest in architecture. Ferré received a degree in architecture from Milan’s Polytechnic Institute and was nicknamed ‘L’architetto’ because he created looks that were sculptural, precisely tailored, and clean. Christian Dior commented, “A dress as I design it is a form of ephemeral architecture, intended to exalt the proportions of the female body.” Ferré mirrored, “My creations are the result of textile architecture conceived for the body, which gives life to the body.”
After he graduated, Ferré had difficulty finding a job. In the mid- ‘70s, he began working for Franco Mattioli, creating silk dresses for his Baila label. Ferré made such an impression on Mattioli, that Mattioli offered to support his own label with a $100,000 investment. Together, they started Gianfranco Ferré SpA in 1978. Throughout the 1980s, they expanded it to include fragrances, watches, haute couture, menswear, furs, and more, turning it into a multimillion-dollar brand.
Ferré brought bold glamour to Dior. Taking advantage of the house’s resources, he introduced exaggerated proportions, rich colors, and decadent materials. Though his seven years as Dior’s artistic director were heavily defined by his Italian aesthetic, Ferré also delved into the house’s archives. Respecting Dior’s history, he drew on its codes to create one of its most popular bags to date. Referencing the Napoléon III rattan chairs that viewers sat in during Christian Dior’s first haute couture show, Ferré quilted the bag in a cannage pattern. It was first released in 1994, and after it was gifted to and beloved by Princess Diana, it was re-named the Lady Dior in homage to her.
Gianfranco Ferré served as Dior’s artistic director until the end of 1996 – the eve of the French house’s 50thanniversary. While Ferré claimed he left to focus on his own label (which he did up until his death just one week before its Spring/Summer 2008 Menswear show), it is rumored that Dior refused to renew his contract. Looking for a designer that could attract a lot of media attention, many speculated that either Jean-Paul Gaultier or Christian Lacroix would take Ferré’s place.
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The Wall Street Journal
In 1997, Dior called on John Galliano. At the time, Galliano had been the creative director at Givenchy for only 15 months, where he set a record as the first Brit to ever head a French fashion house. Though rival couturiers, Dior are Givenchy were both owned by LVMH, so the transition was relatively seamless.
Galliano (born Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano Guillén) is originally from Gibraltar but speaks with a thick British accent, as his father moved the family to South London when he was just six years old. Growing up, Galliano was mercilessly teased by the other kids for enjoying dance and embellishing his school uniform. But, when he enrolled at Central Saint Martins, Galliano was praised for the same eccentricities he had previously been taunted over. He had found his crowd of creatives, where he fit in because he stood out. For his senior project in 1984, Galliano created an eight-piece collection that was inspired by the French Revolution, calling it Les Incroyables. Browns, a high-end department store based out of London, immediately bought the entire collection and sold a coat to Diana Ross – Galliano’s first-ever customer.
After his graduation, Galliano started his own label; however, despite his reputation for masterful layering and brilliant showmanship, it was financially struggling by the early- ‘90s. It was not until Galliano received the help of Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley, the editor-in-chief and creative director of Vogue USA respectively, that his career in fashion took off. Talley asked São Schlumberger, a wealthy fashion socialite, to lend her vacant, 17th-century mansion as the venue for Galliano’s Fall/Winter 1994 fashion show. Galliano used only one bolt of black fabric (both its matte and shiny sides) for the entire show, and all the models walked for free (including top names like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, and Carla Bruni). This collection earned him his spot at Givenchy.
When he started at Dior, Galliano was immediately thrust into the spotlight. His first design for the house, a navy silk slip dress in his signature bias cut, was worn by Princess Diana to the Met Gala (her first public appearance since her divorce from Prince Charles). And, from that moment on, his over-the-top runways kept him there.
Influenced by his student job as a dresser in the theater, Galliano’s runway shows were dramatic and extravagant. To pull them off, he enlisted his most trusted friends, including sets by Michael Howells, makeup by Pat McGrath, music by Jeremy Healy, hair by Orlando Pita, and hats by Stephen Jones. Starting with the first look and ending with Galliano’s much anticipated final bow (he closed the shows dressed as an oiled up, bruised fighter, a toreador with roses tucked down his shirt, a sailor with braided hair, and an intergalactic astronaut among other looks), they each used their expertise to tell a different narrative every season. Galliano knew how to put on a bold show; though, many were quite controversial. Most notably, his Spring 2000 Haute Couture show, which was inspired by the homeless in Paris. While on his morning run, Galliano would encounter them asleep along the Seine and wrapped up in newspapers to keep warm. Galliano dressed the models in silk chiffon dresses that featured a newspaper print. The dresses were ripped and worn inside out, and they were accessorized with empty whiskey bottles and corks. The collection was widely critiqued as insensitive and offensive, but Galliano defended it. His intention was to transform garments that would normally be considered disgusting and dirty into expensive haute couture. With this, he earned himself the title of fashion’s most daring designer.
For Galliano, his couture collections set the tone for everything else; they informed his ready-to-wear, shoes, and accessories. In his Spring/Summer 2000 collection, which paid tribute to Lauryn Hill’s album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Galliano debuted his first bag for Dior. Dreadlocked models strutted down the runway, wearing Dior-monogrammed denim and carrying the new silhouette tucked under their arms. Named the Saddle Bag, it was shaped like the side of a horse saddle and featured a dangling ‘D’ charm that resembled a stirrup. After it was carried by fashion’s most notable ‘IT girls’ (Carrie Bradshaw held a white-and-pink silk Saddle on her second date with Aidan in Season 3, Episode 5 of SATC, and Paris Hilton was pictured seemingly everywhere with a white leather iteration), the Saddle bag cemented its status as the new ‘IT bag.’ Over the following seasons, it was released in various limited-edition materials and prints, making it a must-have for every collector.
Following much fanfare and success at Dior, building the house up to a billion-dollar business, John Galliano fell from fashion’s good graces. Among his close friends and colleagues, it was no secret that he had been struggling with addiction for some time, turning to alcohol and pills to fuel his creativity and unwind after shows. They tried to intervene, but the pressure of designing 15 collections a year finally caught up with him. In retrospect, Galliano reflects, “I was afraid to say no. I thought it was a sign of weakness and that I would lose my contract. How dumb. You know, when work becomes more important than your health – the work came first at the risk of everything. Health, relationships, family – ruthless. That’s how sick I was. And your world becomes the bottle, the drugs, the ups and the downs.”
On February 28, 2011, the British tabloid The Sun posted a video of an altercation between Galliano and another patron at La Perle, Galliano’s neighborhood bar in Paris’s Marais district. Intoxicated, Galliano slurred anti-Semitic, hate speech at them, declaring his love for Hitler before insulting their looks. The fashion world was shocked, as Galliano had always preached tolerance and acceptance of all, particularly in his Spring/Summer 2006 show for his own label, in which he cast models of all sizes, shapes, colors, and ages. After the video surfaced, so did more allegations. Others from the same bar accused Galliano of spewing similar racist insults at them (a criminal offense in France).
Galliano was immediately suspended from Dior. Following yet another allegation and pressure from Natalie Portman, who had just signed to be the face of the Miss Dior fragrance, Galliano was fired from his $5 million-a-year position just three days before his Fall/Winter 2011 collection for Dior was scheduled to show at Paris Fashion Week. At the urging of Naomi Campbell, Galliano left for a rehabilitation center in Arizona completely disgraced.
Following his dismissal from Dior, the house removed all of Galliano’s designs from its annals, essentially erasing his 14 years there. Until Dior recently recovered and re-showcased them, an Instagram account served as the only record of Galliano’s time as Dior’s artistic director. Started by Rodrigo Valderrama, a Chilean fashion student, @diorinthe2000s chronicles the genius of John Galliano. The account, which boasts around 75,000 followers, posts high quality photos of showstopping runway looks and extravagant ad campaigns, honoring the unforgettable Galliano era of Dior.
Though Galliano was a pariah, some of his former crowd did stick around and offer to help support his quiet comeback to fashion. Just weeks into his recovery, Kate Moss confirmed that she still wanted him to design the dress for her 2011 wedding to musician Jamie Hince. Galliano created a bias-cut gown with sheer elements and thousands of gold sequins, which is considered to be one of the most iconic wedding gowns of all time. He reflects, “Creating Kate’s wedding dress saved me personally because it was my creative rehab. She dared me to be me again.” A couple of years later, in 2013, Oscar de la Renta invited Galliano to work as a guest on his Fall/Winter 2013 collection. It was Galliano’s first time back in an atelier until he accepted the creative director position at Maison Margiela in 2014, taking charge of its menswear, womenswear, accessories, and artisanal couture.
Today, Galliano is sober. He celebrates, “Recovery is an amazing journey to go through – to be given a second chance at life, and to regenerate creatively. I’m happy to talk about it, because I think it’s nice to hear that you don’t lose it all – that you can’t paint and you can’t write and you can’t sing, because it’s not true. You can. It’s actually more intense, the levels of creative highs. I guess it’s because you are more aware of them as well. Because you are just so electric – all the good things that I love about this industry, the process – oh! It makes me jump out of bed in the morning.”
Bill Gaytten, Galliano’s right-hand man and Dior’s former design director, acted as a temporary artistic director until Raf Simons was hired in 2012.
Raf Simons was born in Neerpelt, a rural town in Belgium, in 1968. Unlike most major designers, Simons did not dream of working in fashion his entire childhood. In fact, he studied industrial and furniture design at a university in Genk. It was not until an internship with Walter Van Beirendonck (a member of the Antwerp Six, a group of legendary fashion designers that studied under Linda Loppa and graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts), that Simons decided he wanted to become a fashion designer. After Beirendonck took him to his first fashion show, Martin Margiela’s Spring/Summer 1990 all-white collection, Simons’s path was forever changed. He credits the show, “As a student, I always thought that fashion was a bit superficial, all glitz and glamour, but this show changed everything for me. I walked out of it and I thought, that’s what I’m going to do. That show is the reason I became a fashion designer.”
With no formal training or experience, Simons launched his own menswear label in 1995. It quickly became famous for its youth-inspired designs that deconstructed school uniforms and the punk movement. As he celebrated its 10-year anniversary, Simons accepted a creative director position at Jil Sander. Rumor has it, that Simons and Jil Sander met at a hotdog stand and immediately hit it off. Though Simons had never designed womenswear before, he was put in charge of both the men’s and women’s lines at the house. When Jil Sander decided to return to her own brand in 2012, Raf Simons joined Dior.
From his debut collection, Fall 2012 Haute Couture, Simons steered the house away from Galliano’s excess; he brought Jil Sander’s minimalistic aesthetic with him to Dior. His collections were characterized by sharp tailoring, creative color blocking, and dresses styled over pants and shorts.
Following his Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Simons resigned from Dior. He cited personal reasons for his departure, explaining that he wanted to focus on his own label and return to his passions outside of fashion. The fashion world was shocked, speculating that the unrelenting, consuming cycle of shows was the real reason for his sudden exit. Six months before Simons left Dior, he commented, “Technically speaking, it works. Does it work for me emotionally? No, because I’m not the kind of person who likes to do things fast.” With six shows a year, including two couture, Simons had designed 20 collections within just three and a half years! The entire fashion system was left in question with many wondering, “What if nobody wants the Dior job?”
After Dior, Simons went on to work for Calvin Klein. Taking home the CFDA awards for Menswear Designer of the Year and Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2017, he became the first designer to win both in the same year since Calvin Klein had himself in 1993. Though his high-fashion designs for the American brand received rave reviews, Simons and Calvin Klein parted ways just two years later (eight months before his contract was due to expire) due to creative differences.
After Milan Fashion Week in 2020, Simons announced a permanent partnership with Miuccia Prada. Simons and Prada, two of fashion’s most distinguished designers, are sharing the role of creative director equally, placing the creative process back at the forefront of fashion.
Raf Simons, Photo by Willy Vanderperre via TIME
Maria Grazia Chiuri, Photo via The Guardian
Maria Grazia Chiuri
Willing to subject herself to fashion’s grueling show schedule and devote herself completely to the house, Maria Grazia Chiuri wanted the Dior job. In 2016, she was named Dior’s latest and first-ever female artistic director.
Chiuri was born in Rome, Italy, in 1964. Though her mother was a dressmaker, her parents did not want her to go into fashion. Despite their disapproval, she attended Instituto Europeo di Design, where she met Pierpaolo Piccioli, a fellow student who would become her longtime creative partner. In 1989, when Chiuri was hired as an accessories designer at Fendi, she drafted Piccioli to work alongside her. They remained there until 1999, when they both moved to Valentino’s accessories department. Upon Valentino Garavani’s retirement in 2008, Chiuri and Piccioli were promoted to co-creative directors of the house. Together, they turned Valentino into a billion-euro brand, quadrupling its turnover in just seven years. When Chiuri left for Dior, Piccioli stayed at Valentino.
At Dior, Chiuri views herself as a curator, asserting, “I want to find a balance between the heritage, my point of view, and what I think is relevant for the brand in the future.” From her start at the house, she has translated Christian Dior’s legacy of femininity into what it means today: feminism. In her very first collection, Spring/Summer 2017, models wore graphic t-shirts that referenced Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, “We Should All Be Feminists.” More recently, in her Fall/Winter 2020 collection, Chiuri decorated the runway with neon signs by the art collective Claire Fontaine, which lit up with #METOO-themed messages like ‘CONSENT,’ ‘WHEN WOMEN STRIKE THE WORLD STOPS,’ and ‘WOMEN RAISE THE UPRAISING.’ It was shown just one day after Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape. Chiuri compares, “For my generation, fashion was something playful. We didn’t understand when we started working in fashion what it really could be. Now, fashion is so popular – so pop – that it has to reflect more about the world. It’s very important to give the right message.” Chiuri has used her position at Dior to help women feel free to express themselves, supporting their empowerment and independence.
As a curator, Chiuri has also paid homage to her more recent predecessors. She has pulled from the archives of John Galliano and Gianfranco Ferré, re-imagining and re-releasing two of Dior’s most popular bags. Chiuri explains, “Dior has a great heritage in accessories, such as the Saddle Bag and Lady Dior. My job is to renovate the heritage with a different attitude.” In her Pre-Fall 2017 collection, which honored the French house’s 70th anniversary, Chiuri unveiled her take on the classic Lady Dior, giving it more modern, squared letter charms and accentuating its Cannage pattern with metallic studs instead of tonal stitching. Since, Chiuri has designed countless iterations in different materials, patterns, and colors – most notably the Lady Dior my ABCDior Bag (which allows its wearers to personalize the crossbody strap with different letters, numbers, and symbols) and the Lady D-Lite (which is crafted of canvas and is 3D-embroidered with the signature Cannage pattern, making it more lightweight and casual). With nostalgia at an all-time high, Chiuri also re-introduced the Saddle Bag the following year. After Beyoncé was pictured carrying a vintage, blue-and-black tie-dyed version, the iconic silhouette reappeared on Dior’s runway in Fall/Winter 2018. Making it slightly larger to accommodate today’s necessities, namely the iPhone X, Chiuri offered it in black calfskin, an updated Oblique monogram, and patchwork – all with a crossbody strap add-on.
As much as Chiuri has looked back, she has also looked forward. Following the onset of Covid-19, Dior was the first major house to return to the runway. Though no audience was present (with the exception of a select few Italian influencers, including Chiara Ferragni and husband Fedez,
most attendees tuned in remotely), Dior staged its Cruise 2021 show in Lecce, Italy. Located in Puglia, a region on the verge of bankruptcy and her father’s birthplace, Chiuri wanted to support her home country, employing local artisans in the show and giving them a reason to restart. She also wanted to provide people with an escape following such a devastating, life-altering crisis. Just like Christian Dior with his New Look after WWII, she hoped the Cruise 2021 show would give the nation, the world, and the fashion industry optimism for recovery. Chiuri says, “We are so conscious about what’s happened – about all these problems. People need to dream. I need to dream.”
Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Dior Homme was originally created by Marc Bohan in 1970; however, after it failed to generate as much revenue as the house’s womenswear line, it was shut down and relatively forgotten about. That is, until Hedi Slimane was hired to revitalize it in 2000.
Though Dior Homme has a much shorter history than the house’s womenswear line, it has also boasted some of the best designers in the industry. Starting with Slimane, they have each helped Dior establish itself as a luxury menswear house.
Photo of Dior Homme original parfume
Hedi Slimane, Photo by Y.R. via Business of Fashion
Hedi Slimane was born in Paris in 1968. Though he was most interested in photography, he had already designed his first fashion collection by the time he was 16 years old. Slimane went on to study Art History at the École du Louvre in his hometown. After he graduated in 1992, Slimane worked with Jean-Jacques Picart on Louis Vuitton’s 1996 100th anniversary collection, which invited other prominent designers (among themVivienne Westwood, Manolo Blahnik, Helmut Lang, and Isaac Mizrahi) to reinterpret the house’s iconic ‘LV’ monogram. Following this, Slimane moved to Yves Saint Laurent, serving as an assistant in its marketing department until Pierre Bergé, its co-founder, noticed his talent and promoted him to ready-to-wear director of menswear. In Fall/Winter 2000, Slimane showed his most monumental collection for YSL. Named Black Tie, it featured the super-skinny silhouette, which would become Slimane’s signature. The collection brought him recognition and acclaim, earning Slimane the artistic director of menswear position at Dior Homme that same year.
During his tenure at Dior, Slimane further established his skin-tight aesthetic, releasing ultra-tailored, black suits. They were so fitted that, even at her working weight, Kate Moss could not button them! At a time when baggy pants were on trend, Slimane’s androgynous looks stunned the fashion community and redefined the way men should dress. Favored by rock n’ roll musicians (like Mick Jagger, Jack White, and David Bowie) and Karl Lagerfeld (who lost over 100 pounds just so he could wear them), Slimane’s Dior suits were a hit.
Following failed negotiations to start his own label, Hedi Slimane left Dior after just six years. He took time away from fashion, refocusing on photography, until he was rehired at YSL in 2012 – this time, as the brand’s creative director, overseeing both its womenswear and menswear collections.
Today, Slimane is the creative director at Celine, where he (very controversially) replaced Phoebe Philo in 2018.
Kris Van Assche
After attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgian born designer Kris Van Assche moved to Paris, where he started an internship at Yves Saint Laurent. There, he worked under Hedi Slimane for four months, helping with his infamous Black Tie, also referred to as the Rive Gauche, collection. When Slimane left YSL to design for Dior Homme, Van Assche went with him. Though Van Assche departed Dior to launch his own menswear label in 2004, he returned just three years later to succeed his former mentor as its artistic director of menswear.
At Dior Homme, Van Assche became known for his sophisticated tailoring. While streetwear was taking over, he kept the three-piece suit in fashion, even recreating Christian Dior’s Bar Jacket for men as part of his Fall 2018 collection. Van Assche commented, “All of the cool kids that come in their loose streetwear clothing try on our suiting and they love it…We push back against that tailoring is over.” Though he largely focused on the tailored suits Dior Homme had built its reputation on, Van Assche did incorporate more youthful, contemporary elements into the line’s luxury codes, creating a ‘dad sneaker’ that was unveiled by A$AP Rocky and a limited-edition BMX bike in collaboration with Bogarde.
While Van Assche experienced much success at Dior Homme, his designs played it safe and were met with little hype. After an impressive 11-year run, Van Assche stepped down in 2018. Today, he is the creative director at Berluti, a menswear label that specializes in exotic leathers.
Kim Jones, Photo by Brett Lloyd via GQ
While it was rumored that he would either join Versace or Burberry following his departure from Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones filled Kris Van Assche’s role at Dior Homme instead (renaming it Dior Men). And with him, Jones brought the cool factor that Dior’s menswear had been lacking. Mining the house’s archives, he has given its couture heritage an athleisurewear edge.
Right away, Jones started with a bang. Before he even showed a collection, David Beckham wore Jones’s first design for the house to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. Just one month later, Jones opened Spring 2019 with Prince Nikolai of Denmark (Jones’s mother is Danish) and continued with a lineup that circled a 33-foot-tall flower sculpture, which was crafted by artist KAWS to look like a hybrid of his signature character and Christian Dior himself. Each model was dressed in a powder-colored, Oblique-cut (a reference to the shape in Dior’s Fall/Winter 1950 collection) suit and high-top, logo-covered sneakers. At the same show, Jones also released the first-ever Saddle Bag for men. Offering it in crossbody, backpack, and belt bag styles, they were each adorned with chunky, industrial hardware that was redesigned by Matthew Williams of 1017 Alyx 9SM. Since, Jones has continued to produce hit collaborations with artists like Hajime Sorayama, Raymond Pettibon, and Daniel Arsham, as well as German luggage manufacturer Rimowa.
Merging suitwear with streetwear, Kim Jones has brought new energy to Dior Men. While it was recently announced that Jones has been appointed the artistic director of women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear, and fur at Fendi, he will also remain at Dior Men, straddling two major houses just like his legendary predecessor Karl Lagerfeld.
Who Is Next?
Will it be a veteran from a competing brand or unknown new talent? With time, Dior’s legendary lineup of artistic directors will only continue to grow. As it does, revisit this article to learn more about the future creatives behind the French fashion house.
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images