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Essay: The New Look: How Christian Dior Revolutionized Fashion 70 Years Ago

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Transformation; the war finally ends, so do the drab boxy lines.



The war had imposed several restrictions and rations on the use of fabric. The new look emerged

in 1947, at a time when there was a much-needed revolution in the fashion industry. It was

pivotal in post-war dress history as it moved away from the utilitarian box-like silhouettes to a

more feminine figure characterized by a nipped- in waist and full, large skirts. This “look” was

considered “new” not so much because of the silhouette itself, but rather due to the fact that it

encouraged women to embrace their femininity again. The use of soft rounded shapes and lack of

straight lines truly marked the end of the war.1

Image- Marlene Dietrich wearing Dior’s “Chandernagor” ensemble, photo by Horst, American

Vogue, December, 1947

Source- Buck, "Fashion: Dior's New Look: Then and Now",478.

1 Palmer, "Dior’s Scandalous New Look", 24-28.

“The nickname caught on like wildfire, and within weeks of his debut, the international fashion

world was abuzz over this French designer of "magnificent courage" who "dared to lower skirts

after the death of L-85, the wartime material- hoarding order.” 2 The new look was a bold move

on the part of Designer Christian Dior but it provided a radically new identity to Paris fashion,

and more importantly a new identity to women. The paper explores the New Look as it was not

so much an attempt to create everyday clothes for the practical woman of the new decade but

rather preserve a vision of the good old days, a trace of the past when women were able to be

extravagantly dressed. It called for a rediscovery of prosperity.3 This paper also raises questions

about how designer Christian Dior, through his marketing strategies and connections west of the

Atlantic was able to popularise The New Look despite backlash for his defiant move of breaking

away from wartime restriction. The image shows Marlene Dietrich in The New Look in 1947,

just when this silhouette was introduced. The paper aims to prove that through his advertising

and relation with actress Marlene Dietrich, Dior was able to establish acclaim for his creation in

America and France.


New look was called so, not so much because if a change in silhouette but rather because it

embraced a more feminine, curvy figure steering away from the boxy lines of the war times.

Through his branding strategies and connections with Hollywood, Dior succeeded in creating a

2 Biggs, “Hold that Hemline!” Christian Dior's New Look in America", 2.

3 Deutsche, "The New Look: How Christian Dior Revolutionized Fashion 70 Years Ago”, 1.

look that was a breakthrough in the post-war period. The New Look emerged as a design that

was extremely beneficial to both America and France despite initial controversy.


Christian Dior was initially an obscure designer previously employed in the houses of Robert

Piguet and Lucien Lelong, where he started to cater to the tastes of elite Parisian women. In

1940, with the Nazi occupation of Paris, most couture houses had been shut down. Some were

reopened but designers had to only design utilitarian clothing to promote the military. Dior,

however, refused to support this regime. In 1947, he launched his first Corolle collection which

was named so due to the blossoming manner in which the skirts extended from a stem-like waist.

The reason this look was particularly significant was Dior’s defiant attitude towards the fabric

and taxation restrictions that had lifted recently in the French liberation of 1944. His designs

sometimes used up to 25 yards of fabric.4

The war left France yearning for an economic revival, and the prominence of the Fashion

industry was receding. During the war, America was much less affected by France, which bore

the brunt of much more violence, defeat and the effects of the Nazi Regime. Christian Dior was

well aware of the potential of the American market for French fashion. He knew how to pave his

way to success in the post-war American fashion industry through a system of new affordable

products that would be sold in department stores and outlets all over America.5

4 Biggs, “Hold that Hemline!” Christian Dior's New Look in America", 12.

5 Ibid


The image shows actress Marlene Dietrich in an iteration of Dior’s New Look, Chandernagor.

Originally photographed in 1947, this image appears again in the 1987 edition of the American

Vogue, on the 40th Anniversary of Christian Dior’s New Look. The actress liked to design her

looks herself by switching tops and bottoms. This a Chandernagor look for example had a black

wool top with rubies embroidered by Haurel, but Dietrich styled it with another top. This vogue

article celebrates the grandeur of the Corolle collection of 1947 and how it transformed the postwar

silhouette. It also identifies traces of this line found in collections of other designers such as

Donna Karen, Chanel and Oscar De Larenta. This goes to prove that this silhouette was truly one

that stood the test of time.6


The image, photographed by P Horst shows Marlene Dietrich sitting in a chair in Dior’s

revolutionary creation. This shoot also involved her daughter, Maria Riva and hers is the other

hand on the chair. P horst was one of the most enigmatic vintage fashion photographers. It is

believed that he was almost mathematical while taking his pictures “ He saw the innate glamour

in people, it was the glamour of personalities rather than the glamour of the name.” 7 Dietrich is

photographed sitting with one leg over the other showing the voluminosity of the layers of the

Petticoat underneath. Straying away from the boxy lines, Dior believed that women should be

6 Buck, "Fashion: Dior's New Look: Then and Now"18.

7" Financial Times, “Horst P Horst”.

able to feel like they have waists and be aware of the longer fuller skirts as it moves around their

legs. She is styled extravagantly with a barret, gloves and jewelry referring to the cherished

dream of affluence and ideals of prosperity in the post-war years. Dior believed that femininity is

linked to the materiality of the garment and that “The material ought to live on her shoulders, and

her figure live beneath the material.” 8Talking about the war-time silhouette, he said In

December 1946- “as a result of the war and uniforms, women still looked and dressed like

Amazons. But I designed clothes for flower-like women.”9


When he launched the Corolle collection in 1947, Marlene Dietrich and her daughter appeared

on the cover of Life magazine, a look that she ultimately integrated into her own wardrobe.

When Dietrich was to star for Hitchcock’s movie Stage Fright in 1949, she was allowed to

choose her own designer. She did not pick a costume designer, but rather she picked couturier

Christian Dior. “No Dior, No Dietrich” is what she told the director.10 Due to the loyalty he

received from actress Marlene Dietrich, Christian Dior was able to gain an appreciation for his

designs through productions such as No Highway in the Sky and Cygne Noir . Dietrich was

Dior’s most Loyal muse and a close friend. He had a strong connection with Hollywood and this

went a long way in advertising his designs. In 1947, he received the Neiman Marcus Award also

8 Parkins,"Christian Dior: Nostalgia and the Economy of Feminine Beauty." In Poiret, Dior and Schiaparelli:

Fashion, Femininity and Modernity”, 111–146.


10 Dior Official Website, "DIORMAG”.

known as the “Oscar of fashion”, highlighting the link between fashion and cinema west of the



When he launched the New Look, it was initially a subject of controversy as it was believed that

it only suited the needs of affluent women. Fashion manufacturers were opposed to it the New

Look could not be replicated as quickly due to wartime restrictions still being in action in

Europe. This style required more material and a re-evaluation of production costs and patterns

was required. The typical skirt that was trending during the war-time was a slim-fitted knee

length skirt that could not be really transformed into one that was in congruence with Dior’s new

look. Thus, women were left with a set of outdated clothes in their wardrobe. Even though some

tried to replicate this look by adding the yoke to the skirt to lengthen it or by dying a bed sheet

fabric in black, it was not always done successfully and the resulting garment was not the most


However, the New Look was accepted as it was essentially extremely profitable for both

America and France. Dior knew that the way to popularise the New Look was to adapt it to the

American market. French couture had to be transformed into less expensive versions that could

be mass produced. He created the New Look in conjunction with post-war social and political

scenarios that made women feel luxurious without having to overpass their budgets.

11 Deutsche, "The New Look: How Christian Dior Revolutionized Fashion 70 Years Ago”, 4.

12 Palmer, "Dior’s Scandalous New Look", 24-28.

Even though Paris’ prominence in fashion had seemingly declined, other designers in Europe

accepted Christian Dior to be pivotal to its revival. He provided a huge boost to the economy of

France by making it one of the largest Fashion Export Capitals. Three years after launching the

Corolle collection, which initially received criticism, he was awarded the Legion of Honor from

the French government due to his contributions to the country’s export sales.13


The straight, shorter skirts became a thing of the past with the introduction of The New Look. It

may have not been well received at first as it made the silhouettes in women’s wardrobes

obsolete. However, Dior’s vision of restoring the fallen glory of a curvier, more feminine, fuller

figure was so strong that this look proved to be widely accepted on either side of the Atlantic.

Dior was truly a multifaceted designer and a visionary with strong marketing ideas. His

connections with the west and the manner in which he had his designs endorsed by his most

famous muse, Marlene Dietrich further strengthened the worldwide appeal for his designs.

Vogue spoke about the New Look saying that “There are moments when fashion changes

fundamentally. This is one of those moments” 14 This bears testimony to the fact that the look

was rightfully featured and felicitated in the 1987 issue of vogue even 40 years after it was

created. It earned a huge sum of revenue for France and probably in some way made up for the

excess fabric that this look used.

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