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December 28

Fashion Backward

By 1
The year is 1947. The man is Christian Dior. The place is Paris and the look is NEW! By present day standards Dior's "New Look" is overwhelmingly modest and traditional. It is therefore difficult to truly grasp the controversy this silhouette caused. Christian Dior introduced the first collection of his eponymous line for the Spring/Summer season of 1947. There were originally two lines included: "Corelle" because the skirts opened like blooming flower petals and "Huit" because of the hourglass silhouette, which included his famous Bar Suit. [caption id="attachment_5616" align="aligncenter" width="2200" caption="Bar Suit"][/caption] Overall the collection was characterized by full, mid-calf to floor length skirts, small structured waist lines, a large bust and a gentle sloping shoulder. The ultra-feminine look involved traditional construction methods; Dior used solid heavy fabrics reinforced by taffeta. The waist was a tight, narrow corset, the shoulders sloped to emphasize the bust, the hips were padded and the skirts were deeply pleated and voluminous. The term "New Look" was coined by Carmel Snow, the then Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar. Of course in reality the look was anything but new. In fact just one year prior Pierre Balmain and Cristobal Balenciaga, among others, had shown the silhouette in their runway shows. Dior was the one who tweaked, distilled and perfected it. The reaction to this nostalgic revival was unprecedented and resulted in public outrage, protests and even got Coco Chanel to come out of retirement in order to introduce something more comfortable for women to wear. Naturally, you are probably wondering what all the fuss was about. It was all in the timing. The collection debuted almost immediately after the end of the second world war; at the time war rations were still on the public's mind and many still suffered severe post-war deprivation. Clothing for women was boxy, prudent and above all else strictly functional. There was no time or money to put toward extravagant dressing. But Mr. Dior was using up to 25 yards of lavish fabric for each of his creations. The amount of fabric involved was daring, and protests began in both the public and government sects. Dior visited the US in 1947 and was met by a group of protesters brandishing signs that read "Burn Mr Dior" and "Down with the New Look." Feminists abhorred the ultra-constrictive inner workings, and felt that the popularity of the silhouette was a major step backward in the women's movement. The public considered his dresses insensitive and highly scandalous. But, as often is seen, with scandal comes interest. The silhouette dominated fashion for almost a decade. The look became highly commercial and was easy to copy. Within one year of the debut, it was the look of Western society. The movement also reestablished Paris as the fashion capital of the world, a title the city had lost post WWII. All in all, the "New Look" was a home run for Mr Dior. [caption id="attachment_5612" align="aligncenter" width="451" caption="Sears Catalog showing the trickle down commercialization of the New Look"][/caption] But as fashion always goes, the silhouette started to fade out in the 1950's. A leaner, less structured shape came into favor, particularly after Coco Chanel's return to the runway in 1954. She is said to have come out of retirement in part because of how disgusted she was with the New Look. Dior's apparent lack of respect for women's comfort and "natural elegance" caused her to release a streamlined chic and simple silhouette. But we'll save that story for another day...
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