A Laboratory of Style & Elegance: Celebrating Dior’s 70th Anniversary

Left: Lot 90, Jacques Darnel for Christian Dior by Marc Bohan, 1967; Right: Lot 91, Jacques Darnel for Christian Dior by Marc Bohan, c. 2000, Artcurial, Paris (June 20). Images courtesy Artcurial

Christian Dior, alongside Balenciaga and Balmain, was one of the pre-eminent couturiers emerging after WWII, placing the French capital back at the centre of the fashion world.

As the house of Dior celebrates its 70th anniversary, auction house Artcurial in Paris is holding a major sale in its honor on June 20, 2017. “[Dior’s] house is still a source of reference in the luxury industry. His original designs are highly desired, as they are iconic and extremely rare,” says Pénélope Blanckaert, Director of the Hermès Vintage & Fashion Arts Department at Artcurial.

In preparation, we gathered monumental moments from Dior’s iconic history, as well as key couture pieces that should be at the top of every collector’s list, and tips on how to preserve them.

“The New Look” and Dior’s Key Successors

In 1947, Dior’s first collection, coined as the “New Look,” defined the silhouette for the post war period. The look was soft, rounded shoulders, emphasizing the bust, corseted waists and padded hips, with skirts reaching almost the ankle; completed with gloves, a hat and high heels.

Christian Dior Haute Couture, tulle evening gown,
A/W 1952. Sold for £11,000 by Kerry Taylor
Auctions, London (July 2009)

In the mid-1950s, Dior created a more relaxed silhouette, including the H-line, the A-line and the Y-line. During this period, Dior expanded by introducing perfume, accessories and ready-to-wear lines for overseas distribution.

In 1958, following the death of Dior, a young designer by the name of Yves Saint Laurent became creative director of the house. Although briefly there for 2 years, Saint Laurent created a lasting impression, particularly with his introduction of the “Trapeze” line.

Christian Dior Haute Couture by Yves Saint Laurent, ‘Trapeze’ line grey wool ensemble, Spring-Summer, 1958. Sold for £3,200 by Kerry Taylor Auctions, London (June 2010)

One of the house’s lesser known (but longest tenured) designers, Marc Bohan, was creative director from 1960 to 1989. Some highlights under his direction were the “Slim Look,” the Miss Dior label, their first knitwear collection, and the “Homme” line.

Christian Dior Haute Couture by Marc Bohan, Autumn/Winter 1986-87. Sold for €10,000 by Sotheby’s, Paris (July 2015)

In 1996, John Galliano was the next designer to put a stamp on the house. For 15 years, he would bring a sense of theater combined with an injection of street culture; whilst Raf Simons, from 2012 to 2016, brought a futuristic vision, reviving the ‘New Look’ silhouette for the 21st century.

Left: Christian Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture A/W 2000-01, Sold for €2,000 by Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Paris (October 2015); Right: Pair of Christian Dior leather pumps, F/W 2013/2014, sold for €1,000 by Tajan, Paris (December 2013)

At present, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is the first female creative director for Dior, brings a fresh look to the brand. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Dior has just revamped its phenomenal archive, with an exhibition to follow at the start of next month.

The Dior Garments to Collect

Having only remained head of the label for 10 years, pieces by the designer himself are highly sought after and do well at auction. Blanckaert notes that “Christian Dior by Christian Dior (1947-1957) is very rare; it is the DNA of the house.” Successes at auction include his gowns from the 1950s, particularly those which are labelled. Unlabelled pieces can still sell, provided they can be authenticated by the auction house, but for much lower. Day suits from the Dior New York and London labels are also very affordable. Provenance is also key. In December of 2012, a Christian Dior black velvet hat from the estate of Hollywood actress Greta Garbo sold at auction for over $1,100 at Julien’s Auctions — well above the $150 – $300 pre-sale estimate.

Lot 105, Christian Dior, Haute Couture black silk gown,
Autumn/Winter, 1951/52, Artcurial, Paris (June 20)

This piece, being sold by Artcurial later this month, is typical Saint Laurent’s signature style for the house. His pieces have become very popular at auction, particularly in the UK, US and France. Labelled Trapeze garments, gowns and cocktail dresses can fetch between £1,500 and £6,000.

Lot 171, Christian Dior by Yves Saint Laurent, Silk Satin Cocktail Dress,
Autumn/Winter, 1958/59, Artcurial, Paris (June 20)

The below piece, designed during Marc Bohan’s tenure, succeeds in capturing the unique “mod” aesthetic of the 1960s, but still retains a timeless elegance. His designs occasionally fetch three and four figures, but his pieces can still be found for around £150.

Christian Dior by Marc Bohan, Jade Embroidered Silk Evening Pyjamas, Spring/Summer 1968. Sold for €7,500 by Sotheby’s, Paris (July 2015)

This exemplifies John Galliano’s merging of contemporary with classic. At auction, Galliano’s pieces are fast becoming cult classics, fetching up to £6,000 for gowns.

Christian Dior by John Galliano, Camouflage Silk Evening Gown, 2001.
Sold for €2,500 by Sotheby’s, Paris (July 2015)

Determining Authenticity

The safest approach is to buy from an official Dior boutique or from a reputable auction house or dealer. Below are some tips for authenticating from other sources:

  1. When it comes to identifying early Dior pieces, Blanckaert says that “the inside of the dress is very specific during the 50s and the 60s because it was real Haute Couture, and Christian Dior’s way to build clothes is recognizable.”
  2.  The reference number is key. In most of Dior’s couture pieces, it is usually placed in the care label, indicating the year and the season. You can cross reference the number with collections online. Check the Vintage Fashion Guild for dating Dior’s labels.
  3. Be aware that Dior licensed his name to clothing manufacturers and retailers since the 1950s.
  4. Dior only produced couture in Paris. He created ready-to-wear labels, such as Christian Dior New York in 1948, and also produced in Japan and England.
  5. Do your research and talk to specialists and other collectors.

Since Galliano’s departure in 2011, the house has undergone enormous changes, yet remains one of the top classic couture houses in the market. Future investments to look out for include designs by Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Blanckaert advises that it is “always a good time to collect Dior pieces because they are timeless,” and that everyone “can wear these kind of designs if they update them with modern clothes.“ If you want to get hold of a Dior piece, watch out for Artcurial’s sale in Paris on June 20th, as they frequently offer iconic Dior designs: couture, as well as 1960s jewelry by Henkell & Gross and illustrations by Jacques Darnel.

Fashion Arts Christian Dior Sale by Artcurial on Tuesday, June 20 is preceded by an exhibition of the pieces from June 16-19, 7 Rond-Point des Champs Elysées.