A peek into a world of glamour, dreams, eccentricity, and an extraordinary sense of detail. Over the course of two years, we followed the fashion house’s creative teams behind the scenes, from London to Los Angeles and to the Dior headquarters in Paris.
Words: Tina Ger
Images: Ger Ger

"And so with big, nervous blows of the hammer, he gave the mannequin the same form of the ideal woman for the fashion he was to launch." — Suzanne Luling on her childhood friend Christian Dior

Christian Dior never wanted to create everyday clothes. He wanted to sell a dream of the good old days, when women could afford to be extravagant and deliberately glamorous. At the end of Dior's debut fashion show in Paris, on February 12, 1947, having seen those unique silhouettes, those lengths, those volumes, those tiny waists and devilishly sexy busts, viewers knew it was a revolution.

Dior's New Look was a rediscovery of prosperity. Women across generations and social classes adopted it happily and with his revolutionary style, Dior wrote a new chapter in the history of fashion. Furthermore, in order to write it, he literally constructed it with his own hands. The would-be architect had to hammer
away at a Stockman mannequin that was too tough and unyielding to bear the preparatory canvases of his visionary wardrobe. In the 1930s, women of the middle and upper classes wore similar attire due to restrictions and rationing during the Great Depression. Christian Dior turned the page of gloom, gravity, and uniforms. He wanted to give women back their taste for light-heartedness, their art of seduction. He thereby revolutionized women's dress, reestablishing Paris as the center of the fashion world after World War II.

With hyper-feminine and romantic hourglass silhouettes, Christian Dior defined the look of the late 1940s and the 1950s. He is widely credited with bringing French haute couture back from near-extinction after the war.

But not everybody loved Dior's style. Feminists even protested against it, criticizing Dior for taking away women's newly attained independence by lacing them up in corsets and making them wear long skirts again. Coco Chanel, poster girl for the 20th century's modern woman and decided opponent of everything uncomfortable, mocked him: "These heavy, stiff dresses don't even fit into a suitcase–ridiculous! Dior doesn't dress women, he upholsters them."

While Chanel had her difficulties with Dior, the Belgian makeup artist Peter Phillips certainly seems to enjoy working inside today's Dior empire as much as he likes working outside of it. Known as the man who took the conventional definition of makeup, tore it to shreds, and recreated it out of lace, crystals, and surrealist flair, Philips stepped down from his role as creative director of Chanel's makeup and beauty lines in 2013 to become Creative and Image Director for Dior Makeup.
Shortly thereafter, Philips started having a hand in everything from developing new products sold at zillions of department stores, to campaigns, to overseeing and executing every single beauty look that comes down the Dior runway. While couture isn't a big moneymaker, beauty is a very profitable business and of enormous importance to the brand's success. Philips believes in cosmetics that delight, give confidence, and extend human happiness overall.

"What drives me is the creative process and trying to do different things than other people do. [...] I do respect the skills of people [re]doing my makeup, but on the other hand, I feel you miss out on something because doing our job is not only about what has been done." — Peter Philips

When Philips thinks about what the beauty look of a show will be, he often finds himself fed by both history and modernity. The Dior Cruise 2017 show at Blenheim Palace was influenced by English adventure and tradition. Adventure manifested in African prints, patterns, and embroideries, while the British hunting tradition appeared via 19th century equestrian scenes knitted into jacquard, rustic tweeds, and crisp poplin shirts.

Philips was on hand backstage to create a distinctive smoky brown eye which became the star of an otherwise neutral beauty look. Models' hair was slicked back to further emphasize the bold shadow, suggesting a vibrant twist on a classic style.
Creating a Mickey Mouse on a model's face for a 1999 issue of V magazine might have made him famous, but Philips is no theatrical face painter. He also values the immaculately natural, unmasked faces as much as audacious, eccentric looks.

The gilded interior of Blenheim Palace was left relatively untouched but floral flourishes were in full bloom at the buffet table. A magnificent pastry pyramid was the centerpiece for Dior's flower-strewn afternoon tea, a real-life fantasy banquet created to satisfy the cravings of the fashion elite.

Christian Dior and Blenheim Palace have a history that dates back to 1954, when a friendship between the palace and the French fashion house was first struck. Even after Dior's death, his successor Yves Saint Lauren presented the Dior collection there in 1958.

When Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri took the reins at Christian Dior in July 2016, she debuted an extraordinary mixture of Romanticism, femininity, and modernity that symbolizes Dior. She brought a blooming wonderland to wintry Paris with an unashamedly romantic haute couture collection unveiled before a star-studded crowd at the Musée Rodin. Models glided down a moss-covered runway wearing fairy tale-inspired floor length gowns, their hair in tumbling curls adorned with elaborate headpieces made of flowers and feathers.
The Italian designer presented flowing and colorful floral dresses, capes, and plenty of intricate craftsmanship. The models opened the show in Dior's signature black Bar jackets, reinvented into capes with hoods worn with lace tops, pleated skirts, and wide-leg, ankle-length culotte trousers. Floral embroidery adorned tulle and organza dresses, as did a variety of tarot symbols and stars. The princess- style gowns came in ruffled, layered styles or with lace adornment.

"Flowers are Dior, and Dior is flowers," explains company perfumer François Demachy. Christian Dior once himself stated, "I have designed flower women. After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world."

It was in Granville, in the gardens of the seaside villa belonging to his parents, that Christian Dior acquired his unique horticultural knowledge and great sensitivity. The gardens were his source of inspiration. Far from contenting himself with book learning, he very early on began getting his hands dirty, dreaming up layouts that could be integrated into his mother's pharaonic garden: he notably supervised the construction of a pergola and a rose garden on its clifftop.

In this Norman-style Garden of Eden, the perfumes and pigments, the delicate, precise layouts of the petals, and the wind in the great pines sharpened the senses. Many of Dior's inspirations date back to this fantastical plot of land: his very idea of "flower women;" Miss Dior's crystal perfume bottle; his palette of poppy red, daffodil yellow, nasturtium orange, grass green, peony pink, and forget-me-not blue.
But Dior had more inspirations than just flowers...

Christian Dior was obsessed with numbers and always had 13 models when he presented his collections. He also had a fondness for the number eight, founding his house in the 8th arrondissement of Paris on October 8th, 1946.

Ridden by anxiety, Dior led a life governed by superstitions, which have become part of the fashion house's history. A century ago, a palm reader told Dior, then an impressionable young boy, that he would succeed — through women. The prediction proved accurate and fueled his appetite for mystical guidance well into adulthood. The successor to his early fortune teller came in the form of Madame Delahaye. "Without her, he did nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing," said Pierre Cardin, who encountered Delahaye when he worked in the Christian Dior atelier.

Dior never began a show without consulting Delahaye. The imprint of his superstition has left lasting traces at the house and Maria Grazia Chiuri slips tarot and talismanic symbols throughout her shows, reinterpreting them in each collection.

In 1957, Christian Dior's fortune teller implored him to not to travel to Montecatini, Italy. Dior died on the ill-fated voyage at the age of 52. His death is shrouded in mystery.

Following his ardent passion for bathing, in the month of his death Dior traveled to a spa in Montecatini. During his stay he suffered a third and final of three heart attacks that had plagued him for months. The official coroner's statement proclaimed the attack had been caused by unhealthy eating habits. However, it's also been speculated that an adrenaline rush during a card game caused the attack or that the designer choked on a fish bone. One of Dior's acquaintances, the Parisian socialite Baron de Redé, wrote in his memoirs of a contemporary rumor that the heart attack had been caused by a strenuous sexual encounter. As of today, the exact circumstances of Dior's death remain undisclosed.
What we know is that Dior's untimely death in 1957 preceded a different era, one obsessed with rebellious youth over bourgeois hauteur. By the early 1960s, the New Look almost vanished from Dior and his epigones. Its revival came in the 1990s, however, when a wave of young fashion designers such as Thom Browne or Miuccia Prada began deconstructing fashion history and appropriated it for their times.
The fashion codes Dior established as part of his legacy have continued to provide his design successors with a rich archive to mine for inspiration.

Image Credits: [1] Early morning of the Dior Cruise 2017 show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016. [2] Guests at the Dior Resort 2017 show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016 [3] Fittings Backstage at the Dior Cruise 2018 show — Calabasas, CA, 2017 [4] Backstage at the Dior Cruise 2017 show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016. [5] Peter Philips in his Atelier at Dior — Paris, France, 2016. [6] Model waiting — Calabasas, CA, 2017. [7] Models waiting for rehearsals at the Dior Cruise 2017 Show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016 [8]At the buffet — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016 [9] First looks backstage at Dior Cruise 2018 — Calabasas, CA, 2017 [10]Before the show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016 [11]Maria Grazia Chiuri and models posing for the Resort 2018 Campaign — Calabasas, CA, 2017. [12+13] Model backstage at Dior Cruise 2018 — Calabasas, CA, 2017 [14]Press riser — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016 [15] Early morning of the Dior Cruise 2017 Show — Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England, 2016.