Christian Dior (21 January 1905 – 23 October 1957) was a French fashion designer, best known as the founder of one of the world’s top fashion houses, also called Christian Dior, which is now owned by Groupe Arnault. His fashion houses are now all around the world.
Christian Dior was born in Granville, a seaside town on the coast of Normandy, France. He was the second of five children born to Maurice Dior, a wealthy fertilizer manufacturer (the family firm was Dior Frères), and his wife, formerly Madeleine Martin. He had four siblings: Raymond (father of Françoise Dior), Jacqueline, Bernard, and Catherine Dior. When Christian was about five years old, the family moved to Paris, but still returned to the Normandy coast for summer holidays.
Dior’s family had hoped he would become a diplomat, but Dior was artistic and wished to be involved in art. To make money, he sold his fashion sketches outside his house for about 10 cents each. In 1928, Dior left school and received money from his father to finance a small art gallery, where he and a friend sold art by the likes of Pablo Picasso. The gallery was closed three years later, following the deaths of Dior’s mother and brother, as well as financial trouble during the Great Depression that resulted in his father losing control of the family business.
From 1937, Dior was employed by the fashion designer Robert Piguet, who gave him the opportunity to design for three Piguet collections. Dior would later say that ‘Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.’One of his original designs for Piguet, a day dress with a short, full skirt called “Cafe Anglais”, was particularly well received. Whilst at Piguet, Dior worked alongside Pierre Balmain, and was succeeded as house designer by Marc Bohan – who would, in 1960, become head of design for Christian Dior Paris. Dior left Piguet when he was called up for military service.
In 1942, when Dior left the army, he joined the fashion house of Lucien Lelong, where he and Balmain were the primary designers. For the duration of World War II, Dior, as an employee of Lelong – who labored to preserve the French fashion industry during wartime for economic and artistic reasons – in attempts to preserve the fashion industry during the war, Dior designed dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, as did other fashion houses that remained in business during the war, including Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci. His sister, Catherine (1917–2008), served as a member of the French Resistance, was captured by the Gestapo, and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was incarcerated until her liberation in May 1945. In 1947, he named his debut fragrance, Miss Dior in tribute to his sister.
Christian Dior died while on holiday in Montecatini, Italy, on 24 October 1957. Some reports say that he died of a heart attack after choking on a fish bone. Time’s obituary stated that he died of a heart attack after playing a game of cards. However, one of Dior’s acquaintances, the Paris socialite Baron de Redé, wrote in his memoirs that contemporary rumor was that the heart attack had been caused by a strenuous sexual encounter. As of 2020, the exact circumstances of Dior’s death remain undisclosed.