70 years after his debut, an exhibition argues the designer’s “New Look” ushered in a new France. From writer James McAuley :
PARIS — It was known as the “New Look,” a new style for a new woman — but mostly for a new France.
On Feb. 12, 1947, less than two years after the bitter end of World War II, a largely unknown 42-year-old couturier debuted his first collection under his own name. In the past, Christian Dior had only ever known meager success, but on that day, in the perfumed salons of his studio on Paris’s Avenue Montaigne, he would make history.
The designs he presented in that inaugural show were significant in and of themselves: after years of war and occupation — when, to say the least, utility had supplanted beauty as the metric that mattered — here, enfin, were whimsical designs that celebrated decadence and sensuality, harking back to the glory days of the Belle Époque and the Russian ballet.
Regardless of the clothes, however, what happened then was a crucial moment in the reimagination and reconstruction of French culture after the utter devastation of World War II. Christian Dior was a fashion designer, but he was also among the principal architects of France’s postwar ascendancy, who guided its transition from misery to majesty.