Everything You Need to Know About Christian Dior’s New Look Silhouette (2024)

“25 yards fan pleated. Dior’s dinner taffeta; your own shoulders; padded hips”

Photographed by Serge Balkin, Vogue, April 1, 1947

Christian Dior Didn’t Name His Line the New Look

Dior would become known for his ever changing silhouettes; he introduced two at his debut. “An Australian reporter, writing for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, described the two “lines” introduced for spring 1947. “His line crystallizes what every other house has been trying to do with two new silhouettes—the ‘corolla’ (like an inverted carnation with a soft pleating skirt spreading out of a calyx-like bodice and slender hips) and ‘figure eight,’ which shows curving feminine bosoms linked up with curving feminine hips by a slender molded waist.” Indeed, for a 1986 Vogue article Carmen Baron, a former Dior employee, told reporter Joan Juliet Buck, “The flower woman was born.”

“La ligne corolle,” is what came to be known as the New Look, thanks, it is believed, to Carmel Snow, a Vogue alumna, who was then at Harper’s Bazaar. In A Dash of Daring, her biography of Snow, Penelope Rowlands recreated the moment: “ ‘God help the buyers who bought before they saw Dior!’ Carmel exclaimed, referring to the fact that many American buyers had already headed home. ‘This changes everything.’ And then or perhaps later, she said the words, ‘It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian. Your dresses have such a new look.’ ”

The “virality” of this phrase is corroborated by Ballard, who recorded the following anecdote: “After the opening some of us stayed and tried on the extraordinary new clothes, slightly punch drunk with the excitement of it all, whirling around in the knife-pleated skirts. […] Everyone insisted that I order the dress called ‘1947’ immediately, which, when I returned to New York, gave me a brief moment of fame. Even taxi drivers asked me, “Is this the ‘new look’?” so quickly did the expression become part of our everyday vocabulary.”

Édouard Manet, Nana, 1877.

Photo: Heritage Images

“Writing of the fall 1946 collections Vogue noted the whittled waist, writing: “You’ll have to count on a corset this year. You’ll have to learn how to lace yourself in—a lesson that even your mother has forgotten.”

Photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, September 15, 1939

The New Look Wasn’t Actually a New Look

There is a phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes aspect to the New Look, which built upon pre-war ideas, and those that emerged in 1946. The last image photographer Horst P. Horst took for Vogue in Paris before fleeing Europe was a back view of a woman in a waist-defining corset by Mainbocher (the Chicago-born one-time editor of Paris Vogue who went on to dress many of New York society’s famous swans). The model’s laced silhouette has more in common with Édouard Manet’s painting Nana of 1877 than the uncorseted body introduced by Paul Poiret and Gabrielle Chanel before the First World War. Horst documented what looks like a literal return to form after a period of more relaxed and less restricted dressing. The nostalgic corseted silhouette provided the road map for the first post-World War II collections. Reporting on them in March 1946 Vogue wrote of “the slender silhouette” as a “symbol” that “was present in nearly every collection this spring because it is the silhouette of elegance…the elegance that answers a need in Paris hungry for almost everything.” The report from the October shows included the following observation: “Apparently all the great designers of the world are interested in some sort of back movement; in the tiniest possible waistline; in a new, feminine shaping of the shoulder; in non-exaggerated skirt-lengths—and in making women look beautiful.” All of those elements found their way into Dior’s collection the following year, and the magazine described the season’s “ “unforced femininity” as “a polished continuation of the rounded line that has been seen in Paris ever since the first post-Liberation collections.”

The New Look Appealed to Women of All Ages

The freshness of Dior’s debut was not limited to its lines, but, suggested Alison Settle, writing for The Guardian days after the show, its youthfulness, which is difficult to see at a distance of more than 75 years. “This new collection may be regarded as a microcosm of the fashions for tomorrow, for the silhouette launched there contains the major points which other Paris dress houses are trying to stress,” she wrote. “The main difference is that so many other creators design the vast majority of their clothes with the mature woman in mind, while here are supremely elegant clothes for the young woman, fashions which will quickly percolate (greatly modified for a simpler life) into the shops of most countries.” Dior wrote that he was pleased and surprised that, as he put it, “Saint-Germain des Près did not want to be left out.”

Everything You Need to Know About Christian Dior’s New Look Silhouette (2024)

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