The day that Christian Dior first heard what his life would hold, he was 14 years old. “It was in 1919, at a bazaar near my home, organised to raise funds for the soldiers,” he wrote in his autobiography, Dior by Dior. “There was every kind of sideshow and we all took some part in it. I dressed myself up as a gypsy, suspended a basket round my neck by ribbons, and sold lucky charms. In the evening, when the crowds were thinning out, I found myself next to the fortune-teller’s booth. She offered to read my palm. ‘You will suffer poverty,’ she said. ‘But women are lucky for you, and through them you will achieve success. You will make a great deal of money out of them, and you will have to travel widely.’”
Whether or not you share the designer’s faith in clairvoyance, it’s hard to argue with the validity of this specific prophecy. Not only would Dior go on to found one of the most revered couture houses in the world, he would put his trust in fortune-tellers – and lucky charms – for the rest of his life. On his person at all times? A handful of talismans that included a pair of hearts, a sprig of lily of the valley, a gold star, a four-leaf clover, and a piece of wood – all of which have been reinterpreted by the house’s many creative directors through the years. Read on for a selection of his lucky iconography to keep an eye out for at the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition Christian Dior: Designer Of Dreams.
The Figure Eight
Like Chanel with her love of the number five, Dior favoured particular integers – especially the number eight. He opened the doors of his couture house on the eighth of the month on the Avenue Montaigne – in the heart of the eighth arrondissement. As his business grew, he moved into an eight-story building behind his “original little townhouse”, dividing his atelier into eight studios. Most significantly for fashion history, the number’s shape was the inspiration for one of the two lines in his New Look collection. Exemplified by the now-legendary Bar jacket, it was referred to as En 8 in reference to the hourglass silhouette with its “emphasized bosom, hollowed waist, and accentuated hips”.
Dior’s adoration of flowers has been well documented. The lily of the valley was his favourite – and has been given in France as a symbol of hope, good luck, and renewal since the 16th century. The designer instructed his florist in Paris to cultivate the spring bloom all year round, putting a dried sprig in the hem of every one of his couture models’ outfits and keeping an antique reliquary filled with its blossoms in his jacket pocket. When his first collection was presented at Avenue Montaigne, the entire place was filled with bouquets from the celebrated florist Lachaume.
If the number eight was the inspiration for one of the silhouettes in the New Look collection, flowers were without question the inspiration for the Corolle line – named after the corolla, or petals, of a blossom. “I designed clothes for flower-like women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and handspan waists above enormous spreading skirts,” he famously wrote in his memoir.
Dior credited a five-pointed gold star with his decision to found the House of Dior. As he painstakingly deliberated over whether or not to leave his position at Lucien Lelong (where he worked as a designer alongside Pierre Balmain), he chanced upon a star lying on the Rue Saint-Honoré where it had fallen from a carriage – right on the spot where he had met a friend who suggested he speak with an investor about joining another house. He took it as a sign from divine providence, met with the financier, and told him that he would start a house of his own “where everything would be new, from the state of mind and the staff to the furniture and premises”. He kept his lucky star with him at his atelier for the rest of his career.
Other Symbols Of Note
As superstitious as he was, Dior was also deeply nostalgic – and wrote that much of his taste had been shaped by the house where he lived as a boy in the resort town of Granville. (He even wrote in his autobiography, “My childhood home was roughcast in a very soft pink, mixed with grey gravelling, and these two shades have remained my favourite colours in couture.”) Most notable in Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, however, is the influence of its beloved front hall, which was filled with Japonisme prints. “These versions of Utamaro and Hokusai made up my Sistine Chapel,” Dior recorded. “I still love those silks embroidered with flowers and fantastic birds and use them in my collections.”
His family’s Louis XVI-style Parisian apartment similarly had a lasting impact on the House of Dior – with the designer frequently nodding to the sumptuous clothes and furnishings of the 18th-century French court. In addition to a bold neoclassical facade, 30 Avenue Montaigne boasted the same gray panelling as the Petit Trianon at Versailles and a cosmetic stand based on the palace’s Temple of Love. Most notable of all, however, were the 18th-century medallion-backed chairs that Dior had made for guests to sit on during his couture presentations – now frequently represented in the house’s designs as a signature oval topped with a Fontagnes bow.
Christian Dior: Designer Of Dreams is at the V&A through July 14, 2019.