It is a preposterous start and yet the House of Dior was founded after advice given by a clairvoyant to the 42 year-old Christian Dior. A dithering adult, a “bland country curate made out of pink marzipan” according to Cecil Beaton, he dabbled in art after attending the famous school of Political Sciences in Paris where the scions of French bourgeoisie pursued studies to become high rank officials of the Republic or prominent lawyers. His more artistic leanings led him to get financially involved in the opening of a gallery with his friend Jacques Bonjean in Paris. His parents reluctantly provided the money for the enterprise that showed the likes of Leonor Fini, Christian Bérard and Picasso, among others. His involvement was short-lived: a series of financial disasters in his father’s business, the death of a brother, followed by that of the mother, ended his gallerist’s life and threw him back to the starting line.
The sweet and nice young man, friend of artists and performers, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1934 and spent a year recovering in Ibiza where, with time on his hands, he learned weaving from local craftsmen. A healthy Christian returned to Paris in search of a job, and began doing work as an illustrator. War broke out and his dwindling career faded again against a destiny he could not control.
It was perhaps this stop and start way of being in the world that made him compulsively seek direction with card readers and clairvoyants. And so, after reassurances from his fortune teller, he said yes to Marcel Boussac, a leading businessman and textile industrialist who was searching for a designer to reopen an old couture house. Boussac and Dior could not be more incompatible: a hard driven tycoon and a sensitive artist, both with striking personalities. The success of the enterprise owes a great deal to the skillful handling of Henri Fayol, the liaison between the textile empire of Boussac and Dior.
This is how in February 1947, the “New Look”, as Carmel Snow of the American Harper’s Bazaar christened his designs, was born. It was a magic potion for French industry. Dior became the first couturier to license his products. After years of rationing and depravation, a woman radically voluptuous and elegant was again taking central stage. America channeled Dior with fervor. Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus was among the first to acknowledge his impact. He awarded him his fashion Oscar for his first collection.
Astrology entered his life again with unexpected consequences. In 1957, he felt that his epicurean appetites should be curbed. He booked a holiday at the Terme di Montecatini to try its curative waters against the advice of his astrologer. There at the age of 52, death came to meet him. A heart attack ended the short reign of Monsieur Dior. By the time of his lavish and well-attended funeral, a few days later, he had become one of those symbols of French glory that his compatriots readily recognize. A cynic could say that his astrologer warned him. It did not matter. Life had been kind, although perhaps a bit short.