FOTI No.003 – Christian Dior with model Lucie Daouphars

Christian Dior with model Lucie Daouphars, AKA Lucky, circa 1955 in his atelier at 30 Avenue Montaigne. Photograph: Christian Dior

Fashion designer Christian Dior is pictured in this 1955 image with his favourite model ‘Lucky’ in his Paris atelier.

It’s hard to believe that two years after this photograph of Christian Dior and his favourite model, Lucie Daouphars (otherwise known as Lucky), was taken in 1955 the great couturier would be dead. For the image speaks so volubly of his continuing industry: the swatches of fabric behind his desk; the drawer beneath it, full to bursting with ribbons and buttons; above all, the master’s intense, almost dreamy concentration as he contemplates the bolt of red silk wrapped so pleasingly around Daouphars’s tiny frame.

By this point, of course, Coco Chanel, who regarded Dior’s designs as an affront to liberated women, was snapping at his heels; she launched her trademark suit in 1954. But why would he have cared? His influence, then as now, could not have been overstated. In February 1947, at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Dior had unveiled what would come to be known as the New Look (a phrase coined by Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar). Overnight, its full skirts and nipped-in waists redefined women’s silhouettes; it would go on to revitalise the Paris fashion industry. In Britain, Dior’s clients included Margot Fonteyn and Nancy Mitford; the gown worn by Princess Margaret when she was photographed by Cecil Beaton to mark her 21st birthday was by Dior.

In February, the V&A will open the biggest exhibition ever staged in the UK on the house of Dior. It will trace the couturier’s influence, as well as that of the six designers who went on to succeed him at the fashion house, and it will look, too, at his love affair with Britain (he found tweeds so fetching – though it’s possible he was just being polite). Above all, it will (I hope) capture the excitement felt by war-weary women across Europe as they realised hemlines were set to drop – and drop. “My skirts are a release,” Dior insisted, and in a way, he was right. However cumbersome, they were also a sign that life, having been so hard for so long, was about to get a little better.

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