It overlooks the sea, offering its elegant façade to the winds. On a clear day you can see the islands of Chausey and even Jersey. It is an Anglo-Norman villa like many built in the late 19th century. Constructed by a Mr Beust, a ship owner by trade, it owed its name, "Les Rhumbs", to the thirty-two divisions of the wind rose meticulously reproduced in mosaics on the ground at the entrance. Solidly gripping the rock, positioned within a hectare of clifftop garden, it faced the elements and its destiny. The Granville villa was the house where the Dior family lived at the turn of the last century.
An ideal location
When Madeleine Dior saw this villa, which resembled more a robust little manor house than an elegant residence, she had to have it. Her determination was similar to that of her son Christian years later when he saw the townhouse at 30, avenue Montaigne. It was 1905. The future couturier was still an infant when Madeleine persuaded Maurice Dior to buy the house with its infinite viewpoints. Above the town of Granville, the building was just one kilometre from the heart of the town which "for nine months a year remained a peaceful little port, transforming itself in the summer months into an elegant district of Paris." It benefited from a unique view and opened up a wealth of possibilities for Madame Dior, who was able to throw herself into the colossal task of crafting a home in her image.
For two years, she supervised the transformation of the pink pebbledash and grey gravel home, simultaneously renovating the exterior and the interior of Les Rhumbs. The remarkable development of a garden designed along the lines of an English-style park required the transportation of tonnes of free soil. Once the threshold had been crossed, thanks to the magic of its carefully-studied decoration an incredible world greeted the visitor and touched Christian's imagination, who spent the first five years of his life, and then his holidays here.
A protected childhood
What a childhood it was, protected by this isolated house where time flew, spent reading and remembering the names of plants and flowers in horticultural catalogues, listening to women singing the Hirondelle du Faubourg in the warmth of the linen room, looking at the rose on the ceiling of his bedroom "from which hung a multicoloured glass night-light", examining the innumerable subtleties of the doors with bamboo and straw pagoda roofs, the panels painted to imitate Japanese prints that invaded the great staircase right up to the ceiling ("those interpretations of Outamaras and Hokusais were my Sistine Chapel"), the splendour of the Henri II dining room, the Louis XV style of the lounge, "exasperated by modernism where true and false were blended exhilaratingly"... There was also his father's forbidden study with "the magnificent telephone" whose ring the child awaited with a mixture of fear and excitement. It rang when friends in Granville requested the number 12...
But, when history caught up with it, Les Rhumbs was to live through less pleasant times. It was during a stay in Granville that the 1914 war broke out. The family decided not to return to Paris and to seek the protection of its reassuring walls and enclosed garden. An indisputable ally, a haven of peace, the house was also one of the first victims of the ruin of the Dior family following the crisis of 1929. Acquired by the town, its furnishings were dispersed. Its park became a public garden in 1938, and in 1997 the villa came to hold the Christian Dior museum.
The nostalgia of a lost paradise
From Granville, Christian Dior always retained "the nostalgia of stormy nights, of the foghorn, of the tolling bell at funerals and the Norman drizzle in the midst of which (he spent his) childhood." He never ceased to preserve this spirit of Granville in colours (pink and grey), in perfumes (rose and lily of the valley), in solid, elegant volumes, and in the benevolent tranquillity of a "family home." It is a spirit that still breathes endless inspiration into Dior creations, like the Granville perfume from the Private Collection with its spicy pine, thyme and rosemary notes. It is a perfume, according to François Demachy, Dior perfumer-designer, that is "not only aromatic, because the property is overflowing with pines, but also very lively, extremely fresh. The gusts of wind, the waves ceaselessly hitting the rocks... Nature in Granville is not serene. This perfume is that of the wind that blows there."