A legendary address
Places are like people. A glance, a chance encounter, an impression will tie you to them forever. As soon as he saw it, he had to have it. Passing in front of 30, avenue Montaigne, Christian Dior knew that this little townhouse would be home to his couture label. Things never work out that easily, of course. Although...
The choice of location, an easy decision
With its "reduced size, its classic elegance without overwhelming pedigree", it was perfect and was situated, as he wished, near to a large hotel, ideal for the foreign clientele that he was targeting. He and his friend Suzanne Luling considered place Vendôme to be old fashioned, so no Ritz.
The one-way traffic on avenue George V, the narrowness of Faubourg-Saint-Honoré and rue de Berri with its constant traffic jams ruled out the Prince-de-Galles, the George V, the Bristol and the Lancaster hotels. What remained was the Plaza and avenue Montaigne which had the great asset of hosting, at number 30, this "very small, very closed house", "on a scale as modest as his dream was ambitious."
In the midst of construction work
Convinced that he could only set up his label within those walls, Christian Dior set off on a crusade and informed Boussac's headquarters that 30 avenue Montaigne must be his... because it was his home! His conviction was such that nobody dared contradict him. And on 16 December 1946 at around 9 a.m., the couturier inaugurated his townhouse... as well as the construction work that was to last until the very morning of the presentation of his first collection.
Over a little more than two months, 30, avenue Montaigne seethed with excitement. Through a doorway, in the midst of the construction work, one would bump into the prominent artist Christian Bérard. While taking his dog Jacinthe for a walk, the "mediator of all celebrations, all elegance" would offer his opinion on details and suggest small but decisive improvements.
The art of decoration
But the faithful recreation of the "decorated but not decorative" atmosphere to which Dior aspired for his house was entrusted to Victor Grandpierre. "Our tastes were perfectly in tune thanks to a shared search for our childhood paradises." As the days passed, the building composed of a few rooms and salons and outbuildings that held the 85 people who formed the initial team was adorned in the neoclassical Louis XVI style that the couturier had always loved.
White panelling, gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers, Trianon grey walls, white lacquered furniture, doors glazed with bevelled squares of glass, bronze applied to small lampshades, Louis XVI medallions, wicker chairs, Jouy fabrics, Gruau designs, carefully-chosen flowers and other aesthetic delights... All confidently harbouring a classicism and simplicity "without dryness" aimed at not "distracting from the collection", but rather serving as a warm, elegant setting.
The staircase, a legendary symbol
What emanated from this fortuitous location was, above all, life and movement. Suzanne Luling and press agent Harrisson Elliott shared a microscopic office that opened onto the bull's eye of the entrance hall. Perfectly positioned to observe everyone entering and leaving the townhouse, they forgot about the troublesome draughts. The studio was installed in the former boudoir: to compensate for the room's lack of space, it was necessary to spread out to the landing and staircase in order to gain perspective.
It was a staircase that was to be invaded four days before the presentation of the first collection by the striking workers of a neighbouring house demanding that the work at the Dior workshops also be stopped in solidarity!
Extension over the years
The seasons passed in that unique effervescence that blended joy (especially on Saint Catherine's day when the offices, workshop and boutique were transformed into an enormous ball), labour and... the ever-present construction work. Because the house was constantly being extended. From 1948 it was necessary to add a few floors above the old stables. 25,000 people were soon travelling every season to view the collections. The landing was enlarged by removing the lift. In 1949 the nearby 11b, 13 and 15 rue François Ier were rented. The Dior/Delman shoe shop surrounded the café François-Ier which soon gave way to the Dior Colifichets boutique.
Seven years after its creation, Dior occupied five floors, had twenty-eight workshops and employed over a thousand people. The "modest townhouse" of 1946 had been transformed into a vast labyrinth of buildings on the corner of avenue Montaigne and rue François Ier. A visionary couturier, Christian Dior was also a modern company manager. His salons and workshops stood alongside social services, an infirmary fitted out by the architect Chaysson and a relaxation room for the models. A glass bridge overlooked the courtyard of the maintenance area before plunging to the building's basement where there was a cafeteria "for everyone". The employees met there and crossed each other's paths, each paying according to his or her salary. Christian Dior was later to install a bedroom next to his office, a private, intimate enclave in this place that had become the lair of fashion, the benchmark of good taste throughout the world, a reminder that in the expression "couture house" there was not only the word couture...
Still today, the beating heart of Dior is at number 30, avenue Montaigne and the townhouse continues to inspire its designers. While François Demachy, Dior perfumer-designer, imagined with Gris Montaigne a perfume "in homage to the historic boutique", Raf Simons, the artistic director of the women's collections, welcomed guests to his Autumn-Winter 2013-2014 haute couture fashion show in an area decorated in the image of the salons with their Trianon walls where the story of Dior began.