A gallery owner, friends with the greatest artists of his time
Discreet, yet a bon vivant who loved to laugh, he was just 20 years old when he started frequenting the greats: Jean Cocteau at Le Bœuf sur le Toit and the musician Henri Sauguet, a member of the Ecole d’Arcueil, patronised par Erik Satie. A little group was formed, which Sauguet dubbed 'Le Club', and met every week at the Tip Toes bar on Rue Tronchet. Dior, the prominent painter Christian Bérard who took the as yet unknown couturier under his wing, poet Max Jacob, historian Pierre Gaxotte, writer René Crevel and actor Marcel Herrand were therefore as thick as thieves!
By rubbing shoulders with those he considered to be the geniuses of his time, Christian Dior, who nonetheless was clearly talented himself, felt less and less inclined to embrace the career path of painter or musician himself. As is often the case, it was chance that made the decision for him: his friend Jacques Bonjean was looking for a partner and he became the director of an art gallery, situated at the end of a cul-de-sac at 34 Rue de la Boétie. However, it did not bear the Dior name, as Madeleine Dior did not want to see it emblazoned on a shop front. Yet it welcomed the works of artists with famous surnames, or those that were about to become famous: Francis Rose, Paul Klee, Heinrich Campendonk, Max Ernst, Otto Dix, Salvador Dali, Juan Miro, Alberto Giacometti, Pavel Tchelitchev, Giorgio De Chirico, Raoul Dufy, Maurice Utrillo, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Louis Marcoussis and Pablo Picasso. Dior was in his element among the canvases, but the economic crisis of 1929 meant that buyers were few and far between.
From designer to couturier...
In 1932, the adventure ended, but not his friendship or taste for art. Following an illness (tuberculosis forced him to leave Paris in 1934), makeshift housing and his search for casual jobs, he was taken in by his friend Jean Ozenne, then a talented fashion designer who, in spite of the economic context, was nonetheless successful in selling his designs. Dior realised that a great divide separated someone who loved painting from someon who painted... but he proved himself to be naturally very gifted and worked on his proportions and perspective with determination. He quickly began to sell his designs. His hats were also a great success.
Having become a designer for Piguet, then Lelong, then a couturier at the age of 42, Christian Dior tirelessly constructed his dresses like an architect, chose his colours like a painter and surrounded himself with those who would show his art in its best light, such as photographer Willy Maywald and designer René Gruau. His artist friends, as well as other great masters in the history of art, were to influence all of Christian Dior's work and the couturier paid homage to them when naming his designs. Jean Cocteau therefore lent his name to a white organdie dress; Walter Scott: an afternoon outfit; Musique de Chambre (Chamber Music): an evening sheath dress; Musée du Louvre: a short white faille dress and Bach: a gala dress...
From his very first catwalk show for Dior in July 2012, the former artistic director for women's collections, Raf Simons, wanted to continue the bond between Dior and artists. He therefore reproduced the abstract canvases of painter Sterling Ruby on some of his haute couture dresses and the designs of a young Andy Warhol on the clothing and accessories of his ready-to-wear collections. The history of Dior remains to this day closely tied to the art world: since 2011, the itinerant Lady Dior As Seen By exhibition has given carte blanche to around 50 multimedia artists and photographers to reinterpret the iconic Lady Dior bag.