Author Isabelle Rabineau has just released a biography of Christian Dior (published in France by Denoël), in which she recounts and analyzes the many facets and lives of the couturier.
He was timid, reserved and discreet – and yet it turns out that he was particularly fond of masked balls, late night card games and fairground adventures. Christian Dior had “a pronounced taste for proper public conduct and elegance, but that didn’t preclude a tendency toward exuberance in his private life.” Therein lies the mystery of the Dior legend, which Isabelle Rabineau recounts in her book “Double Dior. Les vies multiples de Christian Dior” (in English: “Double Dior. The multiple lives of Christian Dior”).To his friends and close collaborators, he was “Tian”, but he was also Christian Dior, the designer who, one day in February 1947, became an international star.
A childhood spent in Granville, Normandy, instilled in Dior a taste for festivals – every year, he participated with wonderment in the carnival organized by his hometown. The attraction to disguises and magic stayed with him throughout his life: “anything that was shiny, ornate, flowery and light was enough to keep me occupied for hours,” he later said. From a young age, he developed a taste for transforming reality and cloaking himself in mystery. Then the Dior family moved to Paris. Young Dior was passionate about painting and drew everything, all the time, starting from his earliest years: “his grandmother would talk about the world for hours and her grandson drew it all the while,” the author writes. He decided to open an art gallery and met the greatest artists of the day: Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, Salvador Dali and Christian Bérard – the other Christian, a painter admired by all, would be his double until Bérard’s death on February 12, 1949.
At 35, Dior was designing for Lelong, but he remained in the couturier’s shadow; he patiently waited for his hour of glory to arrive.
And arrive it did, in 1946, when everything began to accelerate: Christian Dior acquired an hôtel particulier at 30, avenue Montaigne, established his couture house and presented his very first fashion show on February 12, 1947. It was a revolution, liberation, a breath of fresh air. Dior emancipated women and freed their spirits. Two years after the end of the Second World War, he celebrated life, elegance, and joie de vivre by composing bouquets of femmes-fleurs swathed in dozens of meters of fabric. From London to New York, Christian Dior was suddenly the best-known Frenchman alive. But his double still lived within him: Tian, the man who was terrified of speaking in public, and who dreamed of retreating to his villa in Provence to “finally lead a tranquil life.”
With “Double Dior”, Rabineau sketches a paradoxical and mysterious portrait of a man known the world over, who was determined to show of himself only that which he could control. Photographs taken throughout his life illustrate this. At a very young age, he learned to pose for the camera, with his family, with an air of restraint: “The Dior clan observes, from the other side of the looking glass, all those who enter their home,” notes Rabineau. Dior would always guard control of his own image: “What photography shows of his work without his being able to control the process is painful for him,” writes Rabineau.
Observed Jean Cocteau, “Christian Dior was a prince of overnight glory, a prince of light, but he knew and respected the prisms of shadow.” Like his creations, the couturier had another side to him: “a piece of clothing must hold steady and surprise at the same time. It allows for daring in creation.”