In 1947, French fashion designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) created his first skirts. At the time, he had no idea of the huge impact he would make when he went on to found one of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world.

Born into a wealthy entrepreneurial family, Dior made a wise decision when he cut short his political-science studies. This type of study wasn’t his idea in the first place, but rather that of his beloved mother and his fertiliser-manufacturer father who dreamed of a diplomacy career for their son. They didn’t account for young Dior having other ambitions.

Initially, Dior wanted to become an architect and to mingle in Parisian artistic circles. He consequently quit his studies and – without a degree – went off to conquer Paris…

Fashion designer Christian Dior Fashion designer Christian Dior

Born in 1905 in Northern France, Christian Dior started his career in 1923 when he opened his first art gallery. Until 1929, things went relatively well for him: he began to find his way behind-the-scenes of the fashion world and he met artists, such as poet Max Jacob and writer Jean Cocteau. Little by little, he took advantage of his growing list of contacts to sell his first fashion sketches, namely to specialised magazines and big fashion houses such as Nina Ricci or Balenciaga. However, during the Great Depression he had no choice but to close his business.

Once again he started from scratch, becoming an illustrator for Le Figaro Illustré, before serving France during World War II.

Christian Dior’s ‘The bar jacket’, 1947 Christian Dior’s ‘The bar jacket’, 1947

His public career only started to really take off following the Liberation in 1947. Banking on his exquisite sensibility and the financial support of Marcel Boussac, dubbed the ‘cotton king’, Christian Dior launched his own fashion house that year, by releasing an inaugural summer collection that he called the ‘Nouveau Look’. His first creations – blown-up full skirts cut mid-calf with frills and a fitted waist – turned heads, upsetting the codes of fashion as they did. As well as exuding femininity and an avant-garde feel, they conjured up the hope of better days ahead, reflecting the profound desires of French people at the time. In the same year, the designer also released his first perfume, Miss Dior, which would shortly ‘intoxicate’ the world at lightning speed.

Marilyn Monroe in Christian Dior Haute Couture, photographed by Bert Stern, for ‘Vogue’ 1962 Marilyn Monroe in Christian Dior Haute Couture, photographed by Bert Stern, for ‘Vogue’ 1962

The fruit of a late-discovered vocation, the first collection marked the debut of fame and fortune for the designer. In the following year, Dior’s fashion house opened stores on Fifth Avenue in New York, and kept rivals lagging behind. In the 1950s, Christian Dior set out to create full collections, including complete ranges of clothing items, hats, accessories and perfumes. He also designed each new creation to put previous ones out of fashion. As the first couturier to make it on the cover of Time magazine, he soon represented one-half of French fashion exports and won the attention of the era’s great actresses: Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich, to name a few. The latter went as far as insisting that producers of her films dress her in the couturier’s creations, coining the historic line: “No Dior, no Dietrich”.

A relentless worker, Christian Dior pushed himself over his physical limits and shortly fell sick. In 1956, he left the fashion scene and withdrew to a château where he began to write his memoirs. The following year, he died of a heart attack in Italy. Initially, he was succeeded by Yves Saint Laurent at the helm of Dior. Next would come Gianfranco Ferré, Marc Bohan, and more recently John Galliano, Raf Simons, and Maria Grazia Chiuri who today holds the privilege of keeping the Dior star high in the sky.

Jennifer Lawrence for Christian Dior, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in 2014 Jennifer Lawrence for Christian Dior, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier in 2014

A mythical name to everyone’s ears, Dior has reached new heights of success in the 2010s. A little over 70 years since the house’s debut, it now has more than 70,000 employees worldwide. Dior still enjoys an image of luxury and sophistication even if it has undergone a slight facelift, thanks to the arrival of the latest artistic directors. It also owes its success to its remarkable penetration of the Asian market, as well as its fruitful collaborations with glamorous fashion icons, including Monica Bellucci, Marion Cotillard, Charlize Theron, Sharon Stone, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence.

Today, the Dior brand is in the hands of the Arnault family – which also holds a 40.9 % share of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (also known as LVMH). Offering creations in footwear, haute-couture, jewellery and prêt-à-porter for men and women, it has nearly 200 stores all over the world, and in 2016 achieved a turnover of 1.94 billion euros (£1.74 bil) with an operating margin of 13.1%.

Musée Dior in Granville, France Musée Dior in Granville, France

The brand’s many iconic products include the famous ‘Lady Dior’ handbag, created in 1995, the ‘Addict’ lipstick, and of course the ‘Eau Sauvage’ eau de toilette, produced since 1966, and more recently the timeless ‘J’adore’, released in 1999. The couturier’s most stunning pieces can be seen and seen again in the north of France at the Musée Dior in Granville, housed in the designer’s childhood home.

Discover the world of Christian Dior on Barnebys