Christian Dior, creator of the 1947 spring/summer fashion collection that swept Europe and the Americas (coined “the New Look” after Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow’s exclamation, “Its such a New Look!”) thought embroidery was dangerous. In Dior’s book The Little Dictionary of Fashion, (HNA Books, 1954) he described embroidery as, “One of the most beautiful things done by the hand of woman. But one of the most dangerous to use with elegance. I don’t like embroidery on day clothes-unless it is very, very simple.” Embroidery dangerous!?!
Monsieur Dior added, “If used discreetly it is good for cocktail dresses and in a more elaborate fashion it is wonderful for evening clothes. For a dinner party a short embroidered dress may be very nice, but you must only wear embroidery on suitable occasions, otherwise it is pretentious.” Christian knew a thing or two about pretentious.
The New Look’s silhouette was characterized by a below-mid-calf length full skirt, a large bust (not fashionable since 1912), and a small waist. In refutation to wartime and post-war fabric restriction, Dior used 20 yards of extravagant fabrics in some of his creations. The New Look initially evoked some resistance from women because the extravagant use of fabric made the clothes costly. Christian Dior’s design house was financed by Marcel Boussac, a major French textile manufacturer; this may have had some effect on the amount of material used.
In time the New Look proved influential and popular, but not with everyone. Coco Chanel, who retired at the beginning of World War II, loathed the look and it’s been suggested that she came out of retirement in 1953 in order to destroy the House Dior. The generally accepted reason was she believed the time was approaching when women would discard the waist cinchers, padded bras, heavy skirts and stiffened jackets synonymous with Dior’s creations.
Chanel’s first collection since 1939 was presented on 5th February 1954 and received negative reviews from European journalists but was well received in the United States. Life, the most widely read American magazine of the time, took up her cause and by 1955 Chanel’s career had began anew, and she rose to prominence for the second time.
We at AHM doubt Coco felt embroidery was dangerous; her House had its own excellent embroidery workshop. If anything she was likely more concerned about the rise of male designers such as Balenciaga, Dior, Piguet, and Fath in post-war couture.
Chanel put it simply, “A garment must be logical.” In her view the creations of ces messieurs-her male competitors-were the opposite of logical. “Ah no, definitely no, men were not meant to dress women.”
Research: Angelina Pieros
Sources: Chanel and Her World, The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dior, the Little Dictionary of Fashion, Louisiana State Museum