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Dior's New Look

"Just think of the liberating styles that preceded Christian Dior's counter-revolution," Francine du Plessix Gray once remarked: "the abolition of corsets which was championed by the suffragette movement and was pioneered, as far back as 1906, by Poiret; the athletic androgyny expressed in the flapper look of the nineteen-twenties; the novel image of the working woman incarnated in the fluid, casual clothes of the visionary Chanel. All these tokens of emancipation had been cancelled overnight by a so-called New Look, which in fact turned out to be the dumbest misnomer in the history of finery. It turned the clock back to the restrictive folderol of La Belle Epoque, and evoked alarmingly regressive models of femaleness: women as passive sex objects, displayers of their men's wealth and status -- women who needed to be helped into cabs, who required huge trunks in order to travel with their finery, and maids to help them dress. Dior's first collections included daytime outfits that weighed eight pounds and evening dresses that weighed sixty and were said by their wearers to be too heavy even to dance in. How could we have ever submitted to such nonsense? The feminist in me was now raging."

[Even so, Dior's designs were enormously successful. In 1949, Dior products accounted for seventy-five per cent of all French fashion exports -- and five per cent of French export sales. Harper's Bazaar's Carmel Snow, who coined the term New Look, declared that "Dior saved Paris as Paris was saved in the Battle of the Marne."]

[Dior was a shy, reclusive, baldish, portly man with a sad little smile, who resembled, in the words of a friend, "a bland country curate made out of pink marzipan."]

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