How Christian Dior Pioneered 75 Years of Feminist Fashion

When Dior died unexpectedly at 52 in 1957, he left behind an identity that allowed the company and his predecessors to thrive. Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons successively filled the creative director role, then Chiuri in 2016.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how focused and how business oriented he was,” Starkman says of the late designer. “If he hadn’t been like that, there would probably not be a house of Dior 75 years later, you know?”

By the time LVMH head Bernard Arnault purchased Dior in 1984, the brand had expanded to include ready-to-wear, menswear, and children’s clothes, as well as a cosmetics line. One of Arnault’s first big ventures was organizing a house retrospective at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris to mark the brand’s 40th anniversary in 1987. A small team was assembled to locate garments and documents for the exhibit, and shortly afterward the archives department was established. Pfaff took over the department in 1996. “I arrived there three weeks before Galliano,” she says. “I learned with him; we learned together.”

Pfaff and her team pursue various avenues to locate archival pieces. Many are found and bought at auctions or acquired from museums. Some, like the Junon gown from Dior’s fall-winter 1949–1950 collection, are obtained by referencing the designer’s extensive client records and contacting those families. “That dress, we bought it back from [the family of] a woman named Mrs. Newman from Florida,” Pfaff says. “She died quite young, and her husband organized an auction with all the garments she bought from Dior, and also accessories. Of course, we bought everything.”

“It’s really madness that led us to propose this,” Beccari says of La Galerie Dior, which the house conceived in 2018. His goal, he explains, was “to create a fantastic point of uniqueness for the Dior brand in Paris”—something that couldn’t be replicated. “It took courage to go to Monsieur Arnault,” he notes of the project, which required Dior to close the flagship boutique, offices, and atelier occupying 30 Montaigne for more than two years. The brand tapped longtime collaborator Peter Marino for the architecture. Nathalie Crinière, who has designed several past Dior exhibits, set the various scenes.

Dubbed “the heart of creation,” the cabin is where models prepared for shows, held in house for decades.KRISTEN PELOU.

“What is incredible is that the story of Dior began here,” Crinière says, echoing a sentiment shared by her colleagues that the museum couldn’t be built anywhere else.

The exhibit opens with a spiral staircase ascending in front of a three-story glass enclosure that displays a rainbow of more than 1,800 3D-printed miniature Dior pieces. “The idea was how to go up without getting boring,” Crinière explains. “With this big colorama, people get surprised and understand that they are going to something very special.” The origins of Dior’s luxury house are presented elsewhere through original sketches, early press clippings, and the charts of fabric swatches Dior used to plan his collections.

Past and present are intertwined in multiple rooms. Two, filled with floral-motif gowns designed by various creative directors, serve as homage to Dior’s love of flowers. A re-creation of the backstage area where models prepared for shows, which resembles a cabin, is visible through glass flooring. There are odes to the Miss Dior fragrance and Dior’s days as a gallerist, when he displayed works by Picasso, Man Ray, and Dalí. Videos dedicated to each creative director play in a loop in one space, and another highlights some of the house’s most famous garments: the Bohan-designed gold lamé gown Lauren Hutton wore in the French film Tout feu, tout flamme, the navy Galliano slip Princess Diana donned for the 1996 Met Gala, a playful nod to scandal just after her divorce from Prince Charles. A space dedicated to Dior’s savoir faire has duos from various departments of the atelier demonstrating their skills in real time. “There are these really beautiful moments where [we] have an apprentice who’s in her 20s, and then next to her somebody who’s in their 60s and spent 40 years at Dior,” Starkman says. “The gallery welcomes over a thousand visitors each day,” she adds. “You hear a lot of languages when you walk through the museum,” Starkman says. “Of course, you will have fashionistas, students in fashion—all the people that you expect to have in a fashion exhibition. But there’s also a much wider audience.”

As La Galerie Dior was being built, the adjoining flagship boutique was revamped to include two eateries—a patisserie and Le Restaurant Monsieur Dior—three gardens, and various other trappings, like a dedicated haute couture salon and a towering rose sculpture by Isa Genzken.

The 1947 haute couture fashion show of the Corolle line, and the premiere of the Bar suit.PAT ENGLISH. 

“Every day we have people queuing in front of the boutique,” Starkman says. “Not necessarily to go in and buy something, but just for the experience.” Beccari likens it to “the anti-metaverse; you must come here and feel these emotions,” he says. This was apparent during a springtime visit to the boutique. Outside, a line of house enthusiasts and curious tourists awaited entry behind a Dior-branded partition. Inside, a group of women pored over thread colors in a space dedicated to customizing shoes and bags. Upstairs, diners partook in Dior’s favorite recipes as envisioned by chef Jean Imbert. Everyone everywhere was snapping photos—of the meticulously landscaped roof, of cappuccinos topped with foamy cinnamon Dior logos, and lots and lots of selfies.