The Daring Buds of Dior. One of our newly joined writers, Nicole Clinton, explores Dior’s fixation with flowers and the possible reasoning behind it.
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From the time of its inception as a fashion house in December 1946, Dior’s collections have drawn inspiration from flowers and their related connotations. After showcasing his first collection in February 1947, the label’s founding father, Christian Dior, supposedly exclaimed: “I have designed flower women”. The brand’s reliance on floral configurations meandered its way through the last 69 years to culminate in a botanical extravaganza last autumn, when its most recent creative director, Raf Simons, exhibited his effeminate Spring/Summer 2016 lines on a catwalk engulfed in walls of luscious flowerbeds. The fact that the flower theme is still being upheld by the house so obviously leads us to wonder: why is it that Christian Dior exuded a fixation with flowers and why did his most recent predecessor find it relevant to reignite said preoccupation today?
The root of Dior’s infatuation with floral motifs may be uncovered through studying the many symbolic or traditional roles of flowers in accordance with the cultural and historical context of the man’s life.
World War II was a notable intrusion into the early part of Dior’s career. He was summoned for military service shortly after his initiation into the fashion industry when he began working for fashion designer Robert Piguet. The atrocity and death that war forced Dior to witness firsthand may have influenced his insistence on flower imagery in his creations. It could be claimed that the dependence on bright blooms was an artistic way to assert life and colour into the dark wartime and post-war Europe through fashion. Apart from their aesthetically pleasing qualities, flowers represent the beauty of nature. War is a very unnatural process that relies on machines and mechanics, and only serves to destroy living things. Flowers, as an emblem of fertility, provide a stark contrast to the barren, bleak landscape that WWII rolled out across Europe and the nuclear bomb produced in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, Dior’s presentation of floral-esque shapes and shades in his designs may illustrate a backlash against war and its consequential effects. The artistic manifestation of fashion, can reintroduce energy and freshness into society both physically and psychologically.
Considering that Dior established his own fashion house just over a year after the end of World War II, and flowers reigned supreme in its debut collection, the insinuation that the designer utilised flowers to instigate a metaphorical battle against post-war depression is not unfounded. The title of the collection, Corolle, literally translates into the botanical term “circlet of flower petals” in English. Furthermore, the actual style of his creations was much more curvaceous than straighter war-time silhouettes. The flowing fabrics, defined waists, wider hips, corsets and full skirts that were showcased exuded the physical and textural qualities of a flower, and complimented conventional representations of femininity. Viewing this through an allegorical lens, it appears that Dior’s fashion presentation was like the dawning of the spring of peace after a long, harrowing winter of war. Through artistic means, Dior was able to act as Mother Nature, or even God, as he issued a seasonal transition on his catwalk and revolutionised women’s post-war style.
The traditional uses or representations of flowers in Western customs may also intersect with Dior’s creative consciousness relating to the war years. Flowers hold a prominent place at funerals, where they adorn coffins and graves, as a mark of respect for or to remember the deceased. By featuring flower imagery in his work in the post-war era, Dior is borrowing from the cultural ritual that flowers appear immediately after a death as an acknowledgement of lives lost. His flowers, by embellishing the figures of European women after the war, were living exhibitions of grief, in memory of those who died during the six-year conflict.
However, another cultural act that involves bouquets introduces a rather controversial aspect of Dior’s history as a designer. Flowers are often given as an accompaniment to an apology or a request for forgiveness, or as a sign of guilt. After leaving the army in 1942, Christian Dior started working for Lucian Lelong’s fashion house. The Nazi occupation of France meant that, in order to sustain the French fashion industry throughout the war, design house employees, such as Dior, were tasked with dressing wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators. One would imagine that this caused Dior a great deal of anguish as his own sister, Catherine, was imprisoned in the Ravensbrüch concentration camp until May 1945 for being a member of the French resistance. Therefore, perhaps the flowers that the designer presented to us through his line was a creative expression of his guilt and preceding apology for what could be seen as an indirect cooperation with the Nazi’s who killed and tortured legions of innocent people.
Taking all of the preceding ideas into account, it is rather interesting to muse on the house of Dior’s recent resurrection of its founder’s flower obsession. Under the creative direction of Raf Simons, the label brought flowers to the forefront of its designs, runway shows and store visuals. The Spring/Summer 2016 catwalk exemplified floral inspired shapes, fabrics and colours; with scalloped hems, delicate chiffon and pale pastels personifying the botanical influence perfectly. The flower theme was even more blatantly evoked by the set design for the show, as hedges of approximately 400,000 lavender delphiniums enveloped the stage. The structural appearance of the newly opened Dior boutique on New Bond Street in London borrows directly from the scenery of this very show, as the storefront is ornamented in a lavish delphinium flowerbed. However, why is it that Simons chose to so obviously bathe his final collection for the house (departing the label in October 2015) in shades of its pioneer’s tastes?
Perhaps it is simply the product of sentiment. Simons may have wanted to pay homage to the auteur himself before bowing out of the company as a way of guaranteeing adherence to the original vision of the label. Similarly, working with the floral theme so definitely in his last showcase may constitute an effort to complete the cyclical wheel of his time with the house. Simon’s first Dior collection was sprinkled with a 1950s ambiance through the inclusion of Christian Dior’s renowned voluptuous silhouettes which radiated nuances of flowering femininity in the post-war period. Thus, his more modern take on the floral theme, in his SS16 exposition, carried us back around to where he started on his Dior artistic journey; reimagining the vision of his master for a contemporary audience.
Additionally, while Christian Dior’s exploitation of the image and form of the flower reworked the aesthetic of femininity in his era; Simon’s employing of the flower, and the accompanying symbolic weight that it carries, may be seen as an assertion of the prominence of feminism in twenty-first century culture. Due to its merging of the divergent connotations of the flower, the SS16 show could be described as a personification of the type of casual feminism that many contemporary women have arrived at. The delicate style of the majority of the collection emanates from the flower’s long history as a rather soft symbol of fertility, nature, beauty and delicacy. But the audacity injected by certain statement pieces (such as the oversized, flower-bud-covered coat) and the striking, vivacious delphinium garden scenery remind us of the boldness and the unmistakeable sense of character that are also conveyed by flowers. Indeed, this flower-centred vision deviates from conventional feminist style philosophy that revolves around hard styles and often wanders into androgynous territory. But through his use of the floral vision, Simons succeeds in portraying the multifaceted nature of womanhood that is celebrated by feminism in contemporary culture. Today, the average woman does not seek to obliterate traditional notions of femininity completely, but rather blend them with the modern realisation that women have additional qualities and abilities that make them strong, extraordinary human beings.
Therefore, Christian Dior’s infatuation with floral-inspired visuals could be a result of the affiliation between his mentality during his early career and the qualities and traditional significance born by flowers. And although Raf Simons’ background notably differs from that of his master, he made it relevant to employ the legendary designer’s predominant theme in order to consolidate their visions for the label and to embody ideology surrounding modern issues.
Physically, the reoccurrence of the flower emblem allowed Dior to harmoniously transition from decade to decade without losing its founder’s style and to exude a sense of visual homogeneity. Mentally, it demonstrates that fashion can utilise its cyclical nature to reinvent its relation to current matters; whether it seeks to reflect them or confront them.
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Written by Nicole Clinton, with accompanied images from Dior’s Château gardens via Dior.