The Bar Suit
This is one of Dior’s most iconic pieces – the 1947 Bar Suit, which featured at his very first showing. It also features on the very first page of my book, in which one of my main characters models the Bar Suit for the very first time.
I’ve seen the Bar Suit in lots of different exhibitions and it is such a classic piece – deceptively simple but so timeless and elegant that it could easily be worn today. It’s emblematic of Dior’s eponymous ‘New Look’ and there was never any question that this piece would make it into the book.
Fun fact about the Bar Suit – young apprentice Pierre Cardin, who was working for Dior at the time, came up with the idea of using surgical cotton wool to pad the bottom of the jacket, which is what makes it flare out over the hips.
‘The skirt falls, shockingly. all the way to mid-calf – such an excess of fabric for a post-ration world. A string of pearls is placed around her neck, and she is finished off with a wide-brimmed hat and black gloves. Even after the desecration of war, a woman’s hands are still too startling to be left unclothed.’
In THE PARIS SECRET, my contemporary protagonist, Kat Jourdan, finds a wardrobe full of 65 Christian Dior gowns hiding in her grandmother’s abandoned cottage in Cornwall. There’s a dress for every year dating back to the very first collection in 1947 (yes, I may have been writing about what I wish would happen to me one day!)
Kat’s a fashion conservator so she knows a thing or two about Dior and fashion history. She also knows that most of the dresses are probably museum quality and that she probably shouldn’t wear them – but sometimes dresses are meant to be worn. So, throughout the book, she does wear several of the pieces, including this 1956 gown called Éventail. She wears it during a very important scene, in honour of her grandmother.
The dress has a gorgeous print but what I love about it most is the fan at the front of the dress, opening out from the waist. The dress was part of Dior’s Aimant line, a romantic collection of dresses that use motifs from eighteenth century court life – hence the fan.
‘Kat climbed out of the car. In honour of her grandmother – whoever she was – she wore one of the Dior dresses: strapless silk, knee lengthy, with Liberty blue roses printed on a deep sapphire background.’
The Bon Voyage Dress
It’s not always the most beautiful ballgowns that make an impression on me when I’m looking at fashion exhibitions and I didn’t want to only include the showstopper gowns in THE PARIS SECRET. So, this is Christian Dior’s 1948 Bon Voyage travel dress and it made it into the book for a number of reasons.
First, that gorgeous chocolate brown colour. Second, the details: I love the way the scarf tucks under the belt to create a faux-peplum. Third, it’s just so classic. I would wear this in a heartbeat if I was ever lucky enough to own it.
In fact, I let Kat, one of the main characters in THE PARIS SECRET, wear it to work because … why not?! This is a photo I took of the dress at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Dior exhibition in 2017. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any better photos online as it’s not one of the more popular pieces but I thought it deserved more attention, so I decided to include it in my book.
‘She noticed a few women on the ferry running covetous eyes over her dress and she wanted to invite them to touch it, to look inside to where Dior’s true artistry was most evident, knowing that most people would only ever see such a dress behind the glass wall of a vitrine case in a museum… She knew that light, air, even the oil on her skin were making the museum-piece dress deteriorate second by second, but sometimes clothes were meant to live rather than be entombed in boxes inside a climate-controlled storage facility.’
Look 21 – Raf Simons
One of my most favourite Dior gowns isn’t one that’s decades-old. It’s relatively contemporary actually, but it harks back to Dior’s early designs. It’s simply called Look 21 and was designed by Raf Simons for his first showing as creative director at the house of Dior.
I love both the colour – what a stunning red – and the cut, the way the skirt flares out from the hips rather than from the waist so the flare is more subtle. Of course this dress made it into THE PARIS SECRET – it was probably the first one I chose!
You can see a quote from the book in which Kat, the main character in the contemporary storyline, is trying to decide if she’s brave enough to wear the dress out on a date. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she does!
‘Kat took off the dress, and put it on again. Three times. The evening was formal, Elliot had said, and the dress was formal. In fact it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen… But it was so much sexier than anything Kat had worn in a long time, or perhaps ever.’
The Aladin Dress
I give you Dior’s Aladin dress from 1947, another one of the Dior pieces that appears in THE PARIS SECRET. I adore this dress – the colour, the shape, the fabric, the timelessness. Another one I would definitely wear today – assuming I ever had the money to buy something like this!
‘She searched until she found the one she wanted. A soft red this time, carnelian, its brightness tempered by the satin, which caught shadows, deepening the skirt’s hue to garnet. Aladin the dress had been called when it was first shown in 1947. It had perplexed some with its apparent simplicity, its echoes of a housecoat, but its deep V-neckline was anything but homely and its belted waist and full skirt were undeniably feminine.’
Tulip Line – Afternoon Dress
Not all the Dior dresses that feature in THE PARIS SECRET are the amazing, showstopper ballgowns. Some are more subtle, but still very beautiful, like this black afternoon dress from the 1953 Tulip line.
I love the cape-like bodice on this dress so I decided to let Kat, the main character in the contemporary storyline of the book, wear the dress to the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London when she meets Elliott for the first time.
This dress draws its name from the tiny lily-of-the-valley flowers that adorn it – stunning, oui?
Interestingly, this dress has played a part in another of my books, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS. When I was researching that book, I visited a Parisian atelier where they were making these flowers for a reproduction of this exact Dior gown. So I knew I would have to include this one in THE PARIS SECRET, as it’s very close to my heart.
The dress is made of embroidered organdy, a stiff fabric that holds the shape of the dress perfectly. I loved seeing both the full-size version, and its gorgeous miniature, at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in 2017.
‘She reached out to touch on the dresses: Le Muguet, a white knee-length dress adorned with hundreds of intricate and perfect lily-of-the-valley flowers. May lilies. Lilies of happiness. Or the lilies that bloomed from Mary’s tears at the foot of the cross.’
The Zelie Cocktail Dress
Another one of the dresses in the wardrobe of 65 Dior gowns in THE PARIS SECRET is the Zelie cocktail dress from 1954.
There’s an absolutely fascinating story behind this dress: Nat King Cole’s wife owned the Zelie now held by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. The conservators there were fascinated by the small but perfect peplum at the back of the dress and wanted to know how it had been constructed. So they took an X-ray of the dress and discovered a series of lead weights sewn into the bottom of the peplum and some seriously heavy duty boning!
I know from having looked inside a couple of Dior pieces at the Powerhouse museum that the lead weights were a feature of Dior, but the ones in Zelie are sewn between the lining and the exterior, rather than into little covered pouches like the ones I’ve seen.
There’s so much going on under all that silk in a Dior gown! Not to mention the six petticoats built into the dress to give it that perfect shape. I didn’t know the X-ray story before I chose the dress to go into THE PARIS SECRET but, when I uncovered it, it made me love the dress even more.
‘Kat pulled on another of her grandmother’s delectable cocktail dresses – the Zelie cocktail dress from 1954. It was plain enough for daytime, its collared neckline and the six buttons on the bodice mimicking a jacket. The waist was typically accentuated, before the silk fell into a simple flared skirt. Kat wanted something that would give her the courage to ask the woman next door the questions she was too afraid to ask her grandmother.’
The Hellebore and the Opera Bouffe
These gowns are just too much fun, aren’t they? The Hellebore (rainbow silk) is from Galliano’s 1995 collection for Dior. And how adorable is the Opera Bouffe from from 1954. I have no idea how you’re supposed to sit down, but I wouldn’t mind trying. These are another two of the gowns that Kat discovers in her grandmother’s secret wardrobe.
‘Kat pulled out more hangers. Each bore something almost as remarkable as the red gown. A dress made from silk rainbows – Kat knew it was called Hellebore – from Galliano’s 1995 collection for Dior. A fabulously fun pink dress, strapless like the red, but with a mass of fabric at the back shaped into a flower-like bustle.’
The Green Park Dress
This one is from the 1961 collection and I just love that ’60s vibe with its slightly daring hemline and even more daring colour – so chic and so wearable. No wonder Kat wears it in the book to her meeting with a fashion conservator!
‘Kat wore another of grandmother’s dresses” a Marc Bohan design for Dior from 1961 – the Green Park dress in scarlet wool.
‘That dress was made for you,’ Celeste said, indicating the iconically sixties above-the-knee skirt and its delectable subtle flare.’
The Venus Gown and the Soiree de Decembre
Both of these stunners appear in the final scene of THE PARIS SECRET and I think you can see why – absolute showstoppers, aren’t they? The contrast of black and white makes total sense for the climax, particularly the black, which was an especially important colour in Dior’s palette. This was very unusual back in the late 1940s and 1950s. According to Dior, “the violence of black makes it the most elegant colour” and you can see my tribute to his words in the short quote from THE PARIS SECRET that accompanies these images.