Life at a hundred miles an hour

Rhythm by the seasons, premieres, presentations, time, at 30, avenue Montaigne, plays scherzando. It is “a beehive”, in Christian Dior’s own words, a world in perpetual motion.

I would be very ungrateful, above all very inaccurate, if I did not capitalize the word chance at the beginning of my adventure. This, having been successful in its conclusion, leads me, out of a duty of gratitude, to proclaim my loyalty to the soothsayers. »* Christian Dior was a superstitious man. He confesses it from the first lines of his autobiography and multiplies the examples (this soothsayer who foretold him, at 14, that “women (he) are beneficial and (that) it is through them that (he) achieves”, this cast-iron star that he discovers on the floor and that he interprets as a mystical sign to open a fashion house in his name, those lily-of-the-valley sprigs that he sews on his lapel, those lucky charms that he keeps in his pants pocket…). At the forefront of fetishes: the private mansion at 30, avenue Montaigne. “I will settle here and nowhere else”, convinces the couturier, as if the place made the artist. Probably not. But he made history and Christian Dior wanted to make him a legend. This address he repeats almost thirty times in his autobiography, and it is true that it sounds good! So when the opportunity arose in 1946 for the mansion to miraculously become available, all the conditions were in place to charge the place with an aura, giving it first place in Dior mythology.

The place today carries all the memory of the house. He remembers this February 12, 1947, when the florists of the first collection exclaimed Carmel Snow, the influential editor-in-chief of the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar: « What a revolution, dear Christian! And to baptize for posterity, in English in the text, the collection: the New Look. The haute couture salons never changed and for a long time all the shows took place there, until the space no longer allowed to accommodate all the guests. The studio, the workshops, the shop: all spaces grew around the historic address, gradually including the surrounding buildings, skirting the rue François-IIt’s, everything has changed a thousand times, but the “30” has always remained the soul of the house. Lets go in. Like in the days of Christian Dior.

I will settle here and nowhere else


The store

After crossing the threshold, immediately to the left, in a room the size of a pocket square, Christian Dior sets up a boutique that he runs on the advice of his friend Christian Bérard, ” toile de Jouy cream sepia motif on walls, counters, porches, chairs, drapes, wreaths – and even the shelf ladder that gives access to the cleverly staged gift boxes. It’s like being inside a music box where Carmen Colle – the wife of the famous gallerist, longtime friend and former associate of Christian Dior – plays the role of the figurine amidst the jewels, flowers and scarves she sells under the name. in “trinkets” : small extravagant objects, without great value, no doubt to explicitly mark the difference with haute couture. ” But (the store) soon showed other ambitions. Starting in the summer of 1948, Carmen suggested adding little dresses that, respecting the general line of the collection, would be simpler and more modest. They were so well received that the idea of ​​a Boutique collection was born. Nobody calls it out of the box, but that’s clearly what’s being done. In 1949, the store grew and changed its decor: novelties, gifts, men’s items, gloves, perfumes, socks, ties and even light furniture: ” I wished a woman could walk out of the store fully dressed and even holding a gift in her hand. Of course, at the time, nobody was talking about “global luxury”, but that was what was to come.

the staircase

Since the Renaissance – and even more so during the classical period when reception rooms rise to the first floor of noble buildings – the staircase has become an important element in the organization of space. At 30, Avenida Montaigne, it occupies one-fifth of the surface of each floor. At the time of its construction, it demonstrates the power of a son of Napoleon 1It’s, Count Walewski. During the fashion house era, it became the rotating backdrop for all the scenes taking place in the private mansion. The perfume counter on the ground floor is transformed into a reception desk on press days. At the height of the collections preparation, ” in the face of the growing invasion of fabrics, (Christian Dior must) work on the landing and even on the steps “. On the floor of the workshops, it is also on the landing that we cut the fabrics, kneeling on the floor. Every day, at 10 am, the saleswomen, lined up on the first flight of stairs, wait in their little black dresses, their dark socks and their pumps. fine. While on the occasion of the premieres, the guests ” the invaders overflow the stairs, each step becoming an amphitheater with privileged seats. (…) The ladder then resembles a heavily loaded boat that is getting ready to launch “. At all times, it is the great axis of the house’s exchanges. If it is the backbone of the building, it is the beating heart of its activity, the symbol of this ” small full beehive bursting ».

the salons

On opening days, the halls on the main floor are bubbling. The rows of chairs are huddled against the walls and even the doors, sometimes leaving little room for the voluminous evening gowns presented by the models at the end of the show. Guests meet: Carmel Snow on Richard Avedon’s arm, Cocteau, the disheveled hair, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, Lee Radziwill, Marlene Dietrich… Napoleon III chairs fly to install Joséphine Baker next to Juliette Greco . In the general hubbub and the scent of Miss Dior spread abundantly on the double curtains, the atmosphere is intoxicating. In the following fifteen days, the effervescence will hardly subside. There will also be two parades a day, where patrons gather. And also the photo sessions, “for the house or for magazines”. Then the rhythm will calm down. Only one daily parade at 3pm for the rest of the season. Customers come by appointment to be introduced to the models; each has a dedicated salesperson who walks them through tweaks and changes. They all have their own habits too: the Countess de Chavagnac chooses her dresses to match the color of her eyes, Ms. Mussidan has little coats designed for his dog to match his suits, Mrs. Conan Doyle wears only pleated skirts.

I study them

Leave public spaces. The studio lives intermittently. Your sketches? Christian Dior designed them at his country house near Milly-la-Forêt, or later at La Colle Noire in the south of France. They are distributed in the workshops and made on white canvas. It is only when these are presented to the couturier that“The studio, which was sleeping between two seasons, is coming to life. White, empty and dismal (…), there it is suddenly crammed with carts adorned with multicolored samples. Belts hang from the stems of tables; esparto and hats fill the corner under the blackboard where the names of the models are written”. The fabrics are chosen independently of the models in samples that the manufacturers come to present to an entire assembly formed around Christian Dior, behind a long row of tables. Marguerite Carré, its technical director, Raymonde Zehnacker, studio director,“one second myself”,André Levasseur, the first assistant, Mizza Bricard, the hatter and“the clearest expression of that elusive and somewhat outdated thing that is ‘chic'” . The fabrics delivered, the couturier assigns them to each model in an improvised ballet where he runs from one end of the room to the other, looks for rolls on the shelves, drapes the mannequins, retreats, approaches, changes, starts again: a red here, a blue periwinkle there, in other places an olive green and all shades of black. The rhythm accelerates according to the fittings, going back and forth with the workshops, accessories of the sessions. And then, after the first show, the studio goes back to sleep, while Christian Dior draws the sketches for the next season.

It had to be 30, avenue Montaigne



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In the beginning, there were three, appropriately named: a workshoptailor for architectural pieces, jackets, coats and two workshopsvaguefor evening dresses, their effects, evanescence. On the night of the first fashion show, in the urgency of a success that we already imagine lasting, two temporary workshops are opened outside the walls, the time to demolish the stables in the courtyard and build a new building where seven floors will be reserved for the seamstresses. : first, second, little ones, apprentices… thanks to the new expansions, there will still be a thousand in 1954, distributed in twenty-eight workshops. The bees of the Dior hive are the workers that, in a small swarm, around the same dress, hem the infinite lengths that will give effect and movement. They whirl from floor to floor, as if carried by the covered silhouettes – precious nectar – that move from one cell to another: towards the studio for the development of the models, towards the living rooms for the clients’ accessories. And back. For Sainte-Catherine, this holiday celebrated in fashion houses, a general theme leaves each workshop enough to compete with costumes made specifically for the evening: Orpheus, Venice, Paris, the circus… At lunchtime, the seamstresses train. for the small dance number they will perform on D-Day to present their creations to Christian Dior. Still adding life to life.

* All quotes are taken from “Christian Dior & moi” by Christian Dior, La Librairie Vuibert

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