FRANCE: Dictator by Demand

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The great 19th century dictator of fashions was a onetime draper's apprentice from Lincolnshire named Charles Frederick Worth. When the Empress Eugeénie protested that a dress Worth had designed for her made her look like a curtain, Worth went to Emperor Napoleon III, argued that if Eugeénie accepted the design, it would revive Lyon's silk-weaving industry and forestall revolution. The Emperor ordered his Queen to wear the dress, a new vogue was set, and the number of looms in Lyon more than doubled. In another Worth fashion, women glided through life for 20 years in cages of circular steel hoops because Eugenie fished to conceal the signs of her pregnancy and Worth obliged by inventing the crinoline.

Worth's spell was broken by bearded Paul Poiret, who made Paris bright with harem skirts, fringes and beads. "I waged war on the corset," he cried, "and, like all revolutions, mine was in the name of liberty—freedom for the tummy." Poiret was the first to hire beautiful mannequins. He gave exotic parties in which Madame Poiret received in a cage of gold, while live cockatoos and monkeys scrambled among the guests and a dancer performed wearing only a pearl in her nostril.

The designer who shaped the flat-chested, emancipated woman of the 1920s was a wine merchant's daughter, Gabrielle Chanel, called "Coco." She invented the genre panvre, or poor look, put women into men's jersey sweaters, created a simple dress based on a sailor tricot. She used a ditchdigger's scarf, a mechanic's blouse, a waitress' white collar and cuffs, popularized slacks, backless shoes, cotton dresses. She had no use for the couturiers who insisted that they were geniuses. "We are not artists—we are furnishers," she insisted. "A work of art is something that at first seems ugly and becomes beautiful. Fashion first seems beautiful and then becomes ugly."

"Dior Go Home." Paris' new dictator of fashion is about as undashing as a Frenchman can get. Plump and pink, with the look of a startled rabbit, in Chicago he once walked unnoticed through a picket line of angry women carrying signs urging, CHRISTIAN DIOR GO HOME. None of them recognized him.

His parents came from some of France's oldest and richest bourgeois families; an uncle was Minister of the Interior under Poincare. Christian was born, the third of four children, on Jan. 21, 1905, in the huge family house perched over a cliff on the Norman coast. Petted by German nursemaids, learning from his mother to love flowers (he always decorated the dining-room table when guests were coming), the fat little boy took an early delight in designing costumes for his playmates, and in organizing fancy-dress parties. When he was ten he drew reprimands from his teachers for his habit of drawing a woman's leg in a high-heeled shoe on his books, examination papers and worksheets. "Something made me do it in spite of the scoldings. I derived such pleasure from the shapes I drew," he says.

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