FRANCE: Dictator by Demand

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At 14, Christian had his palm read by a fortuneteller. She said: "You will find yourself without money, but you will make your living from women, and it is by them that you will succeed." His family laughed, moved to Paris and tried to train him to be a diplomat. Instead, Christian plunged into the arty life of Paris of the '20s. Velvet-collared, bowler-hatted and rich, Christian hobnobbed with advanced musicians like Poulenc and Satie, artists like Jean Cocteau, Christian Berard and Salvador Dali, opened an art gallery with his father's financial backing.

In 1930, within a few months his-brother was struck down by an incurable nervous disease, his mother died, his father went bankrupt, and Christian had to go south to recover from a lung ailment.

He returned to Paris in 1935 with no money but with a new interest in embroidery, which he had learned while convalescing in Majorca. A friend taught him to make fashion sketches, and, to Christian's astonishment, succeeded in selling several to a fashion house for 120 francs. "At the age of 30," says Dior, "I was about to begin my real existence." He worked successively for Robert Piguet and Lucien Lelong as a designer, a period interrupted by a year's service in the army in the south of France, where he mostly dug ditches on a railroad track gang.

Fishmonger Look. At war's end, French couture was in the dangerous doldrums. New York was claiming to have supplanted Paris as the wellspring of fashion; Italian designers were asserting presumptuous claims. Rich Marcel Boussac, France's biggest owner of textile mills, became concerned. He reasoned that the prestige of Paris' couturiers directly affected the sale of textiles produced by his mills. He set out to find a. new designer who could inject fresh vitality into Paris' sluggish salons. Friends sent him Dior.

In December 1946 Dior retired to the home of a frieod in. Fontainebleau, spent 15 days in heavy thought, and emerged with the sketches that formed the basis for the New Look. He explains: "We were leaving a period of war, of uniforms, of soldier-women with shoulders like boxers. I turned them into flowers, with soft shoulders, blooming bosoms, waists slim as vine stems, and skirts opening up like blossoms." More informally, he has admitted that the New Look was based on a glimpse "of the heaving hipline of a female Paris fishmonger."

Never in the history of fashion had a single designer made such a revolution in his first showing. "God help the buyers who bought before they saw Dior!" said

Harper's Bazaar Editor Carmel Snow—"This changes everything." Cried another fashion oracle: "Dior has done for Paris couture what the taxi drivers did for France at the Battle of the Marne." His pink face smudged with congratulatory lipstick, even Christian Dior was stunned. "My God, what have I done?" he cried, and burst into tears.

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