The Dressmaker’s Library: “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution”

I highly recommend “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution” by Nigel Cawthorne for the newcomer seeking knowledge of the master designer, Christian Dior. The book is also valuable to those with extensive knowledge of Dior. In this one book is an accessible, easy to assimilate history of the events which preceded and then followed the release of Dior’s first collection in 1947 which was christened “The New Look”.

Mitzah Bricard is often called Dior’s Muse. She was close to the designer working with him on each collection. Mitzah was also a milliner and woman of style known for her impeccable fashion sense.

The book traces the influences upon fashion in the two decades prior to World war II. We learn of the early influences and designers who brought clothing for women out of the last vestiges of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Along the way we also get acquainted with the designers Dior worked for during his early career such as Lucien Lelong.

Dior’s New Look, launched in 1947, made extravagant use of fabrics. This dress used 25 yards of fabric.

The middle of the book is devoted to the influence of Hollywood on fashion during the 1930s. A little known fact that is mentioned in this section is that at the end of that decade the Parisian couturieres were considering bringing back the corset. All that went on hold as the grim hold of WWII progressed throughout Europe. It wasn’t until 1947 when Dior brought in The New Look that the use of corsetry to shape the body returned as a major influence in fashion. This was made possible by the end of rationing so that boning, elastic, rubber and nylon could now be used for women’s lingerie and shape wear. There is in-depth treatment given of the Utility fashions of the WWII years with detailed descriptions of some styles and how women recycled old garments in order to use their rationing coupons for necessary clothing items. There are also many photos of the Utility fashions which make clear how economically the fabrics and notions were used. Skirts were shortened and slimmed down. Jackets were shorter with emphasis given to the shoulder line. Gone were the abundance of ruffles and ornamentation of earlier eras since they would have used valuable materials that needed to be diverted into the War effort.

A Dior inspired New Look Suit by British New Look, 1948.

The insight the reader gains into the austerity of the war years will make them better enabled to perceive the impact the luxury and femininity of the New Look had for women starved for the indulgences it offered.

Dior surrounded by his models. Tania is second from the left. Alla is second from the right.  Julie Hughes, a model from America, is the first on the right.

Included in the history are the sources of Dior’s inspiration as well as his models. Photographs convey the individuality of each model he selected. No two looked alike and each model would have an appeal to women of different figure types and ages. Dior’s muse, Mitzah Bricard is also touched upon in a manner that keeps her real as a person. She was known to have exquisite fashion sense but could be very blunt and temperamental as well.

Comparison of Dior fashions of 1947 (left) and 1948 (right).

The last section of the book provides good examples of how Dior evolved in his direction as the mid-late 1950s approached. In his A-Line designs is a precursor of the looser silhouette of the early-mid 1960s when the A-line dress became more youthful with shorter hemlines and more colorful prints. The book ends with a consideration of the other areas of fashion and design where the New Look had impact. It is worthwhile seeking out a copy of this book to add to your Dressmaker’s Library. It was published in 1996. I got a second hand copy through Abe Books for about $15.

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