Dior mannequin. Photo: Unknown
Dior mannequin. Photo: Unknown


Full title

'Dior without Dior': Tradition and Succession in a Paris Couture House, 1957-2015


Opponent

Christopher Breward, Professor, Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh,  and Director of Collection and Research at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Committee

Marina Dahlquist, Associate Professor, Stockholm University
Martin Gustavsson, Associate Professor, Stockholm University
Alistair O'Neill, professor, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London
Patrik Steorn, Associate Professor and head of Thielska Gallery

 

Supervisors

Andrea Kollnitz, Dr., Stockholm University
Caroline Evans, Professor Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.
 

Abstract

This study explores how the French luxury fashion house, Dior has mobilised its power over a 70 year period through the constructed persona of the designer, who functions as a figurehead, together with the brand’s heritage. It investigates how the house of Dior reinvented itself after the death of its founder in 1957 through the charismatic succession of a series of designers; Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and finishes in 2015 with the departure of Raf Simons. The house of Dior understood from its earliest days that the image it projected of the designer was of the utmost importance to the success of the business. In the case of Dior ‘the couturier’ and Dior ‘the brand’, these two distinct entities have merged within the mythology that was constructed around the founder, so that the very fabric of Christian Dior’s own life and upbringing has become part of the brand’s vocabulary. My analysis of materials such as print media texts and images, journalist’s archives, press releases, fashion show invitations, press packs, exhibition catalogues, and life writing, highlights the use of a textual, as well as a visual vocabulary, in the construction and strengthening of Dior’s heritage.

Pierre Bourdieu highlighted how the artist is unique and irreplaceable, whereas in the fashion field, the name of the designer as well as their products and business can live on long after their death. This research identifies how the symbolic production of the designer is achieved, through various institutions of consecration within the field of fashion, which is complicit in the idea of collective belief. In order to promote the brand globally, the public personae of the designers who followed Christian Dior were strategically constructed, legitimated and assimilated into the existing Dior identity myth through ritual acts such as catwalk shows, award ceremonies, documentaries and museum exhibitions, which also reinforced the status of the house, enabling it to continue in the Dior tradition. Dior’s history can therefore be read as a kind of palimpsest which has been inscribed, erased and overwritten with each new era, creating layers of visual and textual memories which reinforce the stylistic codes and heritage of the house. My investigation aims to bring a new perspective to discussions surrounding the importance of a ‘name’ designer as figurehead for a luxury fashion brand, the importance of heritage to a fashion house, as well as a new understanding of how fashion histories are written.