When Christian Dior met Yves Saint Laurent

Legendary French fashion designer Christian Dior founded one of the world’s top fashion houses 76 years ago.

His first collection one year later, in 1947, went down in history as the “New Look”. The name was coined by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief, Carmel Snow, who recognised its revolutionary styling.

Dior is credited with having revitalised the post-war French fashion industry by bringing back the spirit of haute couture. His glamorous and young collection, emphasising a slim silhouette and nipped-in waist, brought back typically feminine designs following the austerity of the second world war.

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When Christian Dior met Yves Saint Laurent, an ambitious 17-year-old student of haute couture, in 1955, it was the springboard that launched the teenager’s career. Dior became his mentor and tutored him in the art of high fashion design.

Following Dior’s sudden and tragic death, Saint Laurent was suddenly thrust into the international limelight at the age of 21, when he became the head designer at the House of Dior.

Dior’s early life and career

Christian Dior, born in Granville, France, in 1905, was interested in art from a young age and first made money selling fashion sketches. Helped financially by his father, he opened an art gallery in 1928, but it closed down in 1931, during the Great Depression.

Employed by fashion designer Robert Piguet in 1937, he designed three collections. He later credited Piguet with teaching him the virtues of simplicity and true elegance. In December 1946, with the backing of wealthy entrepreneur Marcel Boussac, 40-year-old Dior launched his own fashion house.

The huge success of his first New Look collection, officially called Corolle, established him as one of the greatest designers of the 20th century.

How did Saint Laurent meet Dior?

Yves Saint Laurent was born in Oran, French Algeria, in August 1936. He always had a talent for design and by his early teens, he was designing dresses for his mother and two sisters, Brigitte and Michèle. Moving to Paris, he began studying haute couture at the École de la Chambre Syndicale.

While a student, he met the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in France, Michel de Brunhoff, to show him around 50 sketches of his designs. De Brunhoff was amazed by Saint Laurent’s talent and arranged for him to meet Dior. The veteran designer immediately hired Saint Laurent, who was 17, to work in the couturier’s studio.

Saint Laurent spent two years working alongside Dior and learned the secrets of haute couture from the maestro of fashion. At first, the teenager was given the task of decorating Dior’s boutiques. He also helped to create a number of haute couture dresses under Dior’s guidance.

Blossoming career

Over the next couple of years, Saint Laurent’s sketches were turned into toiles (the prototype of the finished garment) and led to fittings for around 200 designs. With every season and collection, the young designer’s talents grew. In August 1957, Dior announced Saint Laurent was to succeed him as a designer.

Nobody could have foreseen the tragic death of Dior just two months later, on 24th October 1957, when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of only 52. His young protégé unexpectedly became the House of Dior’s head designer much sooner than anticipated.

However, he rose to the challenge. His spring collection in 1958 almost certainly saved the House of Dior from financial ruin, following the death of its founder. His first collection introduced the Trapeze line; with simple, flaring lines that were a modern variation of the 1955 A-Line designed by Dior.

Although Saint Laurent shot to international stardom, he was conscripted for his military service in the French Army in 1960, during the Algerian War of Independence. He later launched his own fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent YSL, with French industrialist Pierre Bergé.

He was credited with starting some of the biggest fashion trends of the 20th century, such as the wide shoulder pads of the 1980s and the Prêt-à-Porter ready-to-wear line that was popular with the public, if not with the critics.

Later life

In 2001, Saint Laurent was awarded the rank of Commander of the Légion d’Honneur, an honour bestowed by the French President, Jacques Chirac. The designer retired in 2002. He was also awarded the title of Grand officier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Sadly, Saint Laurent lost his battle with cancer on 1st June 2008.

The two brands of Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent both remain iconic and famous to this day. These outstanding designers have left their legacy for future generations following the meeting in 1955, which launched their revolutionary business partnership.

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