Visiting la Galerie Dior in Paris
Paris is the home of high fashion. This is where the great names in haute couture have built their legacies. Among these is the true giant of 20th century fashion, Christian Dior. His House of Dior changed the look of women’s clothing forever, and you can witness this history at La Galerie Dior in Paris.
Recently reopened after extensive renovations, this destination for fashion lovers is a beautiful experience — one living somewhere between a museum and a magazine ad. The care and extensive financial investment that have gone into La Galerie allow the incredible story of Dior to be told the right way and with plenty of style.
After giving a brief walkthrough of all that you can expect at La Galerie, we’ll go through the fascinating history of Dior and then briefly look at why Paris is the world capital of fashion.
1 - What is La Galerie Dior?
La Galerie is a private museum around Haute-Couture, Maison Dior and the Modern fashion history located at 11 Rue François 1er, 75008 Paris.
To get to the Dior museum, you need to travel to the 8th arrondissement on the Right Bank. There, among all the chic stores and illustrious fashion houses, you find the House of Dior previously sitting at 30 Avenue Montaigne. It is here, in the same building that the company got its start, that the brand tells its story.
It all begins with the stunning presentation of Dior items around the stairs. The original grand staircase was a portal into the highest realm of fashion, and it was once the greatest achievement as a model to descend the steps and show off the new Dior lines to the press.
The staircase remains a crucial feature of the building, though completely re-imagined. The diorama that surrounds it features 1872 pieces from Dior, including 450 dresses. The kaleidoscopic display was created with 3D printing, resulting in colorful miniatures of the many iconic looks to come out of this fashion house.
Arranged by color, the rainbow of high fashion is an amazing way to launch your experience of this museum. And like this display, what follows is a curated and detailed look at the history of Dior — from its founder Christian to all the many talented designers who followed in his footsteps.
To be sure, their telling of the story is sanitized. But that fantasy of the Dior brand is itself a major part of the fun. Great fashion brands have always been able to ignite the imagination, becoming an ideal, a myth. La Galerie Dior is part of that myth-making, inviting you into a magical space.
1 - The Gowns
Much of La Galerie Dior’s collection focuses on the legacy of gowns that the fashion house has custom made for some of the most important women of the 20th century. These gowns are in great condition, and they reveal just how immaculate the detail work can be in haute couture.
In the elaborately decorated fairy tale world of the second room, a mixture of early and contemporary Dior gowns is breathtaking. You can spend so much time here studying these gorgeous works of art.
2 - The Inspiration
In the first room of La Galerie, we get to see the things that inspired Christian Dior’s early designs. The work of fashion designers are pieces of art that reflect the world in a way very few forms do. When people wear fashion, they wrap themselves in it and carry it with them through their lives — that means it has to be in dialogue with everything we encounter and do. Seeing the inspiration behind many of Dior’s work drives home this point.
Among the most interesting inspirations are the engraved book illustrations of Gustave Doré (1832-1883) and the pictures of flowers from the full-color seed catalogs produced by Vilmorin and Andrieux — flowers that a young, fascinated Christian Dior memorized the names of.
3 - Designer Sketches
It is particularly interesting seeing their display of designer sketches and patterns.
These give you insight into the initial idea behind many of the pieces you see on your visit. It also reminds you what a tremendous hand designers have. These sketches have an incredible flair and gestural authenticity.
4 - Christian Dior’s Office
When you visit Dior’s original office, you are standing in the room where the designer revolutionized women’s fashion.
It is also here that you can look into the original atelier where so many designs were turned into real dresses.
5 - J’Adore
From early on, Dior wanted a woman to enter his store and leave with everything — clothing, make up, and perfume. Today, the J’Adore perfume line continues that idea into the 21st century. One of La Galerie’s rooms features the elegant gowns worn by Charlize Theron in her now legendary ads for the perfume.
2 - Dior is a house with a great story well-told
La Galerie Dior captures the elegance and excitement behind the brand, honoring the origins of the company while also giving plenty of room to the designers who have come since. It is a very linear story (you have to follow the flow from one room to the next in order), but one worth seeing for yourself.
If you are interested in visiting La Galerie Dior, you will need to book your ticket well in advance. There are frequently very long lines to get in. You will also not be able to bring a guide with you. But if you take care to get in early, you will find it is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours — especially if you love fashion.
1 - History of Dior
Christian Dior (1905 to 1957) was obsessed with art from an early age. And it was in art that he began his career.
In his early 20s, he borrowed money from his family to start an art gallery. He ran it with a friend for a few years, featuring prominent artists in Paris, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
But when the Great Depression collapsed the economy, the Paris art market suffered, and Dior’s gallery closed. He sought employment in fashion, which was always a passion of his. Robert Piguet gave him a chance as a designer. Dior designed three entire collections for Piguet, finding great success with his Cafe Anglais, a day dress.
When the Second World War broke out, the young designer had to leave his vocation to fight. On his return to civilian life in 1942, he found Paris under Nazi occupation. While he worked as designer for Lucien Lelong, his sister fought in the French Resistance.
After the war, Dior finally got the chance to open his own fashion house. The fabulously rich Marcel Boussac financed him, allowing the new company to take up residence at 30 Avenue Montaigne in a small building Dior referred to as “the beehive.”
On our themed Louvre tour called : Napoleon, Art and Power, we can show you the original Golden Bee brand created by Napoleon Bonapart himself.
It was a hôtel particulier — or townhouse — that was originally constructed by an illegitimate son of Napoleon. Initially, the location contained three workshops. Two of these were for couture flou, those pieces of clothing that employ soft and light materials, like silk, and flowing design. The third was for tailleur, crafting more strictly tailored and structural pieces.
During those early days in the beehive, Dior worked to bring his groundbreaking sensibilities to the industry. The result was called the New Look, and it changed women’s fashion forever.
In February 1947, Dior held a showing for their first ever fashion collection. Held at Dior’s Salon on Avenue Montaigne, it featured “La Ligne Corolle.” In French, the word corolle refers to the circle of petals on a blossoming flower. And Dior used that shape as the basis for his designs.
The waist came in, not unlike a stem, and the dress arced out like petals. Whereas 40s designs emphasized boxy silhouettes with stronger shoulders, Dior’s vision embraced the hourglass figure. Whereas previous trends made do with limited material in response to fabric rations, Dior’s dresses were long and full.
“It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!”
A Reuters journalist heard this and included it in his report, which led to Dior’s Corolle line coming to be known as “the New Look.”
Overtime, more and more designers were inspired by (or just outright copied) Dior’s big idea, and so the rising popularity of this particularly floral silhouette became known as the New Look more generally.
This is the event that launched Dior as a leading couturier, and it even helped swing global fashion trends, reestablishing Paris as the world capital of haute couture.
* You can get live answers and explanations from his student during the Art show:
Part of what made the New Look so powerful was the way it brought luxury back to European and American sensibilities after the Second World War. Rationing, weak economies, and all-hands-on-deck industrial production meant that for the preceding years, women were forced to wear clothing based on need — not want.
Dior’s collection reasserted fashion for its own sake. And he followed up with this success by releasing multiple named lines every year afterward. Along the way, he grew the Dior brand to include perfume and make up.
By the end of the 40s, Dior was ready to open up a new boutique storefront in New York City. And by the 50s, the fashion house was a global name. Dior worked with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, and Eva Perón. He also began to license his name, which had become the most important in all of fashion.
When Dior died in 1957, his empire was not only a leading aesthetic influence in the culture, it was a massive element of the French post-war economy — at one point representing 50% of all luxury exports from France.
A young Yves Saint-Laurent filled Dior’s shoes as Artistic Director for a while (he would go on to incredible success in his own right). His new direction emphasized wearability. Saint-Laurent also took inspiration from the burgeoning youth movements of the time, like the beatnik styles he saw while strolling through the Left Bank.
As the 20th century went on, Dior continued to be at the forefront of haute couture. However, it would never reach the same influence that it had with the New Look — a development that had a massive impact on silhouettes in women’s fashion for decades.
2 - Since when Fashion has been a French Affair?
That so many important fashion houses call Paris home should be no surprise. France has long been in competition with Italy, Spain, Austria to become the center style in Europe and the world at large.
This began with the rising importance of luxury goods during the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV. But while he emphasized fashion in the royal court and in his grand portraits, the growing industry of the press began to promote fashion to lower echelons of society.
Fashion prints were pieces of paper that showed people wearing newly designed clothes — a novel idea at the time. It is because of this phenomenon that concepts like seasons and trends emerged, and that meant French people started to pay much more attention to what they wore.
At the same time, the 18th century saw an extraordinary boom in French textile production. That made clothing less and less expensive, allowing more interest and participation in high fashion from non-nobles.
But while the middle class was starting to become more fashion conscious, it was royalty that had the resources to push things to the extreme. Famously, Marie Antoinette drove up enormous state debt to supply her with the latest and most elaborate wigs and dresses.
The 19th century saw modern fashion houses get their start. This is really the beginning of haute couture — the bespoke creation of dresses that are entirely hand-made using only the finest materials available.
The middle of the century saw couturiers opening in Paris and a rapidly developing press coverage of the topic. The first half of the 20th century proved to be the culmination of all these forces. This is the era when Chanel, Balenciaga, and eventually Dior got their start.
3 - Explore the Fashion of Paris
For those interested in exploring all the many luxurious sites in Paris, I host guided tours of Versailles and tours that focus on the History of Fashion in Paris.
If you want to explore this side of Paris, it’s important to plan ahead. Make sure to schedule early.
If you have any questions about Paris, feel free to send me an email : firstname.lastname@example.org