Designers often delight in the hidden codes of their work, the secrets and symbols that might pay tribute to their origins or simply serve as good-luck charms to ensure success. Chanel No. 5 takes its name from Coco’s favorite number, for example, while its octagonal-shaped stopper was inspired by Paris’s Place Vendôme, home of the Hotel Ritz, where Chanel resided for many years.
Christian Dior was even more superstitious than Chanel, if that’s possible. In the first lines of his 1957 autobiography, Dior by Dior, the couturier credited fortune tellers for predicting his success: “Women are lucky for you, and through them you will achieve success,” he was told by one when he was just 14 years old.
Credit: The Fashiongton Post
It’s been 74 years since Dior opened his eponymous atelier, and the details he loved still can be found in many of the house’s designs. That includes the timepieces, which debuted in 1975 – that was 18 years after Dior had died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and by then Marc Bohan was the house’s artistic director. But like every artisan who has worked for the label before or since, he was still respecting Monsieur Dior’s codes.
That’s likewise true when you look at a Dior watch today. The Dior VIII is a perfect example: Crafted in black or white ceramic and featuring an automatic movement, the watch’s dial is notable for its use of a roman-numeral eight at the 8 o’clock position. Christian Dior considered eight to be his number of good fortune; when he debuted his Paris atelier on the Avenue Montaigne (located in the city’s 8th arrondissement), he chose October 8, 1946, as the opening date.
Eight also became integral to how Dior approached his design aesthetic. If you look at the numeral, it’s easy to see how an 8 might resemble an hourglass, and that’s precisely how Dior viewed the architecture of his clothes, an idea that became clear when he premiered his now-legendary New Look collection in 1947. The cinched-waist silhouette that defined the New Look often was the result of Dior’s devotion to structure; his Bar Jacket, with its padded hips, exemplifies this idea and was part of that inaugural collection, in a grouping called “En Huit,” or “In Eight.”
When Dior opened his Avenue Montaigne atelier, he populated the salon with Napoleon III chairs accented with a cannage pattern for their seating (“cannage” roughly translates to “cane weaving”). Dior preferred the lightness of these seats; though they hailed from the mid-19th century, they still looked more modern to his eye than heavier wood furniture. The woven cannage detail later would become a design element in collections, most notably the quilted pattern of the Lady Dior bag, introduced in 1995. The house’s ceramic watches also find their inspiration in that pattern, while their pyramid-shaped inserts are another sign of the couturier’s love of structure.
Credit: Maison Dior
Of course, the key to artful design is to make it look effortless, a feat that Dior handled with aplomb in everything from a day suit to a ballgown skirt. That full skirt comes to mind when viewing a Dior VIII Montaigne watch, with its pink opaline dial resembling what the twirl of a skirt might look like if you viewed it from above. The dial’s pink shade also takes its cue from Dior’s own memories of growing up in Granville, located in France’s Normandy region. “My childhood home was roughcast in a very soft pink, mixed with grey gravelling, and these two shades have remained my favorite colors in couture,” he wrote in Dior by Dior.
Credit: Maison Dior
Today that pink home is the Musee Christian Dior Granville, hosting exhibitions that explore the couturier’s life and work. The seaside house is surrounded by a lush garden, another nod to a passion that often has found its way into Dior designs: flowers. Petals often have inspired the floaty layers of a dress or skirt, while the reds and purples of roses and other blossoms have found their way into the now-iconic palettes of Dior collections.
That depth of color also is reflected in the house’s watches and jewelry, especially in the intense red of the bracelet on a Dior Christal watch, accented with diamonds and crimson crystals on its bezel, or the vivid blue-green dial on a Dior VIII Diamond Montaigne watch, offset nicely against a strap in pink leather. Brilliantly hued gemstones often are used as accents on a dial or case, while the asymmetrical bezels seen throughout the collection are meant to evoke thoughts of haute couture, how draping and side details inform a dress or gown, and how the eye is meant to be “surprised” by this absence of symmetry.
Even as he was surrounded by this wealth of details, Dior demurred when he was asked to discuss his inspirations; his answer was typically, “Honestly, I do not know.” While the iconography of Dior has continued to be mined for riches over the past 74 years, the couturier preferred to allow certain elements of his process to remain elusive; perhaps his superstitious nature made it so.
Ultimately, he believed a moment of revelation in design “seems to hail you like a friend encountering you on the street when you are on holiday,” he wrote in Dior by Dior. “You tell yourself that there can be no doubt about it at all – it is your friend. As you run to meet her, you feel a sense of conspiracy between you, based on the fact that you have always known her. On the whole, the models which are created after such flashes of inspiration are the most successful ones of all.”