While it’s often easy to think of fashion as mere frippery, looking back on changing styles reveals a clear indication of society’s attitudes and politics of a particular era. As the western world adjusted to peacetime after a long and terrible war, women were trying to find their new place in society after years of fashion freedom in which they wore slim, close-fitting dresses and even trousers, and worked in factories doing jobs typically belonging to men.
Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947, while offering a whole new silhouette of gorgeous, glamourous dresses, was met with mixed reactions. French fashionistas with money adored the wasp waists and voluminous skirts, but most women, Americans especially, rejected Dior’s designs as restrictive (back to corsets and garters instead of comfortable pants) and pretentious.
The Girl in Dior (Amazon, Powell’s) gives us an insider’s view of the designer’s atelier during this time. The fictional Clara, a fashion journalist assigned to cover Dior’s show, causes a stir when a photo shoot goes wrong, inadvertently pitting models dressed in expensive gowns against impoverished people running market stalls.
The job gets her fired but Dior takes pity on her and she becomes one of his top models; going on to meet her future husband, she moves from Dior model to Dior customer.
Okay, so the story is a bit on the light side, mostly avoiding any social or political commentary in favour of pictures of pretty dresses. And as far as eye candy goes, French artist Annie Goetzinger does not disappoint.
With a background as a fashion illustrator, Goetzinger has been a beloved graphic artist in France since the 1970s, with little of her work ever translated into English until The Girl In Dior, where her love of the subject is clearly visible in every line, every gradation of colour, every shadow meant to represent a fold of fabric.
Consulting film footage and photographs of the era, and with special access to the Dior archives, Goetzinger is able to very accurately capture the real life players in her story, from Dior himself to various celebrities who attended his shows and bought his creations. She is somehow able to make a two-dimensional drawing of a gown really look as if it’s made with fifteen yards of fabric, as was the case with Dior’s original designs.
I would have liked to see a bit more of Dior the man in this work. Goetzinger gives us a brief glimpse of the designer on retreat, planning his next collection, enjoying a walk in the woods with his beloved dog. We also see his kindness and patience with Clara as he encourages her career, but the story is more about her, and Dior’s death of a heart attack in 1957 fills a mere two pages and forces an abrupt end to the story. Goetzinger’s end notes (chronological reference points, a list of Dior’s collections, noted customers and employees, a list of definitions and jobs in the average atelier, as well as a list of types of fabrics and accessories) take up more than ten pages, and almost make it seem as if Dior is a bit player in his own story, taking second fiddle to the dresses he created and the women who modeled them.
While The Girl in Dior may only appeal to a specific segment of the graphic novel audience, those with an interest in Dior or fashion history and design will undoubtedly love this lush and beautiful work, despite the shortcomings of its plot.
Some notes – after this was originally published on Vermicious, I came across a couple of related items. First, this 3-part interview with Malcolm McLaren in which he talks about Dior’s fascination/obsession with his mother and the silhouette of the Belle Epoche and how it morphed into The New Look. Additionally, the recent death of model Bettina Graziani has provoked a string of obituaries about one of the world’s first supermodels. While Graziani pointedly never worked for Dior, some of the details of Clara’s character in The Girl in Dior seem more than a little coincidentally the same as Graziani’s.