Designer Anecdotes

  1. (All anecdotes are from I thought it would be fun to read a few little stories about our favorite designers!)

    "Just think of the liberating styles that preceded Christian Dior's counter-revolution," Francine du Plessix Gray once remarked: "the abolition of corsets which was championed by the suffragette movement and was pioneered, as far back as 1906, by Poiret; the athletic androgyny expressed in the flapper look of the nineteen-twenties; the novel image of the working woman incarnated in the fluid, casual clothes of the visionary Chanel. All these tokens of emancipation had been cancelled overnight by a so-called New Look, which in fact turned out to be the dumbest misnomer in the history of finery. It turned the clock back to the restrictive folderol of La Belle Époque, and evoked alarmingly regressive models of femaleness: women as passive sex objects, displayers of their men's wealth and status — women who needed to be helped into cabs, who required huge trunks in order to travel with their finery, and maids to help them dress. Dior's first collections included daytime outfits that weighed eight pounds and evening dresses that weighed sixty and were said by their wearers to be too heavy even to dance in. How could we have ever submitted to such nonsense? The feminist in me was now raging."

    [Even so, Dior's designs were enormously successful. In 1949, Dior products accounted for seventy-five per cent of all French fashion exports - and five per cent of French export sales. Harper's Bazaar's Carmel Snow, who coined the term New Look, declared that "Dior saved Paris as Paris was saved in the Battle of the Marne."]

    [Trivia: Dior was a shy, reclusive, baldish, portly man with a sad little smile, who resembled, in the words of a friend, "a bland country curate made out of pink marzipan."]

    "[Christian Dior's] relentless innovations were bound to make some enemies. The Diorophobia provoked by 'THE GREAT HEMLINE HULLABALOO' or 'THE BATTLE OF THE BARE CALF,' as the press billed two of his semiannual mutations, was particularly rampant among American men. An indignant male from Idaho accused him of having 'disfigured my wife.' 'Stay out of Topeka, you bum,' another irate gent, in Kansas, wrote. There was also dissent from a few of his colleagues. The habitually aloof Balenciaga admitted that he was appalled by the way Dior treated textiles—backing them with multilayers of canvas, buckram, or tulle, rather than 'letting fabric speak for itself,' which was the pith of his own aesthetic credo. But the most violent censure of all came from Chanel, who declared, 'Dior? He doesn't dress women, he upholsters them.'"

    [Even so, Dior's designs were enormously successful. In 1949, Dior products accounted for seventy-five per cent of all French fashion exports - and five per cent of French export sales. "My dream," he once remarked of his clients, "is to save them from Nature."]

  2. Christian Dior internationalized fashion. By the early 1950s, Dior salons had opened in London, New York, and Caracas. Incredibly. Dior - who sought both to create a new "look" each season and to produce designs which took regional differences into account - was soon churning out about a thousand designs every year. So gruelling was his schedule that Dior's health began to suffer. Indeed, by the mid-1950s, the designer was under such stress that the large domestic staff which took care of his homes was ordered to wear soft felt slippers in order to maintain perfect silence.

    [Dior's chauffeur was often required to drive him around the block several times while he mustered the nerve to enter his salon on the Avenue Montaigne and his directrice, Mme. Raymonde, was often roused in the middle of the night by a call from her employer, sobbing like a child.]

    [Trivia: When preparing his collections Dior would shut himself up in a study in one of his country houses and admit no one but the servant who brought his meals. Sitting at a desk, he would doodle aimlessly on a large pad until he was hit with a "flash" which revealed the principal silhouette of his next collection. When, after several days, he emerged from his cocoon (toting hundreds of sheets of paper), his assistants would examine his work and cheer.]

    Christian Dior developed an obsessive reliance on a noted Parisian clairvoyant, Mme. Delahaye. Over the years she advised him on everything from his travel plans to his purchase of lavish bouquets for his salon and his homes. Business boomed.
  3. Like his mentor (Christian Dior), Yves Saint Laurent was painfully shy. Indeed, when Maison Yves Saint Laurent's first collection was shown, in January of 1962, the human tide which rushed to congratulate the designer was so daunting that he ran away and tried to hide in a cupboard.

    ["At twenty-one I entered a kind of stronghold of glory," he later wrote, "which has been the trap of my life."]

    [Trivia: "My dream," Saint Laurent once declared, "is to save women from nature."]

    In January 1958, shortly after the death of Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent (Dior's former assistant) unveiled his first collection for Maison Dior. "Could 'a child of twenty-one,' as many Parisians referred to Saint Laurent, possibly rescue the French economy by sustaining the allure of the century's most famous couturier? It was immediately obvious that he could. The applause began as soon as his very first models strode out, wearing relaxed day dresses that hovered comfortably at the knee; slim, sensible suits; romantic ballerina-style ball gowns. Saint Laurent instantly reassured the public by blending the opulence and the brilliant tailoring of Dior's designs with a greatly increased fluidity. In fact, the reception accorded the Trapeze, which was the name of Saint Laurent's first collection, was even more impassioned than that of the New Look pioneered by his predecessor. One Frenchwoman, tears in her eyes, exclaimed to her neighbor, 'My dear, France is saved. It's Joan of Arc!'"

    ["Everybody was crying," the New York Herald Tribune reported. "It was the emotional fashion binge of all time." People gathered in the street below, cheering "Saint Lau-rent! Saint Lau-rent!" ]

  4. Famed fashion designer John Galliano built his 2000 fall couture show around what he called the "wet world." The show, featuring ripped and reconstructed clothing, attracted picketers and other protesters and riot police were required to surround the Dior offices, on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. The problem? What Galliano called the "wet world" is more commonly refered to as... "the homeless."

    [Though Galliano explained that the clothes (inspired by people living on the stoops near the Seine) were supposed to reflect the inventiveness of street people, he quickly apologized. "I saw just the romantic side of it, the poetic side of it," he remarked. "The criticism was that I was taking the piss out of homeless people, but the point was that they are creating beauty out of necessity. I loved that collection."]

    "I met John [fashion designer John Galliano] in 1984 at the show he put on to graduate from art school in London," the DJ Jeremy Healy once recalled. "My girlfriend was modelling, and when she walked down the runway she had a tree branch coming out of her head and she was waving a dead mackerel. An actual dead fish. The whole show was like that. It takes a lot to shock me. But I just thought, What the hell is this bloke up to?"

    [The show was a success, and Galliano incorporated bizarre elements (including naughty schoolgirls, nuns in bondage and homeless tramps) into each of his subsequent shows. "Galliano has staged fashion shows at the Paris Opera and at the Gare d'Austerlitz," the New Yorker's Michael Specter reported, "where he hired an antique steam train to ferry the models about the platform, which he turned into a North African souk, with more than a score of half-naked men serving mint tea and a floor covered with imported rust-colored sand. Last fall, inspired by a trip to China, Galliano flew a dozen Shaolin monks to Paris, and sent them thundering down the catwalk twirling swords and swinging numchucks. He also imported a troupe of Chinese acrobats who, positioned at the stage entrance, spun plates on foot-long sticks. There was even a girl in a pink tutu riding a bicycle on top of a parasol carried by a Chinese elder. In the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes called it 'the most staggering example of self-indulgent luxury since Louis XIV held court at Versailles' - where, by the way, Galliano had presented Dior's previous winter collection."]

    [Trivia: "I cut clothes that could be worn inside out, upside down, and by both boys and girls," Galliano recalled of his graduation presentation. "Very androgynous, but huge romantic blouses with tricolors and hems that rolled up and were split. You have to make three presentations. The first went really well. By the second, I was suddenly put on as the last act. I thought, Something has gone down here." By the third people were struggling to find seats. After attending one of the shows, the owners of Browns bought Galliano's entire collection for their South Moulton Street store. "I had to literally wheel my collection up the street to their shop," Galliano recalled. "I couldn't even afford to put the clothes in a cab. And they put one of the coats in the window and it was bought by Diana Ross."]

  5. "My goal is really very simple," famed fashion designer John Galliano once remarked. "When a man looks at a woman wearing one of my dresses, I would like him basically to be saying to himself, 'I have to f--- her.' I just think every woman deserves to be desired. Is that really asking too much?"

    ["Whatever I do, I like to do it until it can't be done anymore," Galliano once remarked. "It doesn't matter if it's work or the gym or some things I might not even want to mention."]