What came to be called Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection, his first under his own label, debuted in 1947. The designs were, as the name suggests, a completely different direction from the fashion that had dominated not only during the war years, when there were fabric restrictions, but to some extent from the 20s. Previous decades had emphasized streamlined shapes and sportswear, bias cuts, and draping. This isn’t to say volume and feminine shapes weren’t embraced, but the overall shape was more streamlined.(1) During the war, even more so, as fabric restrictions meant an average dress was made of 3 yds. of fabric.(2)
The ‘Cherie’ dinner dress from Dior’s S/S 1947 Collection (the ‘New Look’ collection) (3)
The New Look was about wasp waists and flared and longer skirts, rounded shoulders, fuller hips, and other design details that are considered quintessentially “feminine.” They set the stage for the next major era in fashion history.
Because the collection was so iconic, I’ve shied away from writing about Dior’s modern perfume inspired by it. Not because I dislike the perfume, but because it has a legacy, and legacies are always complicated, aren’t they?
The New Look was a highly stylized, corseted, and (some would argue) brave celebration of “classic” femininity. Post-war, it invited women to step out of practical dresses and trousers (i.e., clothes you could move in) and into designs that were suited for almost anything but work. Although fashion is always a little bit of fantasy, and many of Dior’s looks were for evening, there’s no denying the subtle suggestion that women could now leave the factories and workplaces they had occupied during the war and return to home life. It doesn’t help that Dior referred to “women soldiers built like boxers.”(2)
So how does a perfume created in 2010 (by Francois Démachy) replicate the feeling of the New Look?
By smelling like days spent shopping and “doing lunch” with your friends, and nights at Albert Hall. It smells like velvet cloth (damp and grainy and sweet), peonies, roses, iris, wet talc, and the barest suggestions of toffee and incense smoke. If there is a current of discontent brewing underneath it all (hello, iris), it’s a discontent that is—appropriately and somewhat ironically—smothered under a beautiful and unruffled visage. The perfume and its sillage are a delicate powder-puff of girliness.
Thus, Démachy did the New Look justice, giving us a perfume whose core notes invite us to frolic in everything pretty about Dior’s collection. But if we know what to look for, facets of the fragrance suggest that things are not so perfect underneath.
Or maybe that’s just because I’m looking? I’d like to think Démachy was winking at us modern women with this formulation, including reminders that the 50s wasn’t the idyllic decade it is often portrayed as.
For another review of Dior New Look 1947, see Olfactoria’s Travels.
(1)This is my thumbnail encapsulation. I’m not a fashion historian.
Image of perfume via Dior.com