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  • Jonathan Walford

Dior's Deception


A 1955 'edition' of Christian Dior's 1947 bar suit worn by Dior house model Renee Barton, photo taken by Willy Maywald probably in spring 1957


The above image appears in almost all fashion history books as an example of Dior’s spring 1947 debut collection – the collection U.S. Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow said had such a “New Look.” The image was taken by German fashion photographer Willy Maywald, but the image was not taken in 1947. This image was most likely taken in spring 1957 to commemorate the House of Dior’s tenth anniversary.


Although the Dior company had kept sales slips, design details, production notes, as well as toiles and patterns, they did not keep an archive of garments. In fact, many of the highest prices paid for vintage couture at auctions over the past few decades have come from the very ateliers that created those fashions as they buy back examples of their early work.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London owns the actual suit that appears in the Maywald image. Cecil Beaton requested the House of Dior for an example of the New Look on the museum’s behalf and in 1960 received the Bar suit from Christian Dior. The suit came with a provenance that identified it as having been made in 1955 for Christian Dior to use at a lecture at the Sorbonne. The design was based on the 1947 Bar suit but some of the details had been updated. The original jacket (see 1947 image at left) has a shawl collar and the padded coattails girdle the hips. The 1955 jacket has a notched collar and is open in front, looking more like a peplum.


Although we know the suit in the Maywald photograph was made in 1955, there are two reasons that point to the photo being taken in 1957: Firstly, the hat worn in the image is more typical of the ‘My Fair Lady’ Edwardian-style deep crown hats that were popular from fall 1956 to spring 1958. The original hat, as seen in the photograph of the model standing on the staircase is wide-brimmed with a shallow crown. The second giveaway is the shoes. The pointed toe, stiletto heel was the hot trend of 1957 and they do not resemble the round-toed shoes seen on the feet of the model on the staircase.


Renee Barton, Dior house model, wearing the same shoes in 1957 as seen in the Maywald photo of the Bar suit.


Roger Vivier, the shoe designer for Dior, had been at the forefront of popularizing the stiletto heeled shoe starting in 1956. Renee Barton was Dior’s favourite model in 1957 and she appears in many photographs wearing the same stiletto-heeled shoes with the identical high instep cut. In 1957, house models had a limited shoe wardrobe of basic styles that could be worn for numerous shows and photo shoots.


There is no doubt the famous image was taken in the spring of 1957 to recreate the New Look style of 1947 as a marketing image for the tenth anniversary of the House of Dior.


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