The world of the Parisian Haute Couture has changed dramatically over the past fifty years. Today, couture houses struggle to produce their one of a kind artistic creations due to such factors as a dwindling elite clientelle, and a lack of highly skilled artisans who are able to execute the designs. This was not always the case; during the late forties and 1950s, master dressmakers like Christobal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, and Christian Dior set international fashion styles through their creations. Wealthy women would flock to their salons for seasonal made to measure wardrobes, and their fashion presentations would make front page headlines.
To execute these gorgeous gowns and tailored suits was not an easy job, and a couturier like Dior needed many hands and bodies to help create and sell these fantasies. A couture house would employ assistant designers, tailors, drapers, patternmakers, seamstresses, experts in lingerie and corsetry, helpers, managers, saleswomen, embroiderers, beaders, and house models.
Models provided a vital role in acting as muse and inspiration to the couturier; a design was chosen for a specific girl, and she would be involved in every step of its formation. From draping, to fabric choice, to fit, the model was as emotionally involved in a dress as the couturier himself; they relied on each other to create the ultimate fantasy of beauty and chic.
Vicotire Doutreleau was one such lady; she worked as a star model for both Christian Dior and for Yves Saint Laurent at at the house after the master's untimely death in 1957. Her autobiography, Et Dior Crea Victoire chronicles her time working with Dior himself. She sacrifices no detail in her descriptions of the elegant and exclusive world of Parisian haute couture in the mid twentieth century.
Victoire was the black sheep of the model cabine at Dior; she was shorter, darker, and curvier than the others but the designer loved her youthfulness, and her undeniable sex appeal. Victoire would become a star in Paris, yet she always maintained a strong allegience to Dior's fashions, once saying "Dior is the father of my dresses."
This book is an excellent source for anyone interested in fifties fashion, haute couture, and of couse, Christian Dior. Victoire's unique perspective into the process of artful dressmaking really gives one a sense of the times, and of the master himself.
Victoire Doutreleau, Et Dior Crea Victoire. Paris: Laffont, 1997.