the first podcast series that takes us behind the scenes of the Maison Dior
and its unique savoir-faire.
An immersion into the fascinating world of its creator and his innermost inspirations.
Episode 1, Dior in bloom
Christian Dior travelled the world, but France always held a special place in his heart.
Discover the places that shaped the vision of an exceptional artist
and his passion for perfume.
It’s an Indian summer in the Grasse area.
At the first light of dawn, fields of flowers stretch as far as the eye can see.
In rows, women are picking the last jasmine of the year.
With strong Provençal accents, they urge each other to hurry as, beyond midday,
the flowers will start losing their scent.
A little further away, from the windows of a vast drawing room,
boasting a mixture of Louis XVI and neo- Provençal style furniture,
two elegant men are watching the scene.
It’s Christian Dior and Edmond Roudnitska.
The couturier has invited his perfumer friend to the Chateau de la Colle Noire,
bought four years earlier in the heart of the birthplace of French perfume.
He’s currently the only couturier to own his own flower fields,
in which gardeners and pickers are busy, carefully tending to the plants.
As always, Dior is wearing a buttonhole of Lily of the valley.
His good luck charm.
Its fragrance reminds him of his childhood at the beginning of the century.
La Belle Epoque.
It’s the scent of pre-war frivolity, a May Day tradition in a still opulent France.
It takes him back to the 16th arrondissement apartment where he lived as a teenager,
with its arabesques, its neoclassical wing chairs and its pelmets.
That invincible era, when people borrowed from the past,
mixed genres and embraced the avant-garde.
All of Dior’s work was inspired by these pre-war years,
which honored tradition whilst passionately looking to the future.
He even attributed them to his very first triumph, the 1947 “New Look” collection,
which brought him instant celebrity around the world.
Dior, himself, proudly boasted their influence.
“The New Look was the post-war golden age. It was an age that was much anticipated.
An age when people’s expectations were high, following the misery of war.
There was a rebellion against restriction and a desire to distance ourselves from all the horrors we'd lived through.
A moment of madness in fashion was inevitable.”
Dior’s “New Look”, significantly shook up the post-war fashion scene by revealing refreshing,
His dresses quickly sprang up on to magazine covers all around the world.
They were admired in New York, Latin America, Scotland...
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart rushed to get front row seats at his shows.
Shows that, for the first time ever, were scented, as right from the beginning,
Dior had never imagined them otherwise.
He hence became known as a Couturier-Perfumer and for his first collection,
referred to as the « New Look » by Carmel Snow,
the editor-in-chief of the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar,
he sprayed the salons with Miss Dior, his first ever perfume.
Miss Dior remains today one of Dior’s great classics
and, as François Demachy, exclusive perfumer- creator at Dior, explains,
it represents an essential element of the couturier’s vision.
“Miss Dior is different to the other Dior fragrances.
First of all, quite simply because it’s the founding element.
Monsieur Dior launched his first couture collection in conjunction with the perfume,
because he believed that perfume completed a woman’s outfit.
That is the primary quality of Miss Dior.
Also, Miss Dior had to be a perfume that evoked love, the scent of a woman.
So Paul Vacher made a chypre, meaning quite a complex blend, similar to a musical symphony.
There is a precise harmony, in the sense that you can’t quite distinguish the individual ingredients that it is composed of.
And this one’s a green chypre, integrating very natural notes,
green, verdant foliage, and leaves and flowers, of course.
Rose being one of the base notes of its composition.”
For the couturier, perfume was “the indispensable complement to the personality of women,
the finishing touch on a dress.
And one of the reasons Dior wanted to take up residence in the Grasse area,
was to grow the flowers for his scented creations.
Let’s go back to that October morning in 1954 at La Colle Noire.
Even though the restoration work hasn’t finished on the chateau, it is already the pinnacle of chic.
Marc Chagall has just spent a few days there and left a portrait of his host in the guest book.
In the dining room that boasts carved wooden panels, or the neo-Provençal drawing room,
you may run into Salvador Dali, Bernard Buffet, Pierre Bergé or the Vicomtesse de Noailles.
As the jasmine harvest comes to an end, Dior and his perfumer continue to marvel at the stunning panorama:
in the golden light of the rising sun,
thousands of flowers blend with the pink stone of the traditional local buildings.
Looking out over this beautiful landscape,
Dior can’t help but remember that, a decade ago,
he lived just a little further down the valley.
The mistral picks up over Callian in the Var,
disrupting the plains of Fayence and slamming closed the shutters of a small stone house.
On a small patch of land, surrounded by olive trees and a few vines,
Christian Dior and his younger sister, Catherine, in their shirt sleeves,
are reluctantly pulling up rose bushes and jasmine plants.
They have to prepare the ground so they can plant vegetables for the following spring.
The key to survival during the Occupation.
Dior looks up to the top of the hill, a few miles away.
Daydreaming, he gazes at a château: La Colle Noire.
He doesn’t yet know that one day it’ll be his.
Just as Dior was starting out as a fashion designer, he was called up for military service,
then forced to retreat to his father’s house in Callian in the free zone.
Les Naÿssès was a small rustic farmhouse, with no running water or electricity;
it was the polar opposite of La Colle Noire.
Here, life was hard and the future bleak.
For Christian, tearing out these flowers felt like destroying his cherished childhood memories.
Memories all the more precious because of the dark times in which they were living.
The Dior family weren’t actually from this area.
They came from the other side of the country, from Normandy.
They grew up in the region of La Manche, where they spent much happier days.
Perched on a windswept cliff is a vast villa overlooking the sea.
Under a dark sky, heralding the next downpour,
the wide slate roof shelters a beautiful soft pink exterior.
There is a large winter garden with a rose window at the front,
lanked on either side by bay windows.
Christian Dior roams the grounds of this charming house, notebook and pencil in hand.
He is 14.
His mother, Madeleine, has given him an ambitious challenge for his age.
Young Christian is sketching the designs for a Mediterranean-inspired landscaped garden.
He has included an ornamental pond and a pergola to complement the villa, his childhood home.
The villa is called Les Rhumbs.
Although strange, the name was chosen to reflect the way the house is exposed to the winds
and is illustrated by the mosaic wind rose that adorns the entrance of the villa.
The inside of the building was designed and decorated by the boy’s mother.
Madeleine Dior chose a typical Belle Epoque style,
mixing neoclassical objects with odds and ends from the Paris Exposition.
There’s a Henri Deux dining room with red and yellow stained-glass windows
and a ceiling boasting a Japanese-inspired mural.
It’s primarily a cosy retreat for the whole family,
in a location where the weather can change in a heartbeat.
It was in this house that Dior fell in love with the two colours that became so important in his future collections:
pink and grey.
Effervescent happiness and restrained elegance.
Just like the contrast between rainy Normandy and mild Provence,
where Christian Dior moved later in life.
This harmonious combination is still present today in the aesthetics of the Miss Dior campaigns.
Les Rhumbs, and the period it evokes,
will always provide nostalgic inspiration for the couturier,
especially the combination of both a comfortable and sophisticated life.
The villa is now the Christian Dior Museum of Granville,
having been preserved and restored since.
Sadly, Dior and his family would eventually have to give up this heaven on earth.
With the 1929 crash a decade later,
they were forced to move to the little house of Nayssès in Caillian.
Christian didn’t adapt well to this change, compounded by his beloved mother’s death in 1931.
The likelihood is that from then on, his sense of nostalgia for happier times in Granville grew,
and his future designs became more and more bright and flamboyant.
Throughout his life, the couturier would always have his haven of peace in mind,
as Frédéric Bourdelier, Brand Culture & Heritage Director at Dior, explains:
“Granville really was the most significant place in Christian Dior’s life.
I would even go so far as to say that the place inspired his imagination
and moreover, his floral sensibility,
his predilection for nature and flora.
I don’t think he would have become the great couturier or perfumer he was later in life,
if he hadn’t been shaped by this place. He owed that house everything.
Losing his childhood garden was like losing his garden of Eden
and he couldn’t rest until he’d rebuilt the home of his past from top to bottom.
The loss of Les Rhumbs made him feel as though he’d lost his origins, so in his recollection, he idealized everything.
I think La Colle Noire was a way for Christian Dior to recreate his lost past,
the chance to replicate it somewhere else...
In his memoirs he says:
“I want to reconstruct, in a different climate, the enclosed garden that protected my childhood.”
You can imagine the place, on top of a cliff, the sea in CinemaScope, the ocean spray, the salty wind...
the house was very exposed to the elements.
And contrary to the current trend towards sea views,
the work Madeleine Dior and her son carried out in the garden
was a way of protecting themselves from the ravages of the sea.
In his memoirs he talks about an island, and the feeling of a self-contained, protected world,
with its thickets, surprises and a few small touches from the South.
It’s a very mild place with no harsh winters or frost,
almost a Provençal garden in a Norman climate.
So you can just see this young child in Granville on rainy days,
inside Les Rhumbs, drawing, drawing endlessly.
Copying flowers. Learning their Latin names by heart from Madeleine’s seed catalogues,
like Vilmourin, which she subscribed to.
So it was a sort of awakening to both nature and drawing.
And maybe even to the science of flowers".
Dior had been drawing since he was very young.
he submitted some of his sketches to Parisian fashion houses and was taken on by Robert Piguet.
Unfortunately, his mobilization cut short this experience.
However, in 1942 he resumed his artistic career,
joining another young man, Pierre Balmain, as a designer for Lucien Lelong, the already well-established couturier.
Barely four years later, in 1946, Dior opened his own house.
And the following year he presented the two lines of his first collection:
“En Huit” and “Corolle”,
a name recalling Dior’s life-long love of flowers.
The show was taking place in February 1947 at 30 Avenue Montaigne,
where the Maison Christian Dior opened the year before.
People rush to the elegant townhouse; its ornate ceilings adorned with cornice mouldings.
Visitors include close friends of Dior, customers, (predominately female),
a few professional buyers and numerous journalists from the fashion world.
A deliciously mysterious perfume floats in the air and every woman there wants to wear it.
The models, adorned in sumptuous fabrics in soft and vibrant colours,
saunter through the spacious, grey and white walled rooms
– Trianon grey, a reference to the Versailles of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.
Inspired by the dresses of the 1900s, Dior’s fuller skirts contrast dramatically
with the styles in vogue from the other fashion houses,
which were austere, monochrome and almost military.
Dior is unaware he’s witnessing the birth of the “New Look”,
which would earn him international acclaim in just a few hours.
For the moment, he simply marvels as his gowns come to life,
just as he used to watch roses bloom as a boy in his childhood home.
Today, at 30 avenue Montaigne,
most of the original furniture from the end of the 1940s remains untouched.
You can still admire the same Trianon grey sofas and the neoclassical chairs and banquettes.
When Nathalie Portman, Charlize Theron or Jennifer Lawrence come for a fitting,
they individually revive the spirit of the couturier’s childhood memories.
And when they wear one of Dior’s fragrances,
they pay the most fitting and personal tribute to his memory.
About the evocative power of perfume, Dior wrote:
“You can recall a sight or a sound at will. You can play a tune you like in your head,
visualise your favourite landscape by closing your eyes, but you can’t evoke a perfume, no matter how much you love it.
There is nothing more ‘evocative’ than a perfume because it remains a vivid memory that doesn’t fade.
It’s not like music or a landscape that you have recalled on many occasions.
No. When you smell a perfume it’s like experiencing your first encounter with it,
all over again. After twenty years, it still has the same evocative power.”
It’s a mild day in October 1954 near Grasse,
and the perfumer Edmond Roudnitska is preparing to offer Dior a precious fragment of days gone by.
Following the jasmine picking at La Colle Noire,
Dior accompanies his associate to his hillside house in Cabris, just a stone’s throw away.
Just as they are finishing lunch with friends on the shaded terrace,
the perfumer slips away for a moment, reappearing with a bottle which he hands to the designer.
Dior smells the contents and declares simply:
“this is my next perfume”.
It’s the aroma of lily of the valley.
Everybody in the business knows it’s impossible to extract the essence.
Christian Dior knows this too.
Lily of the valley is what is known as a “mute” flower.
His perfumer’s achievement is therefore quite astonishing.
By expertly blending a large number of different flowers,
including the famous Grasse jasmine,
he has managed to recreate the scent of La Belle Epoque, so cherished by the couturier.
Dior will call this perfume Diorissimo and will design the bottle himself.
“Put simply, I could say that Diorissimo is a single floral fragrance,
but that’s not quite correct.
Alongside the scent of lily of the valley,
there are all the other scents you can find associated with lily of the valley…
the aroma of the forest, of greenery, nature, fresh air.
Technically, it’s a real achievement.
And the proof is that it’s still considered the best lily of the valley scent captured in perfume,
by all perfumers to the present day. It’s the benchmark”
Tragically, Christian Dior wasn’t able to reconstruct the entire Belle Epoque décor at La Colle Noire,
due to his premature death in 1957.
It took nearly sixty years for his vision to become a reality.
10 May 2016.
After many years of work, La Colle Noire’s restoration is finally complete.
Fields of jasmine and roses extend all around the chateau,
filling the warm Provençal spring evening with their fragrance.
Charlize Theron, wearing a white Christian Dior bustier dress, inaugurates the chateau,
surrounded by close friends of the house.
At the entrance, we find the wind rose, replicated from les Rhumbs in Granville,
but made out of little pebbles here, rather than mosaics.
Inside, most of the rooms have been restored meticulously
in keeping with the designs and instructions left by Dior before his death.
The ambiance is a true reflection of the one he loved so much:
a blend of almost rustic comfort and discreet splendour.
We can admire the Egyptian bedroom and the oriental panoramas that adorn the walls.
There’s even a pergola and an ornamental pond that Dior insisted on having built,
a testament to the ones he designed as a teenager for the house in Granville.
François Demachy, exclusive perfumer-creator at Dior,
loves to visit regularly, like a pilgrimage, from Grasse, where he lives and works.
“La Colle Noire is a place that has a soul. You enter this haven of greenery, bordered by Cypress trees.
There’s an opening onto the outside from the east and practically no buildings as far as the eye can see.
We have the same vision as Monsieur Dior had.
That is to say we’re in the place he loved.
The whole place has kept its soul.
I promise you, when you go down to the kitchen,
where there’s a piano that is still there, and that still works,
it’s really moving.
When you rediscover all these things, it’s touching.
The soul is there. And it’s one of the rare places where you feel it,
because it’s very quiet and there’s an almost timeless quality about it.”
The Château de la Colle Noire reproduces Christian Dior’s vision so perfectly
that when you enter the property,
you are actually uplifted by the couturier’s spirit,
just like he was by the spirit of the lands in which he grew up
and which made him into one of the world’s most iconic designers ever known.
And it’s by cherishing the special places of his past,
these landscapes that are radically different and, nevertheless,
so French, that he was able to create his masterpieces, be they perfumes, dresses or interiors.
In this respect, we can say that Christian Dior is,
without a doubt, the most French of all the couturiers.
Nobody else, before or since,
has promoted the values and landscapes of a radiant France to such a high standard.
that Dior considered as land and history and from which he only wanted to remember the idyllic days.
A sentimental homeland which continually nourished his creations,
and which made his legacy and his Maison