Girl in Dior
Design: Philippe Ravon
Translated by Joe Johnson.
As with many notorious figures, Christian Dior has become such an institution today that it's often very difficult to relive the freshness of his initial impact on the wider world. Paris during 1947 was still reeling from the climate of wartime austerity when the soon to be notorious designer held his first fashion show. The assembled crowd of media, wealthy socialites, and celebrity guests were so taken with Dior's daring use of fabric that he was quickly hailed as a significant new creative voice, even as the proletariat were less than impressed by what looked to them as nothing more than wasteful opulence. The event would anticipate the pageantry of modern fashion shows, not to mention the high-low divide in people's reaction to haute couture. But the avant garde nature of Dior's show and his decade-long body of work is what veteran French cartoonist Annie Goetzinger impresses on the reader. It's a world she so meticulously illustrates that her graphic novel Girl in Dior could just as well be characterized as a beautiful art book about women's clothes.
The designer himself remains inscrutable, though he cuts a dashing figure as portrayed by Goetzinger. His refined aquiline profile and serene manner forms the nexus point of a highly-involved process which begins with the sketches he creates at his country house just outside the city, translated into a series of linen prototypes until the designs are finalized, and the models are bought in to become accustomed to wearing them for the eventual fashion show. For Goetzinger, the creative process of making a dress involving the efforts of many passionate individuals, is just as fascinating as the dress itself. More importantly, they work happily under Dior's steadfast leadership. No one feels they're being exploited.
The POV character that allows the reader to peer into the House of Dior is the fictional Clara Nohant, who starts out as a cub reporter hired to write about the 1947 show. She quickly becomes an enthusiastic Dior proponent and organizes a photo op. But after it's ruined by an impromptu protest, Clara is fired from her job. Fortunately, this misadventure gains the attention of Dior, who meets with her, then hires her. The dowdy Clara is transformed into a glamorous Audrey Hepburn lookalike, becomes one of Dior's top models and also a close confidant.
On paper the plot reads as a most generic kind of wish fulfillment. Clara herself remains fairly two dimensional throughout. But the hero of the story isn't really her or the great man himself. Visually, the stars of the show are Dior's magnificent dresses. Goetzinger's figures have a sensual Art Nouveau quality to them, which is perfect for capturing the ambiance of high fashion. Her models all assume that expression of studied insouciance in order to not distract from the clothes. They take the stage in a series of lushly painted page spreads. Goetzinger's delicate linework and brush strokes absolutely shines in capturing the flow, weight, texture and form of every item of clothing. Whatever one thinks of the fashion industry as a whole, these painstakingly designed, crafted, and beautifully worn dresses are the embodiment of Dior's sentiment "dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable."