Christian Dior and the art of branding

An exhibition in Paris devoted to the legendary fashion designer touches on his marketing genius. We look at the elements that built his brand.

by Mark Tungate , MAYDREAM

Picture © Luc Boegly

Among the many notes that guide visitors through the exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” in Paris, one in particular stands out. It describes the designer as “a visionary who anticipated the future development of the fashion and luxury industry.”

In a single decade – from the launch of the New Look in 1947 to his premature death ten years later at the age of 52 – he created an indelible brand and the template for almost every fashion house that followed. To give just one example, Dior launched his first collection in tandem with his first perfume, Miss Dior.

The exhibition notes state: “Dior felt that a gown without perfume was incomplete.” But it’s perhaps more accurate to say that Dior managed to convince his customers that they weren’t fully dressed without a puff of fragrance. Moreover, he understood that for women who couldn’t afford haute couture – that’s to say, almost all of them – a spritz of Miss Dior was an accessible path to his world of luxury.

Picture © Adrien Dirand 

To this day, the luxury industry remains pyramid shaped, with wildly expensive haute couture dresses at the top – and perfume and sunglasses at the bottom. Haute couture is not profitable, but it drives the dream.

Dior – whose father was a businessman specialising in fertiliser (it’s tempting, but I won’t go there) – had no problem with the concept of branding. In order to corner the burgeoning US market for ready-to-wear fashion, he placed his name on as many accessories as he could, starting with hosiery. He once playfully suggested that he would “do a Dior ham…or a Dior roast beef” if he had to. He certainly registered a wine and spirits trademark.

Picture © Adrien Dirand

The exhibition concentrates mainly on clothes – and there’s no doubt that Dior was a genius, not to mention those who designed for the brand after him, including Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and John Galliano. But there’s also a small cinema showing many of the brand’s perfume commercials. Alongside runway shows, fragrance ads are the key contributors to the mythology of a luxury brand.

As such, expense is rarely spared, and they are usually shot by star directors. This one for Poison from 1987 was directed by Claude Chabrol, member of the French New Wave and director of the acclaimed 1991 version of Madame Bovary.

Photographer Dominique Issermann (to whom her frequent subject Leonard Cohen dedicated his album I’m Your Man, by the way), shot this classic for Dune.

Moving away from France, we find none other than David Lynch at the helm of this ad for Dior’s masculine fragrance Fahrenheit.

Staying in the masculine realm, big guns Guy Richie and Jude Law teamed up for an incarnation of Dior Homme.

 

By the time we get to Olivier Dahan’s Lady Noire Affair in 2008, the "it bag" has become a brand distribution device to rival fragrance packaging - as well as acting as a badge of status. Meanwhile, the advertising has become as glossy and overblown as the luxury industry itself. This is a mere trailer for the full 8-minute epic.

If you’ve watched all these ads in quick succession, you may mind yourself swimming in an ethereal realm of beauty and seductive imagery. That’s the art of fashion branding. An art that Christian Dior arguably created, and certainly mastered.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams is at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris until January 18.

Mark Tungate is the author of Luxury World: The Past, Present and Future of Luxury Brands.