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The Tale of Miss Dior – Catherine Dior, Freedom Fighter and Muse

The allure of Dior’s New Look and the groundbreaking designs he crafted for the female silhouette have dazzled since 1947. Dior created a classically elegant shape that bloomed into the feminine vision we associate with the 1950s. The silhouette consists of a cinched-in waist and a flowing skirt, opening up like a rose-bud. Dior’s look has transcended into highly coveted bags such as the Lady Dior and the infamous Miss Dior perfume with its delicate notes of mandarin, gardenia, and bergamot. Yet many may be surprised to hear the tale of the woman who inspired the perfume which adorns the wrists of so many women today. This influential individual is Dior’s sister, Catherine Dior. 

Born in 1917 in the dream-like location of Granville, Normandy, Catherine grew up surrounded by beautiful orchards and flower gardens. Catherine played with her brother Christian in their family’s fairytale-like, pink-hued Villa Les Rhumbs, which stands on the cliff facing the Channel Islands in Granville, Normandy. Although this was a golden childhood, Catherine’s joy soon faded following the financial crash of 1929, which led to the Dior family’s descent into bankruptcy. 

Picture credit: The Guardian

Catherine’s troubles did not cease and in November 1941, she met and fell in love with Herve des Charbonneries, one of the leading members of the French resistance. Using her brother’s apartment as a place to host underground meetings, Catherine became deeply involved in transmitting clandestine reports to London and bolstering the French resistance to Nazi occupation. 

Unfortunately, on 6 July 1944, Catherine was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo. Although Christian attempted to seek Catherine’s protection under the Swedish state, she was deported in August on a train leading towards the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp. Catherine was then transported to the military prison of Torgau and made to work on the production of explosives. As if by fate, Catherine was captured by the US Army on 19th April 1945 and subsequently liberated near Dresden during the same month.

As a result of her sheer bravery, Catherine was awarded medals of honour such as the Croix de Guerre, the Combatant Volunteer Cross of the Resistance, the Combatant’s Cross and the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom 

The tale of Miss Dior 

‘What I remember the most about the women who were part of my childhood was their perfume; perfume lasts much longer than the moment.’ Christian Dior, 1951 

Picture Credit: elle.com

Over time, Miss Dior has become a fragrance that speaks to the fashion house’s central tenements… elegance, femininity and timeless style. Originally crafted in an hourglass-shaped bottle, the signature perfume was launched in 1947 by the House of Dior, debuting quickly after the launch of Dior’s New Look. It is believed that the name of the fragrance was chosen in tribute to Catherine. The tale attached to it is that Catherine, upon entering the room whilst Christian was conjuring ideas for the perfume, with his muse Mitzah Bicard, Bicard called out:

‘Ah, here’s Miss Dior!’ and Christian finally settled upon the name of his first perfume. The same name would be given to a strapless ‘mille fleurs’ evening dress, first shown in 1949. The scent itself consists of mandarin, gardenia, and bergamot alongside jasmine, narcissus and rose.  

Modern Campaigns for Miss Dior

Post-war, Catherine filled her life with flowers and worked with her husband, Charbonneries at Halles market in Paris, trading flowers from the south of France. Eventually, Catherine moved to Provence and bought a rose farm to produce new fragrances, described as ‘an enchanted garden under the vast glass domes of Les Halles.’ Catherine’s story is one of sacrifice and bravery in the face of adversity and it is one that will endure. Hopefully, as each woman spritzes themselves with their beloved Miss Dior, they shall think of this inspiring soul who ceaselessly fought for the freedom of those who could not…

Picture credit: medium.com

Fruzsina Vida is the Arts & Culture Editor at The Yorker. If you have any questions or queries, please contact her at arts@theyorker.co.uk.