Villa Les Rhumbs, Christian Dior’s childhood home in Granville
Christian Dior is a most acclaimed French couturier, but did you know that he was from Normandy?
Christian Dior was born in the coastal town of Granville on January 21, 1905, one of 5 children of a well-off family (his father was an industrialist – a fertilizer manufacturer).
The family acquires Villa les Rhumbs, a large bourgeois mansion facing the sea and nestled in a large park, when Christian is one year old.
Built in the late 19th century, the mansion is named after a marine term which designates the 32 divisions of the compass rose, the motif of the entrance tiling.
In 1925, the future stylist redesigns the gardens, replacing the greenhouse with a pergola and an ornamental pond.
His mother creates a rose garden in the extension of the pergola, against the wall that runs along the Chemin des Douaniers. This small enclave, sheltered from sea winds, is a real sun trap.
Comes the crash of 1929 that ruins so many, including Mr Dior who has no option than to sell the house in 1932, the same year Mme Dior dies!
Fortunately the city of Granville buys the Belle Epoque mansion and opens the garden to the public in 1938.
This childhood home, so dear to Christian Dior and which influences his life and style, becomes in 1997 a museum which hosts an annual exhibition dedicated to his stunning collections.
CD’s brief bio
From an early age, Christian Dior is drawn to fashion and creates sketches he sells for a few pennies.
His artistic career begins in 1928, after finishing his studies, when his father grants him funds to set up an art gallery.
This first adventure comes to an abrupt end with the crash of 1929.
Seven years pass before he starts working as a fashion designer for Robert Piguet fashion house.
During these years he works along Pierre Balmain, another worldwide acclaimed designer.
Compulsory military service puts his career on hold until 1942, when he joins Lucien Lelong fashion house, where he works, still along Balmain, until the end of the war.
Consecration comes on December 8, 1948 when he founds his own fashion house; he is then 43 years old.
He spends the following years creating and asserting his unique style which earns him international renown.
In 1955, CD chooses Yves Saint-Laurent, then only 17 years old, as assistant, and in 1957 appoints him as successor at the head of Maison Dior.
Alas, the great adventure ends for him on October 24, 1957 when he succumbs to a heart attack while sojourning in Italy.
Christian Dior style
All the photos of this article are those I took in September 2017 when I visited the CD exhibition in the Louvre Museum.
The wonderful creations were presented on a color theme and illustrated the evolution of the designer’s style over his too short career!
The effect was sublime and the grand finale was a fairy-tale sound and light show that projected a myriad of small pastel-colored stars on the ceiling and wall of the room.
It was a magical tour through the years, discovering the unique and refined style of Christian Dior who proudly states “Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.”
He retains it as his motto throughout his career.
But his style goes beyond elegance and refinement; it highlights the female body through shapes and choice of fabrics.
Very innovative, it stands out from the style of the time, boxy and economical in fabric (France was coming out of 5 long years of war and rationing!) His creations make up for lost time; he thus uses extra lengths of fabric to wrap women, sheathes their upper body in bustiers and pinches their waists to highlight their hips…
In other words, CD creates dresses that celebrate femininity.
As he says “I have designed flower women”.
Although sometimes criticized – some consider these hyper feminine creations too retrograde – this New Look causes a sensation; it paves the way for more innovation and daring and makes Paris the undisputed capital of Haute Couture.
And of course the CD brand, now part of the Arnault Group, also markets cosmetics and perfumes.
About Granville, the birthplace of Christian Dior
Located on the south coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, facing the Archipelago of Chaucey, Granville is a vibrant coastal town and active harbour.
It became a major cod port during the 15th century when ships sailed off to fish cod off the coast of Newfoundland.
The town became a trendy seaside resort during the 19th century, when the commissioning of the railway line placed it a few hours away from Paris.
But Granville never forgot its fishing roots, as it’s today the leading French shell fishing harbour for whelks, scallops, clams, dog cockles, cuttlefish and sea bream.
The old town developed on the heights of the harbour, on Le Roc where the Germans built an important battery during WWII.
The Batterie de Granville is today an open air site of memory where bunkers and batteries were left in place by the semaphore, and not far from the aquarium – Le Roc des Harmonies.
As you stroll farther inside the old town, nestled behind its old ramparts, you’ll also come across the Musée du Vieux Granville and the Richard Anacréon Modern Art Museum.
And of course, the museum (musee-dior-granville.com) dedicated to one of the most talented fashion designers of all times!
How to get to Granville, the home town of Christian Dior?
Department of Manche
Coordinates Musée Christian Dior – 1 rue d’Estouteville : Lat 48.843121 – Long -1.592612
By road: A13 to and from Paris and A84 linking Northern and Southern France
By train: Paris Gare Montparnasse – Granville (direct around 3h20)
By ferry: Brittany Ferries from and to the UK
: Irish Ferries from and to Ireland
: Manche Iles Express to and from the Channel Islands