Working for Christian Dior by Jean Dawnay

Fashion and Fairytales – Dawnay and Dior

After my review for Dior: Exhibition of Dreams it was lovely to be asked to review a gorgeous little book, Working for Christian Dior, by Jean Dawnay.

Working for Christian Dior by Jean Dawnay

This little story, only fifty or so pages long but packed with fabulous anecdotes and amazing photos, is the true tale of a girl who became a Dior model, and a household name, in the 1950s. I absolutely loved it and swallowed it whole.

Jean Dawnay

Jean Dawnay starts off by upping sticks and setting off to Paris, with scarcely a penny in her pocket but with an enormous dream in her heart – to become a French fashion model. All right, she had a head start – she was already a model in London, she was beautiful and she had, gulp, an eighteen inch waist.

Jean Dawnay – an eighteen inch waist

Nevertheless, this is the story of a determined person who took her dream by the throat and made it real – and I can’t help but admire her. She only had 200 francs to her name and had to borrow money from the doorman in her hotel. Although she doesn’t stress the point, one can read between the lines that this was not a good place to be, and paying the man back, with interest, became a powerful spur to her progress.

It didn’t take Jean long to land a much-coveted contract with Christian Dior himself, and she tells us much about his methods of creation, which were incredibly painstaking – until inspiration struck him to create a last-minute dress, which he threw together in a frenzy, of course becoming the biggest seller of one of the collections.

Jean Dawnay didn’t stay in Paris for long. As in all the best stories, this fashion princess was swept off her feet by a real life prince, the Russian George Galitzine, and she waltzed away to a life of, I sincerely hope, true domestic bliss.

Her daughter Katya writes the foreword to the book, and includes the lovely detail that her mother, who died aged 91, had quietly kept one of the Dior dresses she had modelled in her wardrobe until the very end. The dress has been donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A must-read for anyone who loves fashion – and fairytales.

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