Justine Picardie, author of Miss Dior

Fantasy on the Dance Floor, Barbara Mullen, dress by Christian Dior, 1949. Photograph by Lillian Bassman (c) Estate of Lillian Bassman

The book Miss Dior by author and journalist Justine Picardie centres on the story of Catherine Dior.  Sister of the designer Christian, she was a florist who became a member of the French Resistance during WW2 and was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.  At the end of the war, when Christian went to meet her at the station, she was so malnourished that he didn’t even recognise her.  His famous ‘New Look’ launched in 1947, featured a dress created just for her and the fragrance Miss Dior was inspired by her. Here Justine tell us more about the book and to celebrate the publication, we’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky reader.  Just enter the prize draw below.

How did you get the idea for writing Miss Dior?
I was interested in writing a biography of Christian Dior, and started looking in the Dior archives in Paris in 2010, when very little was known about his sister Catherine Dior, other than the fact that she was his inspiration for his first and most famous perfume, Miss Dior. But as soon as I discovered that she had been in the French Resistance, and was deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp during the Second World War, I felt that her story was incredibly important and deserved to be told.

Dior Couture Croquis collection HC PE 1949 modele Miss Dior 001; Legende: Miss Dior Robe du Soir courte Brodée de mille fleurs; Copyright: Collection Dior Heritage, Paris

The research into the historical background of the book is very impressive – did this take you a long time and where did you do your research?

The research for the book took many years, and it led me from the Dior archives in Paris to the Christian Dior museum in Granville, which was the Dior family home on the coast of Normandy. I also looked at various archives of the French Resistance, and I travelled to Germany, to research Catherine Dior’s imprisonment at Ravensbruck concentration camp and a series of three sub camps, where she was forced to work as a slave labourer. And I spent a long time going through the military archives, too, in order to understand the way in which the Gestapo operated in Paris during the Second World War, using French collaborators.

The relationship between Christian and his sister Catherine is at the core of the book and they are such a fascinating contrast – the couturier and the war resistance heroine. What do you think it was that drew them together?

The relationship between Christian and Catherine Dior was based on friendship, a shared love of flowers and gardening, and an intuitive understanding of one another. He was 12 years older than her, and very protective of her when their mother died, when Catherine was just 13 years old. But they became close friends, too, with a mutual respect and unwavering loyalty.

Famille Dior, Portrait des enfants Dior: Catherine, Bernard, Jacqueline, Christian et Raymond
Copyright: Collection Musee Christian Dior, Granville

What do you think that Christian would have thought of the House of Dior today?
I hope that Christian would approve of the House of Dior today — it truly understands and celebrates his legacy, while Maria Grazia Chiuri, as the first female creative director, has reinterpreted Dior icons, such as the Bar jacket, for the modern woman, with sensitivity as well as graceful panache.

Barbara Mullen wearing the “Miss Dior” dress from Christian Dior’s spring/summer 1949 collection. 

Photograph by Lillian Bassman for Harper’s Bazaar (c) Estate of Lillian Bassman.

Have you started working on another book?  Or is there a project that you would like to do?

I’m certainly thinking about my next book, and hoping to start writing it before too long — though I don’t want to tempt fate by talking about it yet!

We love your Greetings from the Old Rectory feed on Instagram.  Please can you tell us some of your favourite spots to visit in Norfolk?
We live close to the River Waveney, which is so peaceful, and I swim there in the summer. The meandering river forms the border between Norfolk and Suffolk — and we live on the Norfolk side — but I also like visiting the Suffolk coast, which is about half an hour away from us: Southwold and Walberswick are both delightful little seaside towns. And the shingle beach at Dunwich is wild and beautiful.
Which are your 3 favourite accounts to follow on Instagram?
I’m a fan of Jo Thompson, who is a brilliant garden designer: @jothompsongarden

I also like @sarahravenperchill and @british_society. And obviously, A Little Bird, too!

Which 3 books have you loved reading most this year and/or are looking forward to reading this autumn?

I loved Juliet Nicolson’s Frostquake, Edmund de Waal’s Letters to Camondo, and Anne Sebba’s Ethel Rosenberg

What advice would you give to anybody wanting to write a book but who isn’t sure where to start?

Try to find your own, most authentic voice – don’t try to write like anyone else. And write from the heart, about a subject or a story that you find utterly compelling. And keep writing – the more you do it, the more you discover what is true to you.

Please can you tell us about any talks that you are doing for the book that our readers can join (in person/on zoom)?</ style=”text-align: left;”>You can find the details of my forthcoming talks on my Instagram account @justinepicardie
My next event is at Sevenoaks bookshop on Wednesday 15th September at 7.30pm (details at www.sevenoaksbookshop.co.uk)

Justine Picardie, author of Miss Dior
— Francesca
8th September 2021

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