Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture

Image of Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture
Release Date: 
October 19, 2021
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by: 

“As a biography of the title character, Miss Dior falls short, but as an exceptional discussion on France during WWII and the couture industry, it is fascinating reading and will not disappoint.”

The book blurb for Miss Dior by Justine Picardie, “A long-overdue and intimate restoration of Catherine Dior’s story that illuminates the work of the most iconic designer of the postwar world—her brother, Christian—and casts new light on the overlooked life of a quietly courageous, quietly extraordinary woman” is only partially true.

While the book provides excellent focus on Christian, the story of Catharine Dior is thin to almost being transparent. The book focuses not on the details of Catharine’s life but on the era in which she lived and the extraordinary successes of her brother, Christian.

Now, having said that, the reader will find the book an exceptional piece of work in bringing the early to late 20th century to life through vivid and clear descriptions.

The lack of depth relative to Catherine Dior’s life can simply be chalked up to a lack of available detail. To be sure, Picardie’s research is remarkable, her writing grabs and holds the reader tight from beginning to end, but there just isn’t a lot about Catherine.

The book opens with what information there is available about the Dior family—the mother, Madeleine; the father Maurice; the children, Christian, Jacqueline, Bernard, Raymond, and Catherine. The story describes the close relationship between Christian and his youngest sister, Catherine—a relationship that lasted throughout their lives.

On a personal level, early on we are introduced to Hervé des Charbonneries, a married man with whom Catherine spent her life, although they never married, and he never divorced.

Probably the most interesting part of Miss Dior is the discussion about France, particularly Paris, during World War II. Picardie outlines the activities of the French resistance, with a focus on the women who participated. Catherine Dior devoted time and energy into helping the resistance as a strong member, but Picardie goes into more detail about the people working on both sides of the Nazi takeover and how the resistance women were physically abused.

The action of the Nazi leaders is particularly hard to read, and yet, at the same time, hard to put down. The time spent in the concentration camp at Ravensbrük details the abuses the women experienced from both male and female members of the Nazi party.  Many of the women kept diaries on whatever scraps of paper they could find; this material was used during the war crimes trials and is much of the material Picardie used here.

The story during the war revolves around several issues including the hunt for the resistance fighters on the one hand and the continuing existence of the couture environment on the other hand. Picardie explains the role Christian played in preventing the movement of the fashion industry from Paris to Berlin.

After the war, with Catherine’s return to Paris, she remained primarily behind the scenes. Picardie explains how Catherine’s love of flowers played a role in her recovery as she created a floral business.

Picardie ties the title of the book, Miss Dior, into more than just Catherine, as her brother Christian created a perfume with that name, using the scents that most appealed to Catherine as its foundation. A quirk of Christian’s was that he named his creations, and one of if not his most favorite dress creation he also named “Miss Dior,” presumably to honor his sister.

Although the book is not heavy with details about Catherine’s life, it is peppered with photographs, many of which are of Catherine.  

As a biography of the title character, Miss Dior falls short, but as an exceptional discussion on France during WWII and the couture industry, it is fascinating reading and will not disappoint.