Three vibrant looks by John Galliano for Dior, featuring a leopard-print dress in the centre
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Millinery at Dior

8 March 2022

By Boshra Al Meraikhi

Christian Dior, the only haute couture fashion house with its own millinery workroom, has a personal history with the art of hat making.

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A hat is essential to any outfit. It completes it. In a way, a hat is the best way to express your personality.

Christian Dior

Monsieur Dior was raised at a time when no look was complete without a hat, and many people don’t realise that he was first a hat designer. He sold his hat sketches to newspapers in Paris before opening his own fashion house. On 12 February 1947, Dior unveiled his first-ever couture collection Corolle to the public and debuted the revolutionary Bar suit ensemble, an icon of the New Look that defined an era of fashion.

A gallery view with Christian Dior's 1947 Bar suit on show at the exhibition in M7.

Dior paired a tonkinois hat with the Bar suit. Photo: © Nelson Garrido

Hats for Dior became central to his collections, an aesthetic which his successors – from Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferré to John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri – followed and reinvented for the House.

Dior’s legendary muse and friend, Mitzah Bricard, was known for her unmistakable style and elegance, especially her hats. She often dressed in leopard print from head to toe, which inspired Dior in his 1947 collection, creating two leopard-print dresses. The print was considered vulgar at the time, but Dior was able to reverse public opinion by making it a major code of the House. Later on, Dior appointed Bricard as the head of the millinery atelier who, as a milliner, imagined the iconic leopard hat in 1950.

In Dior’s early years, big hats were often synonymous with dressing up. After waning in popularity, they gained importance again in the early 1990s in the hands of Gianfranco Ferré for Dior until becoming defining statements with John Galliano in the early 2000s.

Three vibrant looks by John Galliano for Dior, featuring a leopard-print dress in the centre

Photo: © Daniel Sims

Designer extraordinaire Stephen Jones began a tenure as Dior’s official milliner in 1996, where he established the House’s reputation for iconic and whimsical headpieces. He traces the line from Dior’s earliest creations to his very own designs for John Galliano, Raf Simons and his reworking of the classic beret for Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior today.

Millinery was a dream come true for Jones, but an unexpected one. During the 1970s, when the punk era emerged in London, he was a fashion student at Saint Martin’s School of Art. “Hats were not part of the mid-1970s fashion language, and certainly not cool,” he has written in Dior Hats: From Christian Dior to Stephen Jones. Jones started creating hats for himself and his friends in the late ‘70s and opened his first boutique in 1980 in Covent Garden, London.

One of the wonderful things about millinery is that it’s so hands-on. It’s as immediate as making a cake!

Stephen Jones

Portrait of Dior's milliner Stephen Jones at the Christian Dior exhibition at M7.

Stephen Jones in Christian Dior Designer of Dreams at M7, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Sims

Throughout his more than 40-year career, the legendary milliner has worked with couturiers and designers from Vivienne Westwood, Daniel Roseberry, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Thierry Mugler, to name a few. Jones also created hats for clients ranging from Princess Diana to Rihanna.

Explore the unique Dior hats along with the selection of haute couture pieces never been shown before, ensembles from the private collection of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, sketches and archival videos at the exhibition Christian Dior Designer of Dreams on view at M7 until 2 April 2022.

Boshra Al Meraikhi is a Content Planning Coordinator at Qatar Museums.