Dior and the Birth of the Cool

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In 1945, at the end of World War II, the center of Western art, music and architecture shifted to New York. With Europe and Asia in shambles, new schools of creative thought took hold in America that emphasized individualism, minimalism and color. By the late 1940s, this could be seen and heard in Manhattan in the designs for glass skyscrapers such as the U.N. Headquarters and Lever House, in jazz, and in the art of abstract expressionist painters such as Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt and others.

In jazz, as the excitement of bebop ran its course in the late 1940s, a new romantic cool began to emerge in the compositions, arrangements and playing styles of musicians such as Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Lennie Tristano, Gerry Mulligan, Claude Thornhill, Gil Evans and Johnny Carisi. Songs such as Dameron's Focus, Davis's Deception, Carisi's Israel, Evans's arrangement of Boplicity and Mulligan's Jeru all had a geometric contrapuntal quality and a breezy, almost feminine articulation.

Let's listen to a couple. Here's Dameron's Focus...



And here's Mulligan's Jeru...



But not all post-war modernism surfaced in New York. Fashion, for example, remained the purview of Paris, where cutting-edge designers began re-inventing women's couture to outdo each other and stand out. During the war, women's clothing in France had been reduced to manly slacks and utilitarian tops. After the war, the race among the design houses of Paris was back on.

On February 12, 1947, Christian Dior unveiled a new, imaginative approach to couture that celebrated femininity with wasp-waist designs, full hips and confident, coy hats. Overnight, the silhouettes of women's clothes began to change. The press called Dior's revolutionary line the “New Look," which featured ensembles that flowed with geometric curves and modern attitudes. And because Paris's high fashion quickly found its way into American magazines that influenced worldwide designers, Dior's New Look became a significant turning point and music to the eyes. The new femininity was angular and free, with a dash of romantic cool.

Here's a brief look at Dior's New Look. As you watch, realize that his new line was connected aesthetically to imaginative glass building, contrapuntal cool jazz and abstraction in painting. All shared the same optimism and passion for minimalist beauty...



And here's Dior's Bar Suit in action....



Bonus: Here's the Billy Taylor Trio in Paris in late 1946 playing Stridin' Down Champs Elysées, a song that illustrates the effervescent spirit of the city when Dior's New Look was being designed...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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