It was in Granville, in the gardens of the seaside villa belonging to his parents, that Christian Dior acquired his unique horticultural knowledge and great sensitivity. Far from contenting himself with book learning, he very early on began getting his hands dirty, dreaming up layouts that could be integrated into his mother's Pharaonic botanical construction site: he was notably to supervise the erection of a pergola and a rose garden right on the cliff top.
Granville, a garden of Eden
In this Normandy-style Garden of Eden, the perfumes, pigments, the delicate, precise layout of the petals and the wind in the great pines sharpened the senses. Here he gathered aesthetic and olfactory notes that were later to form part of his creations and make up the melody of his spirit. Surrounded by protective walls, his childhood garden laughed in the face of treacherous weather. It obeyed only the desires of Madeleine Dior, effectively seconded by her landscape gardener Christian. The luxuriant vegetation of the villa Les Rhumbs, with its the hawthorns, heliotropes, wisterias, resedas and of course roses, were to prove an inexhaustible source of inspiration: comforting and joyful, luminous and colourful, refreshing and perfumed. Everything dates back to this fantastical plot of land: the very idea of the "flower woman", the Corolle and Tulipe lines, the lily-of-the-valley stitched inside linings or hems, worn in his buttonhole or enclosed within a bottle of Diorissimo, the bouquet of rose, gardenia, sage and oak moss that escapes from the crystal amphora of Miss Dior, the palette of poppy red, daffodil yellow, nasturtium orange, grass green, peony pink and forget-me-not blue...
An unbridled passion for flowers
At every stage of his life, but also in the most insignificant of everyday details, Christian Dior never ceased to reconstruct the poetry and magic of this original garden. Nor did he skimp on floral decoration at 30 Avenue Montaigne on 12 February 1947, the day of his first haute couture fashion show.
Journalists, purchasers, celebrities and friends were welcomed at the entrance by palms, swooned before long blue delphiniums, pink sweet peas and the famously adored white lily of the valley.. while the air, heavy with Miss Dior, enveloped the large Corolle skirts.
The art of cultivating gardens
More than any other, the rose was to remain his favourite flower: a flower of infinite varieties, the symbol of Granville, a memory of the rose garden where he invested so much energy. Its perfumes, its colours, the various forms of its petals: the rose is a journey in its own right: "In planting a lilac, a pear tree, a willow, choosing tulip bulbs, the colours of cosmos flowers and zinnias, knowing the ways of peas or tarragon, Christian Dior was in a class of his own... After couture, his favourite activity was his weekly return to the earth", stated Marika Genty in the Christian Dior biography by Marie-France Pochna. Far from Parisian effervescence, celebrity and success, he found a refuge in the gardens of his country houses.
In Milly-la-Forêt at Le Moulin du Coudret, ("my first house of my very own!"), he traded his perfect grey striped suits for his favourite simple gardening outfit, without battling an eyelid. He would put on his rubber waders, thick jumper and hat and head off to filter and bottle his raspberry liqueur, plant, hoe and water. This quickly bore fruit as, according to Françoise Giroud, "one was walking on flowers". In his memoire, Dior talks of his garden, which of course reminded him of his mother's in Granville. "Having been lucky enough to retain the wonderful, faithful Ivan who looked after my garden in Fleury, I asked him to create the one in Coudret. Despite its size, I wanted it to be as simple and modest as the little gardens of the country houses that lined the roads in my beloved Normandy. For a result so sensible in appearance, it was necessary to achieve real miracles, conquer the marshes, tame the river and control the surrounding forest. Thus protected from the neighbourhood, with the only view that of my flowers, my canals and my little lake, I can hear the bells of Milly in peace."
In Montauroux, he purchased and breathed new life into the Colle Noire estate. He had an enormous pool dug and entirely renovated the old building that dominated the vast lands planted with vines, jasmines and cypresses as far as the eye could see. On the balcony of his bedroom, the wisteria was in flower, while the walls of the dining room were papered with a floral indienne of 18th century inspiration that also blossomed on the curtains, tablecloth and armchair fabric... He wished to spend his last days in this countrified environment. "I could go right back to my roots and discover, in another climate, the closed garden that protected my childhood (...) and finally live peacefully, forgetting Christian Dior and becoming Christian once again."
The history of Dior is still today written amongst the flowers of dreamlike gardens: in the latest campaign by Sofia Coppola for the Miss Dior perfume, Natalie Portman sees life through rose-tinted glasses; photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin turned Versailles into a Secret Garden and this summer the Dior Impressions exhibition in Granville returns to the relationship between Dior and the impressionist movement since 1947, that artistic wave which, more than any other, was able to capture all the nuances and subtleties of nature.