Annie Goetzinger Brings Vintage Couture to Life in "Girl in Dior"

Annie Goetzinger's "Girl in Dior" opens with a very important moment in the career of designer Christian Dior: his first Paris show, held in 1947. This was more than just a milestone in his career, it was a turning point in fashion and popular culture, marking a return from the hardships of World War II and its immediate aftermath to the affluence of the prewar years. Dior's billowy, wasp-waisted fashions were a far cry from the boxy, practical clothes of the World War II and postwar years, and Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow immediately christened it the "New Look."

In "Girl in Dior," graphic novelist Goetzinger shows both sides of the runway: the frenzy behind the scenes as well as the glamor of the show itself. That dual focus continues throughout the book, which follows Dior for the remaining ten years of his life. She shows both the beauty and glamor of the dresses -- and the hard work and perfectionism that went into creating them -- through the eyes of a fictional Dior model, Clara Nohant.

"Girl in Dior" is Goetzinger's first graphic novel to be published in English, but she is well known in her native France as the artist for "Casque d'Or," which won two prizes at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in 1977, and her graphic novel "Aurore," the story of writer George Sand. CBR had the opportunity to talk to Goetzinger about "Girl in Dior" during the MoCCA festival in New York in April.

CBR News: "Girl in Dior" is your first graphic novel to be translated into English. Why was this one the first? Was that your choice?

Annie Goetzinger: Because I did it alone; because fashion is very close to me. I often work with Pierre Christin, who is a script writer. He is very famous, he worked with Bilal, but fashion is not his mode. So I discussed it with him; I said "I want to do something about fashion" and he said "You do it alone."

In fact the project was to make a normal comic, but the publisher said it would be better to make it a graphic novel, because you have more space -- you have smaller pages but at the same time more space to develop the story. You can have a lot of pages showing dresses, small pages of comics with small vignettes, small images. I enjoyed working in that way, but it didn't change my way of drawing. I have always the same details, so it took a long time to publish it.

How long?

Two years, between research and interviews, sketches, and drawing and painting.

How much did you know about the history of Dior before you wrote this? What sort of research did you do?

First I read a lot about Dior himself, his autobiography. I read also books around that period. I had a lot of archives at my home. I have a nice library full of books about fashion, because in fact, I always work in a realistic way, and most of my comics are [set] in the past, so to feel the past, you need a lot of details -- cars, and of course fashion for women and for men, to [show] the taste of the period.

I signed my contract with [French publisher] Dargaud at the same time I contacted Dior in Paris to show them the project, to get access to the archives. First I showed them pictures, and they understood I was able to draw a dress -- not just a dress but a haute couture dress, which is a little bit different. They were very nice and helped me a lot. They showed me the archives, dates, pictures. I needed also some details about words, particular words for fashion, some details of suits, details of cut, and I also interviewed dressmakers who worked for Dior when he started in 1947. They were 17 [at the time]. You can imagine all the old women! They enjoyed talking about that period: they were young, it was just after the war, and for them it was an adventure.

Did they inspire your main character?

I thought a bit about Audrey Hepburn. I remembered the famous movie about fashion, "Funny Face." She was also very elegant, and she was a friend of Givenchy. She didn't work for Dior, but she was very elegant and at the same time she was a perfect character of the 50s. She was an inspiration.

How did you draw the dresses -- were you able to work from real life, or did you use photographs?

I worked from photographs. When you see the old dresses, they weren't conserved very well on mannequins. They are nice, but they are not so fresh. A picture of the 50s is fresher. It is interesting because it is a living dress, because there is a body behind it. Also because women were not walking on a catwalk, as they do now. They were more like dancers, and the way they put their feet has changed a lot. And something else -- they were smiling. Now they are not allowed to smile.

It was my preoccupation to show haute couture dresses. [Haute couture] means precise cut, the kind of tissue [fabric], precious stuff, embroidery, excellence. In my other comics, the women are normal women, they are working women, as you can see in the start of "Girl in Dior." She is a normal young lady, a young journalist, and she is not wearing very elegant clothes.

Why did you decide to tell the story of Dior from the point of view of a model, rather than do a more traditional biography?

Because for me, what was interesting was the period. In fashion it is surprising because it is a peaceful revolution, but it is a revolution. What he did in 1947, as Carmel Snow [the editor of Harper's Bazaar] said, was quite a "New Look." It was just after the war, after the Nazi occupation of France. Dior had the chance to find a financier who gave him a lot of money to open his fashion house. It was an opportunity for him to have a lot of [materials], to make what he dreamed about, and in fact he dreamed about turning the page to a memory of his childhood, with its abundance.

His life is interesting before that, because you can see his young years, when he started studying architecture, and later he made a gallery for painting, but what interested me was how he built his empire in fashion in just a short time, just ten years. And he was so strong. He died working. He had a heart attack in Italy and he died all of a sudden. He was a close man, a shy man, but he had solid friendships around him and the right people for work. They were very loyal.

So the people you depicted in the book are real people?

Yes, they existed. For me it was interesting to show not just the creations of Dior but to show all the stuff about him, how he developed his work. It's interesting to have good ideas, but also to have good people to make them. It was just a sketch, but the women were able to understand and to cut and to make all the dresses. I had a lot of admiration for that.

What is the next graphic novel you would like English-language readers to see?

In France it is going to be about [French novelist] Colette. After "Dior," Dargaud said, "You could do something else about fashion," but I don't want to be [pigeonholed]. I like to work more freely. Colette is a very good character. She was a very conventional housewife in a way, but she divorced and she lost her rights to her novels -- because she wrote the novels, but her husband signed for her, and he kept the rights. When they divorced, he sold the rights and she was a poor women so she continued writing. At the same time, she did theater, and she had a several years' love affair with a woman. Later she married another time, and she had a baby when she was 40. She was very modern in a way. So I use the same process [as in "Dior"]: I start when she marries, when she is 20, and I finish when she is 50, when she is allowed to sign with her name, Colette. So it is 30 years.

How do you feel about writing as well as drawing the book?

It is tough work. I always write beforehand. I am thinking about the drawings; sometimes I do sketches while I am writing, but I concentrate on the manuscript before I start to develop the story in drawings. I also research everywhere: pictures, books, reading about the period, about the salon, when all the artists and writers and musicians were meeting in a bourgeois salon in Paris, the mood of the Proust period. For me, it is amazing.

My first comic was "Casque d'Or." "Casque d'Or" was a famous movie, but it is also a real story that happened at the start of the 20th century. But it was happening with poor people, and Colette is in the same period but with rich people, so there is the contrast. I did "Casque d'Or" because [the main character] lived in the district east of Paris, and she was born in the 1880s. She had a short history, because she was famous but a very few years later she disappears. When she died in the '40s she was unknown. It's a famous movie made in the '50s by a French director, but he built a very romantic story. I was closer to the facts, the real facts.

In the U.S., we have had an increase of women creators in the past ten years, and the industry has gone from being very male-dominated to much more open. What have your experiences been like as a woman making comics in France, and have you seen an increase in female creators?

When I started, I did not know there were so few girls making comics. I had some difficulties as a young artist, but not particularly tremendous as a woman, you see? And I didn't care; I always felt like kind of a maverick.

In [the last] ten years, there are many more female creators, everywhere in Europe. My generation -- women and men -- create comics for young adults (as us at that moment!) touching new branches of society, stories [that are] more intimate and less epic. Is that an explanation for [the increase in] women followers now?

But at the MoCCA festival, I remarked there were many more than in France now! It's a fact, so "continuez, les filles!"

"Girl In Dior" is available for purchase now.

Vertigo Editor Karen Berger Reacts to DC Retiring the Imprint

More in Comics