'Girl in Dior' marries fashion and storytelling

Anne Goetzinger's Girl in Dior, out this month from NBM, is as much art book as graphic novel. While there is a narrative thread to the story, it often looks very like fashion illustration, with models arrayed across the page, posing in careful contrapposto to show off the graceful curves of the dresses. Even panels that aren't part of the fashion show often use this same format, with a gaggle of fashion writers or Dior employees filling the panel, each one with a single comment in a word balloon.

The plot is slight and beyond implausible, a mere pretext to bring us into the world of Christian Dior: Clara, a young girl who has just been hired as a reporter, covers Dior's first show, is fired after a disastrous photo shoot, and ends up being hired as one of his models. She's a pretty standard-issue character—young, smart, spunky—who exists mainly as a lens through which we get an insider's view of the Dior atelier. Indeed, the book focuses as much on the life of the people who make and model the dresses as on the designer or even Clara herself.

That doesn't mean it's not a great story, though. Goetzinger brings us into the world of Dior on the day of his first show, which galvanized the fashion world. It was 1947, and although World War II had been over for two years, rationing was still in place and the French were still feeling the hardships of the war and its aftermath. Dior's "New Look" (as it was christened by fashion writer Carmel Snow) swept that aside, replacing the practical shapes and short skirts that were the result of fabric rationing with long, flowing skirts and graceful wasp-waisted silhouettes. Goetzinger shows us the action behind the scenes as well as the buzz of the crowd, but most important of all are the dresses themselves, which she renders in loving detail.

While the fashion critics loved the show, the rank and file were not entirely convinced. When Clara arranges a photo shoot in a working-class neighborhood, the locals express their resentment of the conspicuous consumption on display by pelting the models with apples (apparently this is based on a real incident). Clara loses her job but is summoned by Dior and brought into his entourage as a model. This allows Goetzinger to show us the whole process of creating a dress, from sketch to finished product.

Although Christian Dior appears in this story, it is not a biography. We see him in his studio and in his home, and we hear about his background, but he remains a distant figure. This really is a look inside a particular place, the House of Dior, at a particular time—the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Dior himself was still at the helm (he died in 1957) and his styles were big news.

The book is stunningly beautiful. Goetzinger has a real talent for drawing clothing, using a delicate ink line and watercolor washes to give a sense of the weight, texture, and feel of the fabric. The dresses flow and swirl across the page as the models put them on and show them off; reading this is like having a front seat at a runway show.

Girl in Dior is translated from the French (original title: Jeune Fille en Dior), and as I had a copy of the French edition I compared the two. NBM is to be commended for hewing close to the production values of the original, keeping roughly the same size and cover design, down to the spot varnish on the title. The one significant difference that I saw was that the French edition was printed on heavier, cream-colored paper, while paper for the American edition is a purer white. While I love the way the French book looks, the colors in the NBM edition seem richer and more vibrant because they don't have that yellow cast. The back matter includes a timeline of Dior's life and the Dior shows and a glossary of fashion terms.

In the end, the marriage of form and function is perfect. The graphic novel medium is ideal for telling a story such as this, which depends so heavily on visual elements. Goetzinger's art evokes the fashion illustration of the period while treating the models as real people, not mannequins, and the story captures a piece of real fashion history. Like the women within its pages, this is a book with both beauty and substance.

[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

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