Christian Dior was born on January 21, 1905, and had to wait until he was 42 years old to become an overnight sensation—as well as an international one. Dior had worked in the service of others for his first decade in fashion, but then on February 12, 1947, he debuted the first collection, and the echoes could be heard across the Atlantic, and in the pages of LIFE magazine. The story was headlined ” The House of Dior: New French Designer is Surprise Success at First Showing” and it breathlessly quoted an unnamed American as saying, “God help the buyers who bought before they saw this. It changes everything.”

That story praised Dior for recognizing that his job was to seduce. A year later the magazine did another major story on the designer, observing that he was surprisingly unassuming and polite. He commented, “I’m a mild man, but I have violent tastes.”

The photos below showcase Dior’s seductive designs during his electric decade at the top.

Christian Dior

Photo by Gordon Parks//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior

Photo by Gjon Mili//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior

Photo by Nina Leen//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior

Photo by Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior

Photo by Loomis Dean//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior

Photo by Pat English/The LIFE Images Collection via Shutterstock

Christian Dior

Photo by Pat English/The LIFE Images Collection via Shutterstock

In 1957, ten years after his smashing debut, Christian Dior died of a heart attack. His funeral was a major event in Paris. The church held 2,000 mourners, who were assigned numbered seats as it they were at a fashion show, while another 7,000 stood outside. Among those at the funeral was Dior’s 20-year-old assistant, Yves Saint Laurent. Shown in a moment of solitary repose during the funeral, he succeeded his master and took over the House of Dior.

Christian Dior

Photo by Loomis Dean//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent

Photo by Loomis Dean//The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

More Like This

people

Betty White: The Secret of Her Success

people

Jimmy Buffett: Hey, Margaritaville! A Pirate Looks at 75

Steve McQueen and his wife, Neile, take a sulphur bath at Big Sur, 1963. people

LIFE Takes a Bath: Classic Pics of People (and Pets) Enjoying a Soak

people

LIFE’s 100 People Who Changed the World

people

Stephen Sondheim: A Broadway Master’s `West Side’ Roots

people

Jane Fonda: A Hollywood Life