This is the story of how I became an avid lover and collector of Dior. I never thought I would or even could own Dior, let alone start a collection. But one thing leads to another. I was destined to become Debbie Dior, and it all started with Pedro Almodóvar.
It was October 2011, and I was working on promotions for the Australian release of Almodóvar’s film, The Skin I Live In. A macabre, twisted tale of revenge, it featured a beautiful boy-turned-woman and some finely selected brand product placements. In a pivotal scene the woman pulls a gun out of her black Lady Dior bag and the audience catches its collective breath. I wanted that bag.
My collection at that point contained only one Dior item – a pair of very cool Dior Cottage sunglasses in a versatile mauve-pink, my go-to everyday shades bought at the Dior store at the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu in 2008.
After working on the Almodóvar film, I was frequently drifting into the Dior accessories boutique in David Jones, Sydney’s premier department store, drooling over the Lady Dior bag in black calfskin with gold charms (more subtle and classic than the studded one with silver charms in the film). At that stage, however, it seemed too much to spend on one item. One day, I dreamed. One day.
Ten months later, in August 2012, my home of 16 years was sold, I’d already spent a month unwinding in Hawaii and Los Angeles, and then I flew to Paris for the beginning of a huge birthday month in France and an indefinite time travelling after that. In my mind was my cousin Niccy’s engagement party coming up in London, which seemed like a good excuse to buy something very exceptional to wear. “It’s just in the back garden of a private home!” Niccy’s mother, my cousin and best friend Cyndy, scoffed repeatedly when I said I was getting something special.
I didn’t plan on buying anything from Dior. The house and the brand were not in my psyche in a deliberate way yet. The view from the restaurant as I ate breakfast in the Hotel De Vendome did not even hint at what was to come.
I visited the flagship store on Avenue Montaigne, a beautiful and iconic building where visitors wander from room to room, marvelling at the magnificence of the décor, the displays of accessories, shoes, jewellery, perfume and of course the ready-to-wear collections. Fall/Winter 2012 lined the racks, and it was a hot humid day in Paris, so the €15,000 mink dress that I fell in love with immediately was never going to be a contender, price notwithstanding. I bought a new pair of sunglasses, Dior Volute 2 in red. I was happy that I had purchased something at the Montaigne store, and that was that.
Until the following day when I explored the Rive Gauche shopping areas, and found my way to Le Bon Marché on rue de Sèvres. On previous Paris trips I had never made it down that way, and so an exquisite treat awaited. The Dior boutique within was small but welcoming, and I eyed a burgundy dress on a mannequin in the window, thinking, mmm, engagement party, classy, me… Could I? Should I?
The fact is, while I had browsed the Dior store at the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu a few times, I had never actually believed I could wear Dior. First, I thought one had to be super thin to wear the designs. (Granted, I was browsing in the late Galliano era, where waistlines and structure were emphasised. Just remember the Dior bridal gown Carrie wore for the Vogue shoot in the first Sex and the City movie – which also had the most exaggerated sleeves of any wedding dress in history, I suspect.) I also thought you had to be super rich to wear Dior.
But at Le Bon Marché, when I asked to see the dark burgundy wool and silk dress up close, I did not think it was over-priced at all, and I was more than a little thrown by the sensation I felt just touching the garment. I had been Adiored.
So I tried it on. It fit like a glove, the thin patent leather belt nipping in my waist while the silk-lined bodice, without complicated seams or boning, held in my upper body gracefully. Sedate, sophisticated, elegant, ladylike, refined. This was a sweet dependable piece by Bill Gaytten, who stepped in after Galliano’s unceremonious departure in 2011, filling in until a new wunderkind could put a new stamp on the Dior style.
I felt very chic, standing there in the beautiful little boutique, and then I spotted the shoes that I thought would give the look a contemporary, fun twist. Miss Dior patents in Hortensia, a dark fuchsia that complemented and flirted with the depth of the dress’s deep red wine.
Of course I had to go away and think about this. So I wandered to an upper floor of the store, investigated every rack and every designer, and then returned to the ground floor and Dior, where the beautiful woman looking after me, Monique Boustany, made me feel so relaxed and welcome. Like I belonged.
I knew I was no longer an outsider to the world of Dior, no longer just a sunglasses girl. I was initiating myself, and there would be no turning back.
I didn’t want to carry a wool dress and high heeled shoes in their box (I always, always keep the shoe box) to Provence and the Côte d’Azur, where I would be spending the next four weeks, so Monique very kindly offered to hold on to them there, and then Fed Ex them to me when I arrived in London at the end of August. The package arrived the same day that I did. A happy reunion.
When I emailed Monique to let her know the box had arrived and to thank her, this is part of the reply I received:
I was very glad to receive your mail, sorry for answering so late, anyhow your mail is like a beautiful poem, it made me cheerful.
Thanks for the best compliment you could make me is that I made your visit to Dior Le Bon Marché happy, for me it was also a big pleasure.
Waiting for your picture, I wish you a very good time and hope to see you next time,
I’ll never forget my first Dior ready-to-wear shopping experience. The warm, welcoming, intimate environment in Le Bon Marché and the confidence I felt trying on that dress, took me forward on my Dior adventures thereafter. And there were many…
But before that gorgeous box arrived in London, and well before I got to wear the dress and shoes at Niccy’s engagement party, there were Dior stores to explore in the south of France.
I spent two weeks in Aix en Provence with friends, celebrating my 50th birthday and soaking up the colours, tastes and scents of that intoxicating part of Europe. Then I took the train to Cannes, and settled into the Hotel Gray d’Albion, positioned on a block between the Promenade de la Croisette, with its tantalising stretch of designer shops on one side, and Rue d’Antibes, with its own array of boutiques, patisseries, chocolatiers and more. Between sunbathing on the beach for most of the day and meandering along the shopping streets in the late afternoon before dinner, I was in heaven.
I paid a visit to the Dior boutique, small and bright, not looking for anything in particular, just entering with the confidence of one who had been initiated into the world of dressing Dior. I was interested in a bag to go with my new dress and shoes, but not a Lady Dior. Something less structured, softer, and less obvious. I also found myself riveted by a piece of jewelry, the Rose Dior Pré Catelan ring. Featuring a hand-cut rose quartz rose set on a rose gold band with a small ornate leaf and tiny diamond, it spoke to my heart. A late 50th birthday present to myself, maybe? (Like the travelling I was doing wasn’t enough of a gift to myself?) I walked out to let it sit in my mind for a while.
A day or two later I took a boat to St Tropez on what happened to be the hottest day of the year. Of course the tiny legendary town was heaving. The markets were choked, the streets teaming, the air stifling. I wandered away from the crowds and found the more high-end shopping street, Rue François Sibilli, and there, in all its glory, was the mansion-like Dior boutique in a compound known as Jardins de L’Ambassade.
It was too darn hot to sit outside and have lunch at Dior des Lices, the very pretty summer pop-up restaurant in the front garden, or even take a glacé. It was too hot to be outside at all, so I walked up the grand stairs and inside the boutique to air-conditioned comfort.
Just like the Montaigne store in Paris, there was room after room of divine Dior pieces, and there in a glass case was the Rose Dior Pré Catelan collection of rings, pendants and earrings in onyx, blue chalcedony, white coral, red coral and rose quartz. I was now ready to try on the ring, but my fingers were so swollen from the heat I could not get any of them on.
I tried soaking my hand in a glass of iced water that the lovely sales associate brought out for me, but it was futile. And funny. I retreated, vowing to return to St Tropez in any other month than August, to enjoy the restaurant and the boutique and the rest of the town that had to be lovelier than a sweltering August day allowed.
Back in Cannes, I returned to the smaller Dior boutique and the outrageously handsome sales associate Nicolas Saugers, who found me two rings in my size. As each piece is hand cut, each looks different, and each has a different level of translucency, so I studied them both for some time until I picked the one I preferred.
Then the bag. I saw a cushiony style – a new interpretation of the legendary Dior cannage weave – in pale pink that was almost mauve, with gorgeous fuchsia lining reminiscent of the Hortensia colour of my shoes, and a super long gold chain that could be doubled and still sit comfortably low as a shoulder bag. It was a brand new release for Dior, named the Milly La Forêt, in the colour Foulard.
Finally, now that I was obviously starting a collection, I added a scarf from the summer 2012 season, one of those delightful silk scarves that only reveals itself fully when opened up and laid flat, and yet can never be worn that way so is usually worn as a mystery not unfolded.
My Cannes shopping adventures included other designers but adding to my Dior collection was the most pleasurable part of all. I was totally excited about my outfit for my cousin Niccy’s engagement party, albeit in the back garden of her fiancé’s parents’ suburban home.
And then to London, where for my first two weeks the weather was perfectly well behaved, albeit on the cool side. But as the big party day approached, the weather forecast took a dramatic turn and the day of the event – September 23 – was going to be the start not of autumn, but of a full-blown winter. Eleven degrees (celcius) and pouring rain. For my English family this was not in the least bit daunting and they were unperturbed about their dress choices. It was still September, therefore summery, light fabrics, florals and lace were what they were sticking to. While my Dior dress was wool and the on-trend autumn colour, I just knew its little capped sleeves would not keep my poor sensitive arms warm.
So I popped into the Dior boutique in Sloane Street, descended the grand marble staircase to the ready-to-wear section, and explained my dilemma to the elegant RTW manager Hannah. I walked out with two more additions to my Dior collection, a delightful burgundy cardigan with sparkly black chambray feature, and a very large burgundy cashmere pashmina. It saddened me that the dress might need to be covered up to that extent, but I cannot be cold and happy. The two sensations do not co-exist in my life.
So here was the layout on my bed, as I got ready on that very cold wet London day (including a make-up chart as a result of my visit to the Dior beauty counter at Selfridges the day before, and my conversion to all things Dior in skincare and make up, to be detailed in the Dior Beauty section of this story). It was my cousin’s party, but it felt like my coming out.
And here I am at the party modelling the outfit without warmth, which I managed to pull off for the first hour or so…
And here I am when I knew I could no longer be without a wrap, looking very autumn/winter-like surrounded by my family in all their summer finery. That’s Niccy in a gorgeous lace and georgette Ted Baker dress by my side.
Once most of the guests had gone and the family were sitting drinking tea and watching Niccy and Rob open presents, I had to wear every layer I had at my disposal. It was just way too cold not to! So cold that the person taking the photo was obviously shaking. Sorry it’s not in focus. Aren’t the shoes just spectacular?
At around this time, the newly-installed Dior designer, Raf Simons, debuted his first collections for the house. His Spring/Summer 2013 ready-to-wear collection was just exquisite – both classic and edgy simultaneously – and I knew with a mixture of exhilaration and dismay that my new found Dior passion was not going to stop with the pieces I’d collected in Paris, Cannes and London.
My breath was especially taken away by the ultimate statement pieces of the collection, the silk ball skirts modelled with plain fitted black silk/cashmere shells.
I had an unrealistic dream that I might wear one of these looks to Niccy’s wedding and was dying to know what one of those skirts would cost. In the January issue of US Vogue the price was finally listed – US$11,500. Plus tax, as buying in America means paying state sales tax on top. Oh well, there went the dream of that outfit for the wedding. But I still wanted to see those ball skirts.
Niccy had set her wedding date for May, and I had every intention of being back in London for the occasion, although I was certainly not spending the winter there, or anywhere in Europe. After a month on the US east coast, midwest and south, I got to California for a month, and then by mid-January was ensconced in a cottage in Kailua, on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii, to see out the winter in relative warmth. I was there when the Dior Spring/Summer 2013 collection started coming through.
Honolulu has two Dior boutiques, one on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, also known as Luxury Row, and one in the gorgeous Ala Moana Center shopping mall. I kept my eye on the Waikiki boutique waiting for the collection to come in.
In February my London cousin Cyndy, soon-to-be mother of the bride, came to spend a week with me in Hawaii as part of her 60th birthday celebrations (I’d been in London for her big birthday the previous October.) One evening I took her into the Dior boutique for a look around; I don’t think Cyndy had ever been inside Dior before. I showed the boutique manager, Laura Yanagimoto, photos of my look at Niccy’s engagement party and we started talking about the ball skirts and when they would be in the store. I could see Cyndy zoning out, and as soon as the price tag of $11,500 was mentioned, my darling cousin walked out of the store in complete disgust. She could not get her head around the sense of purchasing something that, she said, was the size of a mortgage deposit. Well, not quite, as I don’t believe there is real estate anywhere that cheap nowadays, but I totally understood her point. And I could never justify spending that kind of money on something I might only wear once or twice in my life, if that. But it doesn’t mean I can’t admire a work of art and fantasise about it. That is what a lot of fashion love is about. It’s fantastical and aspirational. You can’t have it all, but you can respect, desire, dream of having such beautiful things. For me, it’s something that makes life worthwhile.
I could, however, consider owning one of the black cashmere/silk shell tops, and as soon as they arrived in the store I snatched the black sleeveless one. My first piece of Raf Simons’ Dior! I was thrilled. Even just a relatively small purchase such as that earned me a lovely little handwritten note from the young sales associate who served me that day. It was sent to me a month or so later, when I was back in Los Angeles.
My earlier conversation about the ball skirt and now this first Raf Simons purchase was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with the Dior Waikiki boutique, which I will return to later.
Back in LA in March/April, I spent some time hanging out at the magnificent Rodeo Drive Dior boutique in Beverly Hills and started befriending the very passionate sales team there.
My first Dior sunglasses, the Dior Cottage that had seen me through my travels so far, had broken. So I went into Rodeo Drive to see if they had a repair service. Terrence, the dashing sales associate who stood behind one of the front counters, gave me the details of who I could send them to as the glasses were five years old by then and long out of warranty, and then very cannily showed me some new sunglass models. I liked the Dior Taffetas 3 in the purple shade, which they call Burgundy. My third pair of Dior shades was added to my collection. (The first was sent off to be repaired by the lovely people at The Eyes Have It, a very cool eyewear store in Sherman Oaks.)
Rodeo Drive had already been selling the Spring/Summer collection for a while and of course by nature of its location, had sold the ball skirt several times. There was one left in the boutique. It was the first time I had seen it in real life. It was my size. I asked if I could try it on and told Terrence up front that I would not be buying it. I just wanted to experience wearing it. Of course! Not only was I encouraged to try it on, but a half hour of playing and posing ensued. I happened to be wearing my black cashmere/silk shell so the look was going to be perfect… other than the fact that I was several inches shorter than the runway models and so rather than sitting neatly above my ankles, the skirt was floor-length on me, even with the highest heels they could offer me.
Criss-crossing the northern hemisphere, I was back in London in late April 2013, where spring was like winter anywhere else. Preparations for Niccy’s wedding were in full swing. I was able to see the rest of the Dior Spring/Summer 2013 collection now that I was back on European turf. It took three sessions with the tailor in the Dior Bond Street boutique to make the cigarette trousers fit me. I have never had a great body shape for pants or jeans. (10 months later in Sydney they were swimming on me due to weight loss so more tailoring ensued). I also got myself a thin black D by Dior belt because the “D” buckle just seemed necessary… you know.
Raf Simons had introduced metallic in his shoe collection in such a unique way and I had been eyeing a few different pairs, especially with the concave curved heel.
The ones I really loved turned out to be quite unique and scarce; Beverly Hills never even got them in stock, they told me later. The heel height was more user-friendly than the super high ones, and I could see these as a useful go-to pair of shoes to complete just about any look. My Miss Dior patent pumps from Paris were not exactly everyday footwear.
So my second pair of Dior shoes was added to my collection. To this day my Declinaison Defile pumps are among my most frequently worn pumps for any occasion.
Here’s a combination I love. The dress is not Dior but my Dior accessories go perfectly.
The sunglasses in the photo became the fourth in my collection of Dior shades. Harrods had been having a special Dior exhibit to coincide with the launch of Raf Simons’ debut collection for the house. I just missed the exhibition as I arrived in London just days after it closed, but there was still a beautifully appointed pop-up Dior accessories boutique on the ground level of Harrods by the time I got there in April. The Dior Demoiselle 2 were the most unique shades I’d seen in a long time and they were a must-have. They came in a number of colour combinations but the mauve/green were calling out to me. I have adored wearing these since getting them and they always get a lot of comments.
While I was in London in that most bitterly cold spring, I caught sight of the first pieces from Raf Simons’ second collection for Dior – Pre-Fall 2013. My breath was taken away by a cyclamen pink dress in wool crepe lined with silk, and a gorgeous new handbag that was being introduced into the permanent collection, the Diorling, absolutely elegant and practical with big compartments and sumptuous calf skin made to be held tight against the body. Even though it was constructed with a gold chain strap, the look designers were now pushing was to hold even the biggest handbag as a clutch under the arm.
I wanted the dress badly. I was dreaming about the bag, too. But much as I liked Eva, my dedicated sales associate in the Bond Street store where I had become a regular, I needed to spread out my financial outlay. So I deferred on both for the time being.
When I was back in Los Angeles briefly in June, I purchased the dress there. But I got Terrence at Rodeo Drive to hold on to it for me for a month while I returned to Hawaii. I had been invited back to Kailua to house-sit and dog-sit for some friends and who could say no to that? The Dior Ala Moana store was doing something almost unheard of in Dior boutiques – having a sale. It was stock from pre-Raf Simons, some fall/winter and cruise pieces from 2012 nicely discounted. I picked up a gorgeous black light cashmere three-quarter sleeve sweater and the cutest, most adorable winter hat with a fur pom pom embellishment that I can’t wait to wear in winter 2014 in Sydney – a whole year after buying it!!
At the Waikiki boutique, the girls welcomed me back and informed me that they were about to close their Kalakaua Avenue store for six months while they renovated and turned it into something three times bigger, to open at the end of 2013. That meant that they moved into a very small temporary boutique in the DFS T Galleria and were only displaying leather goods and small accessories. Shoes and ready-to-wear would be available but not on display. But this relocation into the duty-free shopping centre also meant that everything they sold was now tax-free. The Diorling bag could no longer be resisted. Chae-Lee Pollak, the absolutely wonderful manager of RTW and Shoes, was my lovely sales person on that fun day. It was my first piece of Dior with the famous charms that I had first noticed on that Lady Dior bag in Almodovar’s film. It would not be my only set of charms, but that’s for later in the story.
While I was shopping tax-free in the USA, along with the Diorling bag I acquired my fifth pair of Dior shades, the simple, slightly sporty, and very well coordinated black Dior Lady with gold links at the side. These are my most casual Dior sunglasses and incredibly versatile. The Dior journey continued unabated.
I was back in Los Angeles in mid-July 2013 and remained there until the end of September, finishing up my giant travel and fashion odyssey in Santa Monica. On an afternoon visit to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa I spied some sandals from Spring/Summer ridiculously discounted at Bloomingdales. I had seen the Dior Absolu sandals in pink and gold metallic in the Bond Street store in London but they didn’t have my size.
So now I snapped them up and they became an absolute mainstay of my summer wardrobe. Incredibly comfortable, so pretty, and I got them at a crazy cheap price! They were very impressed in Rodeo Drive, where they had not only not had this sandal but were amazed at the price I got them for.
This period is when Debbie Dior really became a fixture in the Rodeo Drive Dior boutique and the team there became friends I loved to see. I collected my beautiful pink dress, and wore it for my special birthday dinner on August 14 with my friend Henry at Spago Beverly Hills, fully decked out in Dior with the Diorling bag, Declinaison Defile pumps and of course my precious ring, now one year old.
The afternoon before my birthday I visited Dior Rodeo Drive for some pre-birthday champagne (always Moet at any Dior boutique) and was persuaded to try on the magnificent Dior VIII ceramic white and rose gold diamond watch. A steal at $25,000. Plus tax, unless I wanted to fly to a city where there was no Dior boutique, such as Seattle, and have it shipped to me tax-free. The watch was more than twice the cost of the ball skirt, although far more wearable on a regular basis.
I was in the market for a new watch, but sadly this was never going to happen. “Just wear it for a while and get used to it” urged Terrence and boutique manager Sherry. I did, and I did, but it was still never going to happen. Alas. It’s not that my darling cousin Cyndy’s words were echoing in my mind, and after all, to this point, with all I that had collected from Dior and other designers, I possibly could have put a deposit on a new home. (No, not really.) But I had very decisively sold my house and resolved not to own a property again, whereas owning a collection of beautiful and unique fashion pieces had more value for me at this time in my life. But still, the watch went back into the display cabinet.
Fall/Winter 2013, Raf Simons’ new ready-to-wear collection, was in store. I was in love with a powder pink jacket with attached white scarf and the hugest wide sleeves. It looked amazing on me, but I would never have worn it with the sheer skirt seen on the runway. I left the jacket behind, too. As much as I adored it, I already had three pink jackets in my collection. Not Dior, true, but pink, and lovely.
In fact, it turned out that I did not buy any of the clothes in the fall/winter collection of 2013, but I did acquire some incredible accessories. Such as these absolutely exquisite pair of flat pearlescent pink peep toe shoes with large Swarovski crystals, Dior Bijou, so exclusive I couldn’t even find a photo online so took one just now myself.
And the piece de resistance – an even more exclusive Dior bag featuring one of three Andy Warhol shoe drawings. The story of how I came by this bag is a delightful tale that brings the story of this stage of my Dior journey to a close.
While I was waiting for the pink flat shoes to come into the store in my size, I was lying by my friend Sharon’s pool in Palm Springs reading magazines and saw one of the ads for Fall/Winter featuring the runway sunglasses, Dior Audacieuse. I photographed the ad with my phone and emailed it straight through to Sherry at Rodeo Drive. “Do you have these?” She shot back a reply: “We did but they sold out. I’ll get them in for you.” Ahh, I love being a special Dior client.
In a different magazine I also spied a scarf that I wanted and sent that picture through to her as well. It was from a new range of three scarves that harked back to Raf Simons’ first RTW collection for Dior, a nod to the exquisite flowers that adorned the runway. I had to have one. I was very much looking forward to my next – and what would be my last for now – visit to Dior Rodeo Drive. I was returning to Australia in just over a week.
When I got the sunglasses I posted a photo of me in them on Facebook. Someone said they made me look like a fly. I disagree, but at any rate, a fly should be so lucky as to look this cool!
The scarf took my breath away, such a divine colour combination. Perfection with my Diorling bag and Declinaison Defile pumps.
Lest you think my colour scheme throughout the evolution of Debbie Dior was only pink and black, I did get myself a gorgeous bright blue Dior Eclipse wallet the moment they came out. It was another of the very cluey sales associates at Rodeo Drive, Mark, who pointed it out to me, noticing I wore mixed metals in my jewellery and thought the clasp would take my fancy.
It did. It in fact led to a whole movement of blue in my wardrobe. I’d even seen a stunning blue dress in the trunk show for Cruise 2014 at Rodeo Drive back in July and hoped that once I was in Sydney I would be able to order it from the new boutique there.
And so I was in the Rodeo Drive boutique just days before leaving for Sydney, picking up my shoes and scarf, and a dress I had been eyeing in the Fall/Winter collection, that I didn’t plan to buy, just needed to be tried on. So the whole team gathered round as I had my last play, modelling a dress with some Warhol drawings incorporated into the design, holding a Lady Dior bag from the Warhol drawing collection that was even more pricey than the dress, wishing and dreaming…
Here I am with my Dior Rodeo Drive family, L-R: Terrence, Sherry, Debbie Dior, Nadia and Sammy. (Mark had just left to work elsewhere, sadly.) Sammy then rushed out of the dressing room and a few minutes later returned, holding something in his hands, looking reverent and very excited.
“This was on order for a client who hasn’t come back to us, even though we’ve called her several times. It’s the last one left in the country, and it’s yours if you want it.” He opened the box and revealed a white clutch with the Warhol blue butterfly shoe drawing and the white leather covered Dior charms. Gasp.
Maybe by now that home deposit could have been quite sizeable. Or I could have had the ball skirt and more besides. Or traded it all in and bought the Dior VIII watch. But this clutch and my entire collection of Dior pieces to this point amounted to something more than a sum of money spent. Some people collect art. Some people raise children and send them to expensive private schools. I realised I had become a serious collector of fashion. And Dior is the centrepiece of my collection.
The main section of this blog will feature posts all about my world of Dior since the Paris-Cannes-London-Honolulu-Los Angeles odyssey. It was never going to end there. The journey is as infinite as the beauty of the pieces that emerge in each collection. And all the while there is skincare, make up and perfume to accompany. It all gives me such joy and infiltrates all areas of my life now, so I am not prepared to deny myself.
As of March 2014 I still do not own a Lady Dior bag. I still want one. One day.