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The Great Half-Century of Franco-German Friendship

German Henkel & Grossé Company was largely responsible for the development of Christian Dior jewelry style: flowers and garlands, colorful crystals, large pearls, semi-precious stones, mixed with artificial, stacked necklaces with colorful crystals... It was a cheerful, bright but noble style.

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Christian Dior, of course, used jewelry to enhance demonstrations of her collections from the very beginning. This costume jewelry, released by all the French fashion houses that came before Dior; from the late 1920’s, through the 1930’s and 1940’s it was already common practice. In the 1950s it would have been impossible to imagine something which we are accustomed to today, whereby on a fashion shoot in a glossy magazine you can find a dress from one label; shoes from another label; and jewelry from a third label all within a single ‘look’.

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Christian Dior working in his studio, 1960s

Famous French fashion journalist Jeannie Sama, who worked as a fashion columnist for more than 50 years first at L’Aurore and later for Figaro, explained that when she began her career it was impossible to go to Christian Dior or Givenchy and take only a single garment such as a dress for use in a photoshoot; it was only possible to take an entire ‘look’, including shoes, gloves, a hat; and of course jewelry. Costume jewelry was therefore a part of the first showing of Christian Dior on February 12th 1947.

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Cover of the book Grosse + Bijoux Christian Dior

As with other accessories such as shoes and gloves, the couture houses did not undertake the production of costume jewelry themselves, instead placing orders with well-known artisanal suppliers that specialize in a particular product. The first jewelry was produced for Dior by companies including the famous Gripoix workshop that performed a lot of work for Chanel and other fashion houses in the pre- and post-war years, as well as the no less well-known Robert Goossens who also worked for Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Gres; in fact all the famous producers made jewelry for the famous Paris fashion houses. In the 1950’, Christian Dior (the American subsidiary in particular) cooperated closely with the famous jewelry designer and producer Henry Schreiner, founder of the Schreiner Jewelry Company that had emigrated from Bavaria to America in 1927. Schreiner, together with daughter Terri and son-in-law Ambros Albert; that worked in the company from 1953; cooperated with Dior for several years, including on the creation of jewelry for Christian Dior runway shows right until the death of Henry Schreiner in 1954. In 1955 the long term love affair of Christian Dior with the famous German manufacturer Grossé began.

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Christian Diors atelier, 1960s

The Henkel & Grossé Company, operating under the Grossé label, was founded in 1907 by brothers-in-law Henrikh Henkel and Florentin Gross in Pforzheim, the so-called ‘golden city’ that was the heart of German jewelry making. The company flourished in particular during the 1930’s when it produced the effective, as it would now be considered, minimalist Bauhaus-style jewelry from galalith, synthetic resin made from casein and formaldehyde. It was at this time, in fact, that they began working with Lanvin, Robert Piguet and Schiaparelli, opening an office in 1936 and winning a medal at the Paris World Exhibition of 1937. During the Second World War, production naturally went into a decline and the head office of the company in Pforzheim was destroyed by Allied bombing. After the war, the company developed a new marketing strategy and opened an office in New York and its fortunes improved. A truly new era in the history of the company began in 1955 when the French government approved a licensing agreement under which Henkel & Grossé were to develop and produce costume jewelry for Christian Dior. A new entity, named Christian Dior Bijou was formed for this purpose. The approval process, which was obligatory for agreements with Germany companies during the post-war years, was carried out with active participation by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the young employee of the French Ministry of Finance that would go on to become the French President. This was one of the first manufacturing and trade agreements between the former foes in the post-war period.

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Tanya Male wearing Christian Dior dress and necklace, Vogue UK, September 1962

All jewelry produced by Grossé for Dior was marked, however as with the jewelry of all the other couture houses these markings changed from decade to decade. In the 1950’s, the jewelry was marked ‘Dior West Germany’; or ‘Made in Germany for Christian Dior’ (the year of production was indicated on some but not all. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, ‘Chr.Dior’, a copyright symbol and the year of manufacture was marked onto the pieces; whilst from the 1980’s this was changed to ‘Christian Dior’, along with the copyright symbol and year of manufacture. So the copyright symbol mark was present on Dior jewelry produced from the 1960’s.

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Christian Dior necklace, 1960s

It was Grossé that was largely responsible for the development of the style of Christian Dior jewelry; with their indispensable flowers and garlands, multi-coloured crystals, large pearls, semi-precious stones mixed with artificial crystals, ‘snowflake’ style brooches, large square crosses, tiered necklaces with colourful stones.

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Christian Dior brooch of 1969 from Vintage Voyage collection

The licensing agreement concluded in 1955 stood the test of time for half a century and Grossé regularly worked for Christian Dior during the entire term; throughout the era of Christian Dior himself, a few seasons of Yves Saint Laurent, those long years when Marc Bohan was at the helm and right until the time that John Galliano was in charge. In 2005, Christian Dior purchased Henkel & Grossé in 2005, the same year that Chanel purchased the Robert Goossens Company that had manufactured their jewelry for so many years. These acquisitions were designed to keep the production of upscale, artisanal jewelry in-house, such is its importance to global luxury brands. The pieces that the master jewelers of Henkel & Grossé are producing today for Raf Simons will be as valuable 20 years from now as pieces made, for example, during the John Galliano era. And those pieces that were made 30, 40 or 50 years ago will become more and more valuable; and ever rarer; with each passing year.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva

23.07.2016

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The Great Half-Century of Franco-German Friendship

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