The history of Christian Dior furs

The golden age of  Christian Dior fur came when Castet was appointed the head of Christian Dior’s Fourrure division and became the chief furrier of the house from 1953 to 1988.


Yes, the fashion house of Christian Dior was producing fur garments when Frederick Castet from Gascony was still the head of the women clothing's department. After all, Castet started working for Dior in 1953 when he was 24 after having worked for some time for Balenciaga. However, the golden age of fur came when Castet was appointed the head of Dior’s fur division. Not only did he become  Dior's master furrier, but he also restructured the fourrure department to follow the haute couture and the prêt-à-porter philosophy. It was 1968, and Dior furs were steadily becoming more and more popular. Castet, along with the Fendi sisters among others, brought innovative fur styling into fashion. He was known for his bold treatment of furs: he trimmed, plucked, dyed and cut any type of pelts. As his contemporaries said, he wouldn’t think twice before dyeing chinchilla blue or sable green. In those fabulous times the fur of the rarest animals could be used: leopard, panther, ocelot and even tiger. They were transformed, for example, into a such outrageous thing like an astrakhan coat with leopard lining. Castet’s fame grew year by year, reaching its peak in the 1980’s with the trend of coloured fur, which was processed in every possible way. It was then that he started those legendary fashion shows on the second floor of the Dior mansion on Avenue Montaigne. People swarmed to those shows no less than to the shows of the main Dior collection. Dancers demonstrated furs; the Béjart ballet's dancer Norbert Schmidt and renowned haute couture catwalk stage manager Bernard Trux directed the show.


What Castet did in the 1980’s can be summarized as "glamour gone wild;" he revealed his collections of "stained mink" inspired by famous stained-glass windows of Rouen Cathedral, and "mink paintings" dedicated to the four elements – earth, water, fire and air -- inspired by the way the Symbolists pictured them. During that time he created the famous white mink coat with a huge cutout imitating the lip print of Sophia Loren on the back. Castet made full use of modern marketing tools: he invited the stars to his shows and constantly appeared in their circles. His circle was very wide, ranging from Mireille Mathieu, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor to Sylvie Vartan and a very young Jodie Foster.

The 1980’s was the time of ostentatious luxury, straightforward glamour, power women, and extravagant styles, and Castet was a perfect fit. This decade was nothing less than a triumph for Dior Fourrure with customers pouring into stores in flocks to buy fur coats with price tags comparable to a price of an apartment in Paris. This crazy popularity can be attributed entirely to Frederick Castet.


Castet originally signed his contract with Marcel Boussac, the first owner of Christian Dior, and according to this contract, he would receive a lifetime royalty on all Dior fur no matter who designed it. This outrageous contract turned Castet into a very wealthy and excessively self-confident man. But in the late 1980s Beatrice Bonibo became the new CEO of Dior and introduced a new policy of cutting costs as the general financial climate changed. The arrival of the 1990s was in the air already, marked by minimalism and recession. The new CEO decided to reduce the cost of the shows, which affected Castet personally, and being an emotional and intolerant person by nature, Castet was not willing to come to the terms with the changed situation. He decided to get back at Bonibo by conceiving a devious scheme. By this time Christian Dior was already owned by Bernard Arnault. Without informing anyone Castet, called a few journalists to visit the catwalk rehearsal that Arnault was attending. At the end of the show, he stood up in front of Bernard Arnault, took out a few notes, and read his petition containing a list of complaints against the current Dior policy. The journalists, naturally, recorded it. It was said that Bernard Arnault was ashen with rage, and all the other Dior staff members were left entirely speechless. As a result, Castet was fired within a day without any compensation, and his legendary contract was legally declared invalid.

Christian Dior Haute Fourrure, осень 1981

After this Frederick Castet started a fur label under his own name and managed to achieve success. He opened a boutique next to the Champs-Elysées on Rue Pierre Charron, and in Korea he had almost a hundred shops. However, he never reached the same amount of popularity as he did with Dior and died in June 2011 at the age of 81 years. His obituary was published in Le Figaro and signed by Sidney Toledano, CEO of Christian Dior haute couture, who wrote that Castet was one of the most outstanding artists from Dior’s history; and Castet was generally remembered with the most splendid and appropriate epithets. Thus, after his death Frederick Castet reconciled with Christian Dior.

Christian Dior mink coat

This vintage mink coat is made using the traditional "fling open" technique, whereby the skin is cut into thin ribbons and then stitched back together to make the fur very fluid and flowing. This coat is a wonderful example of Castet’s genius being quite exotic and contemporary at the same time. It gracefully simulates moire spillovers from caramel to brown. This coat of course doesn't have the same cult status as the white mink with "Sophia Loren lips," but at least you can walk down the street wearing it  without being called too extravagant. Due to its sober tones it will look great with everything from the studded biker boots, which are very trendy right now (check out the Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent version,) to high boots with thick soles. The most important thing is to avoid an overly literal citation of the vintage image; e.g., not to wear it with heels, as it would look outdated and boring. The cloak is spacious enough, which corresponds perfectly to one of the main trends this winter for loose, over-sized garments, and on tall, skinny ladies it will look like a Swinger. On the whole, acquiring a fur coat made by Frederick Castet is almost as great as acquiring a dress made by Christian Dior himself.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva


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The history of Christian Dior furs


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