European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Fashion & History

Travelling styles: the New Look as seen by Kerstin Bernhard

1940sEuropean fashionfashion photographyNew Look

The eyes of the Swedish – female – photographer captured one of the most famous looks of contemporary fashion

Kerstin Bernhard was a Swedish photographer. She studied at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and, in the middle of the 1930s, she began studying at the architecture, design and photography school Contempora Lehrateliers in Berlin. She started working as a freelance photographer in 1938 and got her first own studio in the beginning of 1940. During the 1940s, Bernhard began to photograph fashion and in 1947, she traveled to Paris to photograph the Haute Couture, and got the chance to be present when Christian Dior launched his New Look.

This happened on 12 February 1947, day of the first show of the Maison Christian Dior. The show was presented at 30 Avenue Montaigne, in the salons of the maison. The lines presented were named Corolle and Huit. However, soon after the presentation, the collection became known as the ‘New Look’ thanks to Carmel Snow, then-editor inches of Harper’s Bazaar, who exclaimed “It’s such a New Look! It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian!’ The New Look represented the new spirit that was about to permeate fashion right after the restrictions imposed by World War II. The most known ensemble of the collection is the Bar suit, whose silhouette was characterised by a small waist and rounded shoulders, emphasizing the bust, and a full skirt falling below mid-calf length falling gently on the hips.

The skirt took twenty yards of fabrics, and many detractors said it was inconsiderate to use so much material after years of rationing. The new look was quite controversial for many other reasons: feminists complained it was dragging women backwards, given that it reintroduced the corset, depriving women of the freedom of movement – and independence. However, the new style introduced by Christian Dior was extremely popular among women in Europe and America from its presentation, and its influence is still alive not only in the creations of the designers of the maison Dior – from Galliano to Simons and now Maria Grazia Chiuri – but represents a reference for fashion students and designers worldwide.