There’s more to Miss Dior than frivolous fashion

Miss Dior, A Story of Courage and Couture by Justine Picardie is the story of Katherine Dior, sister of fashion icon Christian Dior. Katherine led a life very different from her brother. Aside from sharing his love of gardening which inspired the name-sake rose and jasmine-scented perfume, she maintained a low profile throughout her life. The Diors were an affluent family from the coast of Normandy in northwestern France. Christian chose not to go into the family fertilizer business and instead moved to Paris to pursue a career as a fashion illustrator, eventually become an international legendary designer.

His younger sister, Katherine Dior was an avid gardener like their mother and when the family lost their fortune during the Great Depression, she retreated to the south of France with her widowed father to manage a small rural farm. By the start of World War II, she was a young woman eager to take up the fight against the Nazis. Katherine joined the resistance acting as a courier. In the course of her resistance work, she met and fell in love with a fellow resistance fighter who was already married with three children. Their mutual love and respect for each other superseded their individual circumstances and they became lovers.

By mid-1944 when the Nazi regime was collapsing, the Germans intensified their aggressions against the resistance and Katherine was captured along with several members of her cell. She was imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo in Paris and to her enormous credit did not betray her fellow resistance fighters. Consequently, she was deported to Ravensbruk, a brutal concentration camp for women in Poland. By the time Russians liberated the camp Katherine was near death and when she travelled back to Paris to join her brother Christian, she weighed 82 lbs. and her family didn’t recognize her.

Katherine Dior survived Gestapo torture and imprisonment in Ravensbruk without betraying her fellow resistance fighters.

After the war, she and her resistance fighter lover stayed together and while Christian Dior designed gorgeous fashions for her she remained a simple country woman who loved nothing more than gardening and spending time at home. She suffered permanent physical disabilities as a result of her imprisonment and treatment by the Gestapo and her later incarceration at Ravensbruk and was awarded among other medals, France’s highest recognition for her service and bravery during the war.

Miss Dior is not an easy read. The descriptions of Katherine’s war years are graphic but it is this intensity and the bravery of her actions that make this book an important and valuable book to read. The history of France during World War II is a large part of this story, and obviously, her brother Christian Dior figures prominently in the telling of her story. Picardie also wrote the definitive story of Coco Chanel Sleeping With The Enemy, Coco Chanel’s Secret War which I reviewed last year and her research is thorough. The book is interspersed with excellent photographs.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of Katherine Dior and her family and I highly recommend it.

If you are unable to obtain a copy of Miss Dior, A Story of Courage and Couture or Coco Chanel at your local bookstore or library, please click on the links above to order a copy from Amazon.

Disclosure: I may receive a teeny tiny commission. Thank you.

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Gail Czopka
Gail Czopka
2 years ago

A good read like this is what history was all about. It is a personal experience and something that touches the heart; revealing strength & courage but also the damages of what war does to the body & soul of survivors.
Thanks for recommending.

Gail from Oakville

2 years ago

Sounds really interesting! Now that I am retired, I will add it to the list of books to read. I continue to really enjoy your columns!