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Visit the House of Dior

The castle reopens this month

Go Inside Christian Dior's Castle

 Janetta Mackay http://www.nzherald.co.nz/  April 18 2016

The design genius’ lovingly restored last home stands sentinel above the fragrant flower fields of France

Christian Dior dreamed of retiring to his castle of La Colle Noire near Grasse, the traditional home of perfumery. He adored his retreats from Paris, spending time in his lovingly laid out gardens or venturing the short distance to Cannes to socialise with artist friends.

Dior bought La Chateau de La Colle Noire at Pays de Fayence just four years after revolutionising post-WWII fashion with his “New Look,” which ushered in an era of femininity that swept the globe. That landmark year of 1947 also marked the launch of his first fragrance, Miss Dior, named for his sister Catherine, who was to be a regular guest at the castle.

Ten years later, before Monsieur Dior was able to complete work on his eclectic retreat — where drawings by Chagall hung alongside classical studies of flowers — he died at age 52.

Over the years since, La Colle Noire became a shadow of its elegant former self, serving at one stage as a rock star crash pad, where Oasis holed up to record an album. In 2013, Parfums Christian Dior stepped in and bought back this piece of history, determined to restore it to its former glory.

Notes and sketches left by Monsieur Dior were meticulously followed to realise his vision. Traditional Provencal interior details and grand gestures such as a sweeping spiral staircase are among the features. Bedrooms are named after Dior’s dearest friends and his desk has been set up just as he left it.

Next month marks the official re-opening of the castle, not as a dusty museum, but as a symbolic centrepiece of Dior’s efforts to honour its founder and restore the reputation of Grasse. As perfumery has become more industrialised and ingredients more widely sourced, Grasse is not what it once was production-wise, but Dior is determined that its cachet should remain.

The house’s perfumer, Francois Demachy, has relocated from Paris back to his home town which is surrounded by a shrinking acreage of prized may rose, jasmine and other essential elements of classic French fragrance.

From producing around 5000 tonnes of flowers a year in Dior’s day, annual production from the Grasse region since 2000 has been limited to a few hundred tonnes. To help revive the local economy, Parfums Christian Dior is supporting passionate new growers and keeping alive generations-old businesses.

Visitors to Grasse are able to visit Le Domaine de Manon where Dior grows many of the blooms used in its perfume portfolio. La Colle Noire will not be open to the public, but will be used by the House of Dior for fashion shoots and events.

The country house castle dates to the mid-1800s. With the property came a chapel which Monsieur Dior restored and gifted to the local Montauroux village in 1953. Villagers still worship at St Anne’s and a mass is held in his honour annually.

His property, used mostly in summer, was once 50 hectares, in which he planted stately trees and fragrant flowers as well as the area’s renowned olives and vines. Water features were installed.

“I think of this house now as my real home, the home to which, God willing, I shall one day retire, the home where perhaps I will one day forget Christian Dior, couturier, and become the neglected private individual again,” he wrote.

Dior sketched outside in the long evenings, surrounded by jasmine and chirping cicadas. He called in a celebrated Provencal architect to refashion the interiors in a “simple” and “dignified” style.” Rose motifs were incorporated and vases kept full of fresh blooms. His grand salon was decorated in neo-Louis XI style and his cutlery and glassware monogrammed, adding sophisticated touches to the rustic setting.

A year before he died, he wrote in his autobiography Dior by Dior: “Fate has brought me into the calm and peace of the Provencal countryside to put the finish to my work. Night is falling and, with it, infinite peace.”

When Dior died he left La Colle Noire to his sister and a close friend, Raymonde Zehnacker. It was later acquired by the Laroche family and sold on for use as a holiday home, becoming tired and rundown, but still with great bones. In 1999, Oasis recorded their fourth album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, there.

The recent restoration has seen the grand staircase rebuilt and the Egyptian room returned to its original state, alongside the themed Chagall, Bernard, Picasso and Dali suites. A perfume atelier has been added to underscore Dior and the region’s connections with the craft he so cared for.

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