The Original Miss Dior : Catherine Dior

Today’s article is written by Joan Ramirez, an ESL educator and author. Right now she is writing a historical suspense series that begins in occupied Paris in WWII and continues to present day. She is researching her new novel and the material in the article comes from the work she has been doing in the preparation. Perfume will have a role in the novel.

While she was the sister of Christian, the brilliant creator of the fashion House of Dior, Catherine Dior was a class act in a league of her own choosing. Born Ginette Dior on 2 August 1917, she later took Catherine as her name. At the age of fourteen, Catherine lost her mother, Madeleine Dior, to septicemia following an operation. She’d developed her love of fragrance from her mother. Her father, Maurice Dior, lost the family’s fortune in the Wall Street crash of 1929. The young Catherine had to accompany her father from her grand childhood home in Normandy to a small farmhouse in Provence.

Christian and Catherine were in Provence by the time Paris fell to Nazi occupation and France signed the Armistice on June 22,1940 with Germany. On a fateful day in November of 1941, Catherine bought a radio in Cannes. It enabled her to listen to Radio Londres, a station operated from the BBC by members of the Resistance to their supporters in occupied France. Around that time Catherine met Hervé des Charbonneries, an early member of the Resistance and fell in love. By the end of the year, Catherine joined him in a Parisian Resistance network.

A fervent supporter of Charles De Gaulle, Catherine joined des Charbonneries in F2, a Resistance network with ties to British and Polish intelligence. Under the code name of Caro, she gathered and transmitted information on the movements of German troops and warships. To do so, she made frequent trips by bicycle to liaise with other F2 agents. On one occasion, she hid incriminating material from the Gestapo during a raid, earning praise for her composure and decisiveness.

When Cannes became too dangerous, Catherine moved to Paris and continued to work for F2. On July 6, 1944, she was arrested, tortured, and interrogated by the Gestapo. On August 22, 1944, she was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. The following month, she was transported to Torgau, a slave labor camp administered by the Buchenwald concentration camp. In October, Catherine was sent to Abteroda where women slept on a cold cement floor in a factory workshop. There were no latrines and rations were watery soups and a piece of dry bread. Shifts lasted for 12 hours. SS guards would beat them if they worked too slowly. In early 1945, Catherine was moved to a camp in Markkleeberg, near Leipzig.

On April 21, 1945, Catherine escaped near Dresden. In late May of 1945, she returned to Paris so emaciated that Christian didn’t recognize her. Too sick to eat the dinner her brother had prepared, Catherine convalesced in Provence, and by autumn of 1945 returned to live with Christian and Hervé des Charbonneries in Paris. In France, she was awarded several decorations honoring her work as a member of the Resistance: the Croix de Guerre, the Cross of the resistance volunteer combatant, and the Combatant’s Cross. She was also named a member of the Legion of Honor – France’s highest order of merit. Britain gave her the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, recognizing foreign nationals having aided Allied forces.

After his sister’s return to Paris, Christian Dior founded his fashion house. He launched his first collection on February 12, 1947, in a salon sprayed with Miss Dior fragrance. According to a Christian Dior confidante, the name of the perfume came from Catherine, by happenstance. Christian was wondering what to name his fragrance when Catherine walked into the room, at which point one of the designer’s close associates exclaimed, “Voilà Miss Dior!” Christian allegedly replied, “Miss Dior: now there’s a name for my perfume!” A fragrance was born.

Seven years after her return to France, Catherine testified in the trial of fourteen people charged with war crimes, some of whom had tortured her in Paris and caused her deportation to Germany. She was was named a Chevalière of the Legion of Honour in recognition for her sacrifices.

Until her death in 2008, Catherine worked hard to support the legacy of her brother Christian, opening his museum in Granville as well donating a number of artifacts to its collection. Her own legacy is just as impressive and deserves more recognition.

Photography via Wiki-images, some rights reserved

More about Catherine Dior: if you’re interested in more information about this indomitable woman, please take a look at the following articles: Who Was The Original Miss Dior and “Was It I Who Came Back Home?” On the Return of Catherine Dior and Other Survivors of Ravensbrück. The latter is written by Justine Picardie, who is the author of a comprehensive study of Catherine Dior’s life.



  • Marie: I saw an exhibit about Catherine Dior a few years ago and at the time I was thinking that it was a shame that she was not more known. Thank you for this post. May 30, 2023 at 3:25am Reply

  • carole: Funny-I commented on this yesterday, and came back to read the comments later. I couldn’t access the post again, and my comment from yesterday is gone.

    I had recommended the same book about Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture. It’s an in depth book, and it does detail exactly what Catherine experienced as a prisoner of war-she was tortured. She made it out alive but was forever changed by her experience. It makes me love Miss Dior (the fragrance) even more, knowing it was made for Christian Dior’s sister. What a touching tribute, as is this beautiful post.

    Thank you for always adding pleasure to my days. I love the posts, the guest posts, and the comments. Hope everyone has a good day. May 30, 2023 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: That was my tinkering with the settings and losing some data. Sorry about that!

      I saw your comment yesterday on Joan’s post and I picked up Picardie’s book from our local book store. I’m reading it now. When I was researching certain Ukrainian war-era women, I read a book about Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm and it was very explicit about what women like Dior went through. A difficult but important read. May 30, 2023 at 10:17am Reply

      • carole: I’m glad it was you-had nightmares that the site was hacked!

        Off topic but I have to tell you-I just bought Olia Hercules’ book Kaukasis. She writes about Ukranian food so beautifully-so many recipes for me to try. If you ever publish a cookbook I’ll but hat too 🙂 Rooster House available for pre order now, in Canada. Actual book will be ready June 27, and I can’t wait! May 30, 2023 at 12:07pm Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much, Joan for highlighting the story of this brave woman, so elegant on the photos. I didn’t know it. I already loved and admired vintage Miss Dior but now even more so after finding out it was named after her. May 30, 2023 at 12:30pm Reply

  • Maggiecat: What a fascinating story! I’ll definitely be reading more about this amazing woman. May 30, 2023 at 2:29pm Reply

  • joan ramirez: Maggiecat, Aurora, Carole, Victoria,and Marie:
    I’m so happy you liked my Dior article. I give her my personal round of applause because she was a true heroine.
    I’d love to send you information on Book One in my historical suspense WWII series that was inspired by Ms. Dior’s and Holocaust victims’ and survivors’ valor. I gratefully thank Victoria for publishing this piece. Ironically, when i saw the Christian Dior exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, I leafed through the book about Ms. Dior but didn’t buy it because I’m overwhelmed with research for Books 2 to 5. However, my article is a tribute to her. Sincerely, Joan Ramirez, author May 31, 2023 at 2:50pm Reply

    • carole: Joan, I’d love to read anything else you’ve written-where can I purchase your work? June 2, 2023 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Andy: Joan, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, having known nothing of Catherine Dior prior to reading. I’m struck by her courage and lifelong work ethic, not to mention her serendipitous role in the Miss Dior story. The original Miss Dior perfume somehow feels like a wonderful fit with Catherine Dior’s charismatic and brave spirit.

    Your forthcoming books also sound like an incredible labor of love and quite appealing! June 2, 2023 at 10:00am Reply

  • joan ramirez: Thank you, VIctoria, for the opportunity to meet all of these charming perfume lovers online.
    Fingers crossed for the debut of Book One in my historical “scented” suspense. Joan Ramirez June 2, 2023 at 10:47am Reply

  • WARA: ASHKHA SULPAY, MERCI, THANK YOU, MUCHAS GRACIAS….looooooooove Ms. Dior, but this is the first time I read about her ✊🏽SPIRIT!!!!!! Her story is alive in all the COURAGEOUS women living in UKRAINE under constant attacks!!!! June 2, 2023 at 12:04pm Reply

  • Sam: What an extraordinary woman. Thanks for sharing this with us. June 13, 2023 at 10:04am Reply

  • joan ramirez: I am so pleased that all of you liked my Dior article. I take perfume and its role in my historical suspense series very seriously.
    I’m so grateful to Bois de Jasmin for publishing it.
    A big round of applause to each of you. Joan Ramirez June 13, 2023 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Joan! All of us learned a lot and got inspired to read more about this incredible woman. Picardie’s book is fascinating indeed. Also highly recommended. June 13, 2023 at 10:15am Reply

  • ninotchka: Yes, thank you for this. As a “Chanel person,” it can be difficult to reconcile my love of the classic fragrances with Coco’s views and wartime activities. How wonderful to know that another adored perfume is a tribute to this freedom fighter! June 18, 2023 at 3:40pm Reply

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