Catherine may not be the most famous member of the Dior family, by any means: her brother Christian Dior founded one of the top fashion houses in the world. But hers was a quietly extraordinary life, from joining the Resistance against the Nazis during the Second World War, and surviving concentration camps to helping cement the Dior legacy.


You can see Catherine Dior depicted by Maisie Williams in Apple TV+’s series The New Look, released on 14 February.

What was Catherine Dior’s early life like?

Born on 2 August 1917 as the youngest of the five Dior children, she was originally named Ginette, but became better known as Catherine. Her earliest memories would have been of a privileged upbringing; her wealthy parents lived in a villa in the Normandy town of Granville.

When still a teenager, however, Catherine’s life changed. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and Great Depression, her father’s fertiliser business collapsed, around the same time her mother died. The teenage Catherine moved to Paris to live with Christian, making money by selling hats and gloves, until the Second World War broke out and she headed to the south of France and grew vegetables to sell.

Was Catherine Dior involved in the French Resistance?

Catherine Dior (Maisie Williams) in The New Look leaning on a chair
Catherine Dior (Maisie Williams) in The New Look. (Picture by Apple TV+)

In November 1941, Catherine went to buy a radio. It was a risky move: France was under the control of either Nazi occupation or the Vichy regime, and she wanted to listen to broadcasts from the exiled Free French government. In the shop, she met a man named Hervé des Charbonneries, and although he was married with three children, the two reportedly fell instantly in love.

Charbonneries was also in the French Resistance, and Catherine was eagerly recruited. Under the codename ‘Caro’, she spent the next two and a half years inside the F2, a British-sponsored Franco-Polish intelligence network, gathering information for Polish and British intelligence. Her clandestine work eventually took her back to Paris, where she again stayed with Christian, but this increased the risks of being caught.

On 6 July 1944, Catherine was arrested by Gestapo operatives and tortured for information. She never said a word.

What happened after Catherine Dior was arrested by the Gestapo?

Catherine was on one of the last prisoner trains out of Paris before the capital was liberated in August 1944. As his sister endured the brutal conditions of that journey, Christian frantically pleaded with his contacts for help and almost succeeded: Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling arranged to have Catherine released into his care, but was just too late to stop the train.

Initially, Catherine was taken to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück in northern Germany. Over the months, she was moved to other camps, including a military prison at Torgau, a disused mine turned into a munitions site, and factories at Abterode and Markkleeberg.

How did Catherine Dior survive the concentration camps?

With Allied forces advancing from both east and west throughout 1945, the Germans evacuated many camps, which essentially meant forcing the prisoners on death marches.

She managed to make it out alive. All Catherine’s family came to know about her final days in Germany was that she had been liberated by Soviet troops.

She returned to Paris, so frail and broken that even her brother failed to recognise her.

For her work with the Resistance, Catherine received a number of decorations, including the Croix de Guerre, Combatant’s Cross, Cross of the Resistance Volunteer Combatant.

In 1994, she was given the Legion of Honour, the highest order of merit in France. The British awarded her the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, and Poland gave her the Cross of Valour.

What was Catherine Dior’s life like after the war?

Catherine rarely talked about her time in the camps, and she struggled for the rest of her life with mental health and physical problems undoubtedly brought on by her experiences. After the war, what she needed was a quiet and peaceful life.

She established a successful flower-selling business in Paris and a rose farm in Provence, used to make fragrances. By her side in these ventures was the man she fell in love with during the war, Hervé des Charbonneries, and his children, whom she raised as her own.

Was Miss Dior perfume named after Catherine Dior?

After Christian Dior debuted his first collection, New Look, in February 1947, he launched his perfume, Miss Dior, in December of that same year.

As the story goes, he had been struggling to come up with a name for the scent when his sister walked into the room, and his colleague and muse Mitzvah Bricard exclaimed, “Voila, Miss Dior!”

How did Catherine Dior die?

Following Christian’s death in 1957, Catherine was named the ‘moral heir’ of his fashion empire, responsible for safeguarding its legacy.

In 1997, she inaugurated the Musee Christian Dior, based at the old family home in Granville, and she served as honorary president from 1999 until her death, aged 90, on 17 June 2008.


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The first three episodes of The New Look are available to stream on Apple TV+ from 14 February, with new episodes airing weekly until 3 April.


Jonny Wilkes
Jonny WilkesFreelance writer

Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.