Maria Grazia Chiuri has her mind set on infusing her feminist sensibilities into the feminine house of Christian Dior. On one hand, her mission is lofty; on the other hand, it’s pragmatic and down-to-earth. Yes, women can be both! But let’s be practical: Her distinctly aged-down version of Dior ready-to-wear is not exactly “democratic”—for this is a French luxury house—but it’s ultimately intended to be accessible to millennials. There are no more flirty jolies madames in pastel cocktail suits and teetering stilettos parading down this runway, not even the lingering whiff of their scent.
Instead, Chiuri’s girls walked in low, block-heeled Mary Janes or black mesh knee-boots which—who knows?—might have been inspired by the wrestling ring. They wore everything from ’70s patchwork jeans to leather jumpsuits, from black pantsuits to sparkly glitter mini shifts and sheer dresses (really, a lot of them) with their underwear clearly visible.
Let it be said: Every fashion brand on earth is anxiously obsessed with appealing to millennials—the M label itself irradiated with the cynical/desperate aura of a marketer’s invention. What sets Chiuri slightly apart is that she’s a woman who is more than aware that she’s also talking to the “woke” generation—to people who are the age of her own children—and she respects their minds. She leaves the door open for an educated audience. Why, for instance, was Sasha Pivovarova, the first model out—once an art student—wearing a striped marinière sweater emblazoned with the words: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?
The answer is in art historian Linda Nochlin’s seminal essay that peels back all the systemic reasons that women were excluded from the art establishment throughout history—Chuiri distributed the text at her show. Her interest in celebrating women artists is known; she gave homage to Georgia O’Keeffe in her Cruise collection.
With this collection, she’s discovered a link with the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle—a beautiful, rebellious, and damaged young aristocrat whose photographs are lodged in the Dior archive—because she once modeled for Marc Bohan in the early 1960s. De Saint Phalle became an artist after having a breakdown, and her Tuscan sculpture–filled Tarot Garden of bulbous, colorful, mythical female figures formed the background of the show’s set, inspired the symbols on sequined minidresses, and informed the sparkly cracked-mirror embroidery at the end of the collection. Will this learning get across? Self-evidently, customers can take it—or they could just take the Mary Janes. But in this day and age, fashion brands need to stand for something more than just nice product, and Chiuri is determined that Christian Dior puts out a positive message she really does believe in.
Chiuri is a brave fashion soul, boldly addressing two of fashion’s current causes — one external: How to express a socially conscious point of view on the runway; the other, the giant question (one of them, anyway) facing luxury: How to woo the Millennial customer.
For fall, Chiuri found inspiration in two women. The work of Marc Bohan-era muse, the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, is having a moment with pieces on display in Paris, Saint-Tropez and Singapore. Her giant, colorful fun-house sculptures on long-term loan to Waterfront Park in San Diego indicate the spirit to which Chiuri was drawn, their inspiration revealed in the collection’s vibrant palette and flashy, irregular paillettes; a fanciful dragon motif used in cooperation with the artist’s estate and an artisanal, intricately wrought sweater. More subtly, Chiuri fashioned some fine tailored looks after those worn by Saint Phalle in archival pictures.
Feminist art historian Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay ”Why have there not been great women artists?” resonates deeply with Chiuri. “I would like to involve the young generation with this book, because at times, I think women are not so confident in themselves…,” she said during a preview. “Sometimes the problem is not on the outside; it is on the inside.” And you can tackle it with words on a T-shirt, such as the one that opened the show.
That deep cultural query aside, the show’s overall takeaway was of a playful cacophony that, at the luxury level, has its limits. Up close, many of Chiuri’s clothes are exquisite; all are painstakingly considered and masterfully crafted. Yet layered over feisty fun-house stripes (rompers, bras, briefs, socks), the beautiful transparencies took on the aura of rich-kid juniors, back when the adolescent set dressed from that department.
The inspiration of this artistic trailblazer spawned Tuesday’s Dior collection at Paris Fashion Week: the Sixties fused with the spirit of women’s lib. Boho denim flares, lace-up square heel boots, Breton stripes and knee-high stockings accompanied berets and long fine scarves tied with a knot. These mixed with ‘60s optical art black-and-white checks that were used effectively in kinetic uber-mini coat dresses.
Chiuri has introduced a new ease at Dior, freeing herself and the house from excessive Bar reverence — all good. Yet the ongoing forward motion that sidesteps Dior’s genetic allegiance to elegance will likely prove counterproductive in the long term. Dior can’t stand still. It must stand for fashion’s highest level of chic.
Photos : Lucie Rox for Dazed and Confused Magazine