The careers of Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were intimately intwined in the 1950s, but the megabrands that live on in their names – both of which presented their spring/summer 2018 collections on Tuesday in Paris – have developed quite different approaches to fashion.
At Dior, the tone was set by a copy of Linda Nochlin’s groundbreaking 1971 feminist essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? left on every seat. That treatise on art history and the patriarchy became a key part of the show, its title used as a slogan on a Breton T-shirt worn by the first model.
Explorations of female power have particular resonance at Dior, whose founder famously redrew the lines of femininity in the post-war era with the New Look, and which has recently appointed the first female creative director in its 70-year history, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
The show had a second high-brow reference in the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, whose aesthetic also featured heavily, with motifs based on her brightly coloured sculptures and mirror mosaics echoing throughout the collection. “She was a rebel,” said Chiuri. “She was a very revolutionary woman, really inspiring was really strong in her self.”
Saint Phalle’s own dress sense – her trademark little blue veiled berets was on the catwalks, seen also in Wednesday Addams-esque outfits, such as a striped shirt with sharply pointed collars worn underneath a black corset dress, that Saint Phalle might have worn in her more emo moments. There was a lot here that felt a bit Beetlejuice, including checkerboard prints on coats and bags and black and white striped knee-high socks and hot pants trimmed with Christian Dior branding, that were visible under the pretty tulle dresses that have become Grazia Chiuri’s Dior calling card.
This is not the first time that Chiuri has created a feminist T-shirt: the stand out item from her debut collection was the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote “we should all be feminists”. Chiuri’s silhouettes tend to be straightforwardly flattering – a corset top nipped in at the waist with a layered tulle skirt – rather than the sort of awkward highly-styled designs that win critical plaudits at other houses.
She has received some critical flak for her accessible approach but has remained doggedly true to her trademark tropes regardless. Like those quotes, her brand message is straightforward, upbeat and globally digestible by fans such as those at the show who sat eagerly taking in their Dior berets taking photographs of the cover of Linda Nochlin’s essay and posting it on Instagram.
Backstage, Chiuri’s description of the relationship between women’s lives and their clothes was convincing: “Sometimes we think that fashion changes women but what really happens is the opposite. Women change, and so fashion has to change as well.”
Later on Tuesday night, the presentation of Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2018 collection felt more like the set of an incredibly chic sci fi movie than a fashion show. It was staged outside, in an epic runway built in Paris’ historic Place de Varsovie. Dry ice wafted through the air as the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkled in background.
It was the guests who really brought the otherworldliness to proceedings, however, with the brand’s fans, such as Lenny Kravitz and Lou Doillon, decked out in outfits including sleek black tuxedo jackets with glittering silver lapels, thigh-high silver disco boots with cone heels and mini dresses with extended crystal shoulders that gave their wearers the air of intergalactic power dressers.
Anthony Vaccarello, Saint Laurent’s creative director of three seasons, took a rather more sensual tack than his peer at Dior when describing his collection, describing the Saint Laurent woman as “a dark angel with a sensual allure [who] drapes herself in black-sequinned dresses, shining like the asphalt after the rain”.
On a practical note this meant legs for days (Kering and LVMH’s pact to stop using size zero models – and underage models – on the catwalks and in advertising campaigns does not seem to have led to a huge amount of size diversity yet) and a piratey silhouette of shorts with blouson tops closing by a brilliant – if difficult to imagine wearing to the shops – parade of huge, 80s-influenced bubble dresses.
There were quotes on every seat, in tribute to Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s former lover and life-long business partner, who was in attendance at the last Saint Laurent fashion show in February but died, at the age of 86, in September.