The designer who brought out the “We should all be feminists” T-shirts to herald fashion’s new mood in 2016 has launched three new mantras: “Sisterhood is global”, “Sisterhood is powerful” and “Sisterhood is forever”.
Championing female empowerment has become Maria Grazia Chiuri’s raison d’être since she arrived at Christian Dior three years ago and as its first female creative director she has sought to make it relevant for the #MeToo era. With the Paris launch of the new messages, taken from the titles of American feminist Robin Morgan’s book trilogy, next season is no different.
Finding her inspiration from the subculture of Teddy girls in 1950s London, Chiuri said she was drawn to them for the rebellion they represented and wanted to shine a light on the opposing end of the social spectrum of decade that Christian Dior created the era-defining “New Look” beloved by high society.
“When I was young, I – as well as many other designers – was fascinated with London. We all wanted to go there because it had tradition but it was also open to breaking the rules,” she explained before the show. That summary encapsulates her approach to designing this collection, in which she wanted to use the codes of the house but personalise them for the first time. Accordingly, she blended the honed skill of the atelier with a cool wearability demanded by ready-to-wear clothes.
Fresh interpretations of the famous bar jacket were cut from technical taffeta and cotton, rather than the stiff and heavy wools of their original 1950s counterparts “to make it more contemporary”, she said. They were given velvet lapels and worn with tailored trousers with a dropped crotch and cropped to shin length, as preferred by the Teds. Elsewhere, fine-knit wool came in buttoned-up collared tops, tartan and Vichy check dominated, and shoes were a medley of monk-strap brogues, pointed loafers and ankle boots worn with socks.
The pièce de résistance of the current V&A exhibition, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, is the dress Dior designed for Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday in 1951 (showing Dior’s own high regard for Britain) and the Cecil Beaton photograph of the royal was also on Chiuri’s mood board. It accounted for the more classic nipped-in waists and diaphanous A-line lengths of embellished tulle, albeit worn with a new interpretation of the corset in the form of an elasticated leather belt.
As well as Morgan, Chiuri used the occasion to celebrate several other female creatives, including artist and fellow Italian Tomaso Binga, who designed the show set, which was covered in a giant A to Z made from nude bodies, based on her work Alfabeto from 1970.
The future is something that the fashion industry, as a whole, is pensive about right now, especially following Karl Lagerfeld’s death last week. Much like her objective to honour the past while looking to the future, Chiuri dedicated the show to the Chanel designer, but acknowledged life moves on. “I was very sad because Karl passed away, but at the same time it’s a sign. He was a creative director for another era. In the future, it will be impossible for a creative director to arrive at a house and stay for 50 years, like he did at Fendi.”
For how many years Chiuri herself will hold the reins at Dior is, of course, unknown, but for now she is busy building a legacy reflective of her own era. “This is a new chapter,” she said confidently. “A new code.”