On Friday at Paris Fashion Week, Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted her feminist vision for a new age of Dior, proving that daring is caring.
Paradoxically, the fight against male chauvinism these past many decades has made us so scared of highlighting a woman's gender that we've gone kind of backwards. We're not supposed to talk about Hillary Clinton's hair and wardrobe, so as a result her campaign has hardly used the fact that she could be the free world's first-ever female president. We're not supposed to point out that Theresa May has great legs, so we tone down the fact that England has its first female prime minister since Thatcher. And we're not allowed to make fun at Angela Merkel's colour-blocked pantsuits, so we do the same with her. Well, Maria Grazia Chiuri's got news for us all: gender awareness is not a sin—it's a strength, and "we should all be feminists" as a t-shirt read in her debut collection for Dior on Friday afternoon. Rather than taking the discreet route that's apparently the politically correct one, too, Chiuri embraced the milestone she now represents head on. She is the first female designer at the house of Dior, and the first woman to fill a chief design position of this scale in the contemporary big-business landscape of fashion.
For that reason, her debut collection went way beyond the was-it-good-or-bad factor—this, ladies and gentlemen, was Dior making history, and it couldn't have happened in a more important season than this, which could see three women - Merkel, May and Clinton - ruling the Western world come Christmas. It's not the first time Chiuri has tackled tackled misunderstood political correctness. Exactly a year ago, she courageously showed a pan-African "tribal" collection for Valentino - her house at the time - mixing influences from the continent's many tribal cultures on a multi-cultural cast, which included a lot of white people, too. The PC patrol was quick to call it cultural appropriation, but Chiuri said that sharing cultures was exactly what the world needed in order to overcome its racial issues. Her Dior collection cemented this designer's social awareness once again, incorporating feminist statements like the one on that t-shirt, a quote by Nigerian-American activist Chinamanda Adichie, whose anti-discriminatory sentiments also echoed in the show's soundtrack on Beyoncé's ***Flawless, which samples one of her speeches.
Chiuri exercised her gender-equal hand in the archives not of Christian Dior but of Hedi Slimane. The bee he introduced as Dior Homme's logo in the early 2000s - a Napoleonic symbol of power - took centre stage, and the clinical armour look that defined the first part of Chiuri's fencing-centric collection was easily a reference to his autumn/winter 2003 collection for Dior Homme, the medieval sportswear he called Luster. She used fencing as a metaphor for her feminist message: "a discipline in which the balance between thought and action, the harmony between mind and heart are essential," she said in the show notes. "The uniform of the female fencer is, with the exception of some special protections, the same as for a male fencer. The female body adapts itself to an outfit which, in turn, seems to have been shaped to its curves." You can roughly divide fashion's spectators into two groups: those who love costume elements in real clothes and those who don't. As far as that first group goes - yours truly a member - Chiuri easily established a new fan base at Dior.
As the show progressed, she slowly started morphing her feminist fencing garments into the stuff that made that same fan base swoon at her Valentino shows: lavishly embroidered skirts that looked like sporty mesh styled with intricate knits; lightweight, transparent gowns revealing sporty undergarments underneath featuring the Christian Dior name written as if on the elastic waistband of men's underwear. Since Chiuri was announced as the new designer for Dior, the industry has speculated what would happen when the Valentino twosome she made up with Pierpaolo Piccioli split up. Was she craftsman? Was she the researcher? In her Dior debut, Chiuri proved that she was all of those things and more, if a tad less romantic than before. One thing is taking on a new house and trying to fulfil the expectations that come with living up to the founder's legacy and the house codes. Another thing altogether is taking the chances Chiuri took in this collection, drawing on the young Dior Homme archive, her own signature from Valentino, and wrapping it all up in a message much more important than any fashion event could ever be.
In the solo capacity of Maria Grazia Chiuri, fashion hasn't just found a charismatic female designer force for a new era, but a brave voice, too. When she came out for her bow to a partly standing ovation, she walked that runway with all the confidence of the statement her collection heralded. When Clinton, May and Merkel get together for their first presidential female power powwow next year, by all means let them wear Dior.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams