Ever since her debut, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Christian Dior, has been a trailblazing force, using haute couture to challenge the norms of femininity. To her, fashion is about a worldly experience, beyond the catwalk. Taking inspiration from Bernard Rudofsky, who said that fashion is not just about creativity but also about human life, she looks at couture collections from an anthropological perspective, but with a positive and feminist attitude.
It was after the Fall Couture ’19 show, that she was given the French Legion of Honour award, glorifying her status as the the first ever woman to helm the distinguished Dior house and align its work with feminism rather than traditional femininity. Dior is now less about their hemlines and havelocks, although they are still to J’adore for, and more about female empowerment and cultural exchange.
The humble t-shirt: Dior made its first big statement with a straight-forward slogan tee. The t-shirt quoted Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and said, ‘We should all be feminists’. Another t-shirt quoted the late American historian Linda Nochlin who said, ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’. A slogan tee was transformed from the most witless of fashion to one with meaning and cultural reference.
A tomboy from the ’60s: The ’60s were the decade prominently known for second wave feminism in pop culture, although most of it was based in the United States, the movement was a world-wide cry. Helen Reddy’s song ‘I am Woman’, was emphasising the importance of birth control and co-education. In fashion, it was Mary Quant’s miniskirts and showing skin to feel empowered and Twiggy’s rise in popularity, despite her body type not conforming to the ideal hourglass figure, that proved to society feminism was on the rise.
These were truly harnessed in the Dior AW18. The venue was an uber-modern box like design in the garden of a museum, papered with slogans like ‘Women’s rights are human rights’, both inside and outside of the box on vintage magazine covers. The collection was inspired by the Dior archives of women in the late ’60s holding placards that read, ‘Support the miniskirt’ to rebel against then Dior head Marc Bohan. Bohan, however, came up with the Miss Dior line to give younger consumers what they wanted. The fact that a fashion brand was actually listening to women was unheard of and today, the Miss Dior collection takes one of the higher ranks as is seen as ‘iconic’.
AW18 was plaid, tailoring to flatter women, rebellion and powerful cultural references. There was less of a delicate ballerina aesthetic and more of a feisty one. The most memorable statement piece being a sweater that says ‘C’est non, non, non et non’ ( its no, no, no and no) which is a small but substantial dig at traditional patriarchy where women are meant to say oui to everything. The collection saw skirts in pleated kilt form, Dior statement belts and blazers that abandoned the traditional bar curve at the hip for a more laid back look. The front row guest was Bianca Jagger, who was known in the ’60s for chic tailoring and sporting the YSL Le Smoking, which was a rebellion of its own.
The Female Divine: In a powerful, ground breaking collaboration with artist Judy Chicago, Dior transformed its Haute Couture show to the most bold statement made by the brand on feminism yet. The Female Divine by Judy Chicago presents an alternative history where principles of matriarchy take precedence.
Christian Dior’s Spring 2020 show took place in the gardens of Musee Rodin where its attendees were rushed into a 225ft long and 45ft tall inflatable anthropomorphic structure. The structure was designed by Judy in the late ’70s and had been reimagined in 3rd dimension by Dior. The structure looked like an enormous womb, to emphasise the nurturing values of a matriarchal society.
Inside this structure were 21 vividly covered hand crafted and embroidered banners each of which raised a query. At the head of the catwalk was the banner with the main over-arching theme, ‘What if Women Ruled the World?’. The queries which followed had political, social, and reformative connotations, ‘Would there be violence?’, ‘Would we still have billionaires?’, ‘Would buildings resemble wombs?’, ‘Would men and women be equal?’, ‘Would there be private property?’, ‘Would both men and women be gentle?’. All banners were designed in Mumbai, India at the Chanakya School of Art, which teaches girls methods of art that were traditionally only taught to men.
The models were dressed as goddesses. The clothes were made in the noblest of materials: rose gold crepe, ivory silk chiffon, golden houndstooth jacquard, antique gold tulle and, bien sûr, Dior gray chiffon. Each of the cast of 77 accessorized with gold metallic leafy armbands, floral necklaces, snake bracelets or winged sandals. Botticelli beauties, resembling all the goddesses in Parisian museums like the Victory of Samothrace which stands at the Louvre. The dose of feminist power in every inch of the show is overwhelmingly beautiful.
Dior has had a long standing history about making a woman feel like her best self, but Maria and her team take it to a level where the notion of feminism becomes impactful and unafraid to voice opinions. Dior, directed by Maria Grazia and her team, has seamlessly woven together culture, art, history, and politics into a garment that fits all – feminism.
Image Credit: Becky Spiers