As Dior prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary with a series of commemorative events, Maria Grazia Chiuri is looking to the house’s future. In her debut pre-fall collection for the label, the Italian designer expounded on her vision for the brand — and it’s aimed squarely at a younger generation.
Having moved to Paris from Rome last year, Chiuri is still soaking up the atmosphere of the French capital, and it pervaded the lineup, though in unexpected ways. The designer said she was drawn by the city’s role as a magnet for bohemians, as described in Ernest Hemingway’s Twenties classic “A Moveable Feast.”
She cast that oft-referenced period in a new light by making a connection with American counterculture artists like Shepard Fairey and Harmony Korine, as portrayed in the 2008 documentary “Beautiful Losers.” And she updated the concept of Paris as cultural melting pot with a trove of ethnic influences.
“Christian Dior is a Parisian brand, so you have to feel this attitude that there is in the city,” she said. “You can dress like you want, you can express how you feel. I feel this atmosphere of freedom in the city.”
The approach was summed up by a long coat in a mosaic patchwork of precious fabrics: a blend of the old and the new, the polished and the raw. There were nods to the house’s heritage — variations on the Bar jacket, houndstooth and herringbone, hourglass dresses — but rendered with a fuss-free, modern hand.
Think Ruth Bell, the tomboyish British model who appears in Chiuri’s debut advertising campaign for Dior, in a Fifties-inspired black bustier dress with thick shoulder straps, paired with black ankle boots.
“I like the heritage element, but at the same time I want to use it in a contemporary way, because in the end fashion speaks about now, and our style of life is completely different. Women in the Fifties didn’t work. It’s a completely different story,” said Chiuri.
She noted that preparations for the anniversary were already under way when she joined the house, hinting that she was more focused on the next chapter of its story.
“I want to really understand this brand. I want to know the heritage very well. At the same time, I want to express myself in a very easy way, because I don’t think that this heritage has to be something that is untouchable,” she said. “You have to translate this heritage in a language that probably is more about now, because I want to speak, for this brand, to a new generation of women.”
To wit, biker jackets and velvet dresses, including a scarlet baby-doll version, nodded to the L.A. vintage aesthetic popularized by Hedi Slimane during his stint at Saint Laurent. Chiuri brought the look back into the realm of high luxury by throwing her signature diaphanous dresses and dramatic capes into the mix.
Eveningwear nodded to founder Christian Dior’s love of the esoteric. A black-and-white floor-length gown came in a palm print inspired by tarot readings, while others were embroidered with stars and astrological signs, which also cropped up on evening bags and in talisman trinkets looped onto long chains.
The capes came in fabrics ranging from a military-inspired khaki wool to hippie-style embroidered sheepskin. Denim separates embellished with folkloric silver embroidery contrasted with severe outfits with an equestrian flair, like a striking black dress with a tasseled hem that was topped with a matching jacket.
“I want to dress in Dior every day, so I need different pieces that I can mix like I want, that express my spirit in the moment, so I try to translate this in my job,” Chiuri said.
With its eclectic point of view, the collection is in tune with Millennials’ cherry-picking approach to personal style, though it will frustrate those looking for a clearer departure from Chiuri’s prior work at Valentino. However, the designer made it clear she won’t be boxed in.
Showing off a handbag, she pointed to its traditional sellerie stitching, “hip-hop” style logo hardware and ethnic-influenced shoulder strap, remarking: “I love these things that you can’t define in one word.”
If Chiuri made a powerful statement, it’s that her creations are wardrobe building blocks, to be customized by the individual wearer — an approach she attributes partly to the fact that she is the first female designer at the helm of the house, having succeeded Raf Simons in the post.
“Probably the difference is that I have an idea that you have to help women express themselves. I don’t want to impose anything,” she said. “I don’t think there is only one way to be dressed in Dior.”