Covered with giant protest headlines, mostly in English, Dior’s show structure, erected on the grounds of the Musée Rodin, telegraphed another political concept from Maria Grazia Chiuri. The texts were from the Sixties, particularly 1968, a worldwide seminal moment for youth culture and grassroots mobilization in an era of major social volatility.
A half-century later, Chiuri finds that year fascinating — and who doesn’t? An exhibit of political posters of the French far left from 1968 to 1974 is running at the Beaux Arts, part of a series of events marking the 50th anniversary in May of the Paris student uprisings.
Yet it’s one thing to recall 1968 with a show of political posters. It’s another to address it in a fashion context. While some elements — student protests — can be romanced, others, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, cannot.
Chiuri thus sidestepped those horrors, instead celebrating the positive aspects of the revolutionary moment, including an eruption of creativity in fashion. Three years earlier, Diana Vreeland had penned a piece in Vogue titled “Youth Quake,” a handle and concept that resonates deeply with Chiuri, who, throughout her still-young tenure at Dior, has struggled to seamlessly address a younger customer while retaining the high-fashion resonance of the Dior name and legacy.
In this collection, Chiuri made considerable strides, not with the kind of rock-the-boat audacity that one might expect from a collection inspired by so tumultuous a year, but with smart, attractive, wearable clothes with an emphasis on daywear, aside from a range of transparencies that, even over undies that more than covered the necessities, felt a little dated.
But for the mirrored ceiling, Chiuri’s covered her interior show space with a collage of fashion magazine covers from 1968. This presaged a major patchwork motif (the collage; not the imagery itself), which Chiuri handled to interesting effect. Denim mosaics took on a polished air in a chic, no-nonsense shirtdress, while lavish embroideries lost their preciousness in sporty jackets and skirts.
Chiuri opened with signage on a sweater, “C’est non non non et non!” which, archival or non (it was), read like a #MeToo manifesto, and was worn over one of the collection’s several kilts. (First Donatella, now Dior. One more sighting, and it’s a bona fide trend). Chiuri paid considerable attention to tailoring, now comfortable enough not to obsess over the Bar. Here, she preferred a sportier approach for both suits and mixes. While some of the jackets looked a bit too Carnaby Street, for the most part, she avoided cliché, wisely letting Stephen Jones’ spiffy hats reference the decade.
Underscoring it all: The feeling of an army of women, parading unified strength. Their uniform markers: Those caps and bags (including the return of the Saddle) with demonstrative cross-body straps, underscored by the regimental pomp of the Kate Bush soundtrack. In Chiuri’s determination to make her Dior expressive of women’s power as much as their style, the beat goes on.