Feminism and sisterhood on one hand, and on the other, house codes in a particular enlightened era for women in society. Maria Grazia Chiuri is determined to address both in her work for Dior. She has been growing in comfort with their fusion and on Tuesday showed a collection of appealing, wearable clothes.
True, there remains a bit of a disconnect for those who continue to approach Dior in search of fashion wonderment. Chiuri is more interested in reality than wonder, yet considers it an obligation to work with the house codes, especially the New Look, which she admits has proven challenging.
“Honestly, this silhouette is not easy for me, because of some ways, it feels special and special in the past of Dior. The materials were very heavy,” she said during a preview. She has determined to de-chichi it and put in an everyday, sportswear context. This time around, she did so by looking at British subcultures of the Fifties, inspired by the globe-trotting Dior exhibit as tweaked for its current installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Yet Chiuri’s dedication to female empowerment matters, and her set had nothing to do with the Brit motive. Rather, the outside of the tent installed in the courtyard of the Rodin Museum featured “Dior” spelled out in body language — a photograph of a naked woman forming each letter. Inside, the entire alphabet series was featured, each letter representing a different kind of woman. This was the work of Tomaso Binga, an Italian artist who took a pseudonym to make a statement about male privilege. Binga, who’s in her late 80s, opened the show with a reading of the poem she wrote as a companion to the photo series. (Lowbrow honesty: It was delightfully brief.)
Then the clothes: The first look out, a redux of Chiuri’s now-famous feminist message T, now with pith from the poet Robin Morgan: “Sisterhood is global,” worn with a full gray skirt and corset belt. This introduced the prevailing silhouette, waist-centric with various top interest, over long, fluid skirts, the New Look in a sportswear context, inspired by Ken Russell’s “Photographs of British Teddy Girls,” and their cheeky dandified ways. That meant plenty of tartans and buffalo plaids that evaporate any hint of prim in strapless deb dresses (sometimes in two pieces), while injecting a suspicion of punk. Another reconsidered classic: toile de Jouy, rendered beautifully and every way but expected — in jacquards, embroideries, knits and even a splashy trenchcoat print. In yet another twist, technical fabrics, including what looked like an industrial mesh, gave the silhouette modernist oomph. And speaking of oomph, there was plenty of impressive, practical outerwear. Evening was low-key. Many of the dresses will go on day-for-night, while simple, lean sweaters will give lovely embellished tulle skirts an off-handed look.
Chiuri finished each exit with a reversible bucket hat by Stephen Jones. (He’s having a stellar season.) For variety’s sake, she worked some pants and a straight skirt or two into the lineup. Still, a singular silhouette prevailed. However tempered and relaxed, the New Look is specific, and the lineup became repetitive, indicating that at some point, Chiuri will have to offer more range. That said, by taking an audacious sportswear approach, Chiuri offered plenty of good-looking clothes to buy and wear, for a Dior that felt smart and current.