Maria Grazia Chiuri and Catherine de’ Medici: two Italians in Paris, centuries apart, connected on the Dior runway on Tuesday.
Chiuri has flirted before with historical costumes, but she has always resisted being drawn down a time tunnel, determined to dress women to meet the challenges of the here and now.
Her spring 2023 collection, staged around a Gothic-style grotto made of paper cutouts by French artist Eva Jospin, sparked a dialogue between past and present that packed plenty of swagger. Think lampshade hoop skirts, lacy shirt dresses and elasticated corsets, slung over cargo pants with the same ease as a tank top.
“The idea is to mix the natural elements with the construction, and to create a Baroque ball inside the gardens of the Tuileries, but in a contemporary way,” Chiuri said in a preview.
The designer was fascinated with the way clothing contributed to the myth of the Renaissance queen, who is credited with popularizing high heels for women and brought to France an embroidery technique that still carries her name.
“I understood very well to what extent she also used clothes to express her power, and the relationship between fashion and power,” she said. “I found this very interesting, and also because it helped me to understand the relationship between France and Italy. This woman was really a link between the two cultures.”
The collection referenced those points both literally and metaphorically, with Chiuri deftly weaving in elements of the Dior archives. She worked curved heels, inspired by Roger Vivier’s designs for Dior in the ‘60s, into everything from multi-strap boots to wooden clogs that are sure to become one of the “It” shoes of the season.
Embroidery, which Chiuri has made one of her signatures at the French fashion house, appeared on items like a deceptively simple raffia coat with an intricate 3D floral design inspired by founder Christian Dior’s Miss Dior dress, or jeans embellished with the geometric motifs of the Catherine de’ Medici stitch, also known as punto madama.
Speaking of fashion diplomacy, the designer had a political message of her own, sending models down the runway in various states of deshabille. Skirts split open to reveal matching boxer shorts, while broderie anglaise petticoats were paired with skimpy bra tops.
“I’m so frustrated that in this historical moment, we can’t show bodies, that they are all obsessed about what happens around our bodies, so the idea is to show the body,” said Chiuri, who has made feminism a cornerstone of her tenure at Dior.
There was a poignancy to the fact that the show was held in the Tuileries Garden, a park originally conceived by de’ Medici. In a reflection of her own journey, Chiuri revived a vintage Dior scarf print of a map of Paris and used it on items including a trenchcoat, a hoodie and a bomber jacket.
“Probably one of the first things that I saw when I arrived in Paris were the references that I found to Italy. We have a different way to live the space and to live these references,” she mused.
Her “obsession,” as she enters her seventh year at Dior, has been to foster a dialogue between her own culture and that of the French fashion house, which appeared to reach a crescendo with this time clash exercise.
“I really appreciate what I’ve learned in Paris, but at the same time I think I have given them in return a different way to see themselves, what they are doing and how they can evolve for the future,” she said. “Sometimes it’s very helpful to have someone who comes from another point of view, who can see things in a fresh way.”