The walls of Christian Dior’s expansive tent in the garden of the Musée Rodin were swathed in muslin, the demonstrative folds plastered into discreet structure atop a black-and-white checkerboard floor. Huge white body-part sculptures — torso, eye, ear — hung from the distressed mirrored ceiling, all telegraphing the Surrealist inspiration behind Maria Grazia Chiuri’s spring haute couture collection for Dior.
Christian Dior was a young man during the burgeoning years of that artistic movement, and his client, Leonor Fini, an artist who befriended and took cues from its leaders. An exhibition of Fini’s work was held at the Galerie Minsky in September, concurrent with the opening weeks of the Dior exhibit at Les Arts Décoratifs.
Chiuri has become quite taken with Fini’s work, and used a quote from the artist to open her show notes: “Only the inevitable theatricality of my life interests me.” If the ring of unapologetic self-absorption inherent in that quip seems ideally suited as the foundation for a couture collection in the age self-celebrating selfie culture, Chiuri took an understated approach to its invocation. While the results often charmed, in the end, they left you wanting more — more risk, more audacity, more theatricality, maybe even more of the fanciful tricks-of-the-eye essential to Surrealism and its fashion offshoot (even if one should wish for fashion tricks with the greatest of caution).
Understatement seemed Chiuri’s primary approach here, not in terms of couture flourish — there was plenty of that — nor in complicated constructions, but in the application of her theme. While it may be unfair to wonder what John Galliano would have done with it during his height at Dior, the mind goes where it goes. Chiuri worked primarily in black and white, “the colors of the subconscious,” she said backstage before the show, rendering the combo in bold graphics, an explosive froth of feathers and the show’s stunner, a white-accented black gown, almost ecclesiastical in its austerity. She worked other classic elements of the art genre — a gown cut from lace featuring an eye motif; a dress with pleats that were in fact an illusion, etched on rather than creased; stripes and checkerboards that appeared to change direction on grand gowns. Driving home the Surrealist message: Stephen Jones’ fanciful, provocative masks.
Then there were the curious “cage dresses” on which swirling embroideries made quasi-ergonomic designs across transparent horsehair dress bodies. These projected a too-familiar take on sensuality that surprised from Chiuri, and when accessorized with masks, looked less artfully Surreal than PG-13 “Eyes Wide Shut.”
For day, Chiuri avoided the sportswear direction she’s been developing in ready-to-wear, opting instead for sophisticated tailoring that nodded to retro, sometimes a bit too much, and others, beautifully.