“It’s a big deal, a big emotion,” Maria Grazia Chiuri said of her move to Dior from Valentino. She arrived just months ago, the first woman to hold the position in a permanent capacity following the departure of Raf Simons last October. “It’s not only about the job, it’s about life,” she said. “It’s about myself.”

And also about the life of Dior, one of the most storied and powerful luxury brands in the world. The house has seen considerable volatility over the past several years, with the comings and goings of three creative directors, including, in addition to Simons, two interim situations, those of Bill Gaytten and the team of Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier. Chiuri is tasked with charting its next creative direction, with the presumed hope that her vision will drive the house for the foreseeable future.

In her first collection, Chiuri proclaimed her ascent boldly and even aggressively, not in the look of the clothes, but in her attention to daytime dressing of a sort that has never taken hold at Dior, including under Simons’ modernist watch. “I want to introduce into the house of Dior a natural attitude, to dress women to feel comfortable, to feel their beauty,” Chiuri said during a preview. “Women want to use the dress to express themselves. In the past, fashion was more imposition — to impose a look. Now, we suggest our style and our idea, and [women translate] the pieces in different ways.”

Chiuri started with panache and a fencing motif, the latter because, she noted, the sport involves body, mind and passion. She opened with a white quilted jacket, short and cropped pants, fairly literal but for the jacket’s one sleeve-only tweak. The second look heralded the do-it-your-way concept: a variation on the fencing jacket (this one with two sleeves) over a gentle tiered tulle skirt. Along the way, various subplots emerged, including innerwear (sturdy logoed cotton knits and chi-chi corsetry) and glorious embroideries. And proud to be the first woman in her role at Dior, Chiuri tried for a statement of empowerment in a tribute to the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose title “We should all be feminists,” was splashed on a message T-shirt. As a thought — God bless. Visually, it felt a bit out of context, though it did telegraph a new appreciation for casual dressing under Chiuri. As for the Bar jacket, Chiuri rendered it in lightened up constructions that created the shape with pockets rather than padding.

While the en garde regalia went on a bit long, the clothes felt fresh and sent a clear message: Dior is not for event dressing only. One could see the lineup’s sportier range appealing to Jennifer Lawrence, who made her entrance looking real-person fabulous in leather jacket over jeans.

Evening centered on delicate gowns featuring pictorial embroideries derived from Monsieur Dior’s fascination with tarot and the zodiac. It was breathtaking. It was also reminiscent of Valentino. To that point, Chiuri finds herself in an unusual place. The glorious, ethereal gowns that are now a Valentino hallmark were developed not by the house founder, but by Chiuri and her former co-creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, and are thus manifestations to some significant degree of who she is as a designer. Yet as she moves forward in her new assignment, she must be mindful not to cross too much of that aesthetic over to Dior.

Chiuri seems up to the challenge. Already she has introduced a sportier, less-precious vibe into the world of Dior. She views its advancement as both professional mandate and personal journey, unsettled from her comfortable life in Rome. “If I don’t test myself now, then when?” Chiuri queried. “It is something to be living your dream, and try to realize your dream. It doesn’t care if you’re a man or woman. You have to trust yourself.”


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