For her first couture show, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri swapped confrontational feminism for womanly grace
We decided to choose a garden, because when you are doing something elaborate you don't know if you can find yourself — or if you've lost your way,” said Maria Grazia Chiuri to explain the labyrinth that made up the Christian Dior walkway. It included hedges of greenery and a hefty tree fluttering with decoration on bark and twigs.
In her first Dior show for haute couture, Maria Grazia — formerly half of the design duo in charge at Valentino — made a pure, beautiful feminine statement. It was an intriguing new edge to her ready-to-wear debut in which Maria Grazia sported a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘We should all be feminists’. Worn by the designer and by Natalie Portman in last week's anti-Trump rally, it was even displayed at the show by Hélène Mercier Arnault, the musician wife of Bernard Arnault, owner of Dior.
Strife and upheaval was left behind in this purposeful but gentle Dior collection, where the designer explained that lightness is everything: whether it was a tailored jacket with the famous 1950s ‘Bar’ shape made in pleated organza or a hymn to hand work in an embroidered dress that ended with a hem in wisps of raffia.
The collection was topped by a charming and feather-light series of headdresses and masks from milliner Stephen Jones, preparing the audience for the ‘Dior Ball’ being held to celebrate at the end of the evening.
“I have been waiting for a long time for this,” said Sidney Toledano, Dior's CEO, who has handled a troop of designers from John Galliano's ultra-feminine extravagance to Raf Simons's modernist approach.
Maybe it needed a woman — and one experienced in both couture and ready-to-wear — to understand the needs and yearnings of her fellow females. The all-black opening was discreet, not so much practical as elegantly wearable and with the same pleated effects in light fabrics covering most of the legs and body. No break-the-glass-ceiling statement here — but also no sexiness or vulgarity to serve as a stand-off to the alpha male.
The pursuit of prettiness is always difficult in a modern scenario. But Maria Grazia's effects were subtle in their femininity. Or as she put it: “We tried to keep Dior's tone of no precise colours, none that you can define, all dusty in some way.”
“There are tulle dresses with pressed flowers inside, and short raffia gowns too,” she continued. “For me, doing something poetic is to do luxury embroidery in an unfinished way, to give a human touch — a poetic touch.”
The designer included in the programme notes minute details of the realisation of these clothes that looked so carefree and light. For example, the raffia-edged embroidered dress, made following Monsieur Dior's original embroideries, took 1,900 hours of handwork.
Maria Grazia also offered in the notes Christian Dior's own definition of a garden labyrinth, although that did not include some of her finer touches, like using the galvanised copper jewellery of Claude Lalanne.
“After women, flowers are the most divine of creations — they are so delicate and charming — but they must be used carefully,” said the couturier, who died in 1957.
The Dior statement does not sound like 21st-century feminism. But Maria Grazia's collection proved that she could bring out the best in feminine fashion.