“When you are a woman making clothes for women, then fashion is not just about how you look. It is about how you feel and how you think.”
So are the words of Maria Grazi Chiuri, the current Creative Director of Christian Dior. Appointed in 2016 following the end of Raf Simons' short but momentous reign, Chiuri left her seventeen-year position at Valentino and her home in Italy in order to revitalize the Parisian powerhouse.
The Dior legend was born in 1947, when Christian Dior reinvented the image of woman with the release of his first collection. This gave birth to ‘The New Look’; a revolution in couture. Defined by its full-skirts, cinched waists and soft shoulders, The New Look was Dior’s magnificent post-war revival of the French fashion industry. Dior soon became a fashion icon, one known for his embrace of woman, in all her beauty – something he celebrated in each and every collection. Tragically, his career soon came to an end with his death less than 10 years later. Nonetheless, in this short span of time, Dior and his New Look had established international prominence:
And so, his maison de couture lived on.
The House of Dior has seen a long line of revolutionary designers take the forefront as Creative Director. A quick history…
The short but powerful era of young Yves Saint Laurent - only 21 years of age at his appointment in 1957 - saw a strong echo of Christian Dior's style, but softened to be more wearable for the every day woman. Soon to be called to the role was Marc Bohan and his spellbinding sense of conservative elegance, contrasted by Gianfranco Ferré's refined and less flirtacious Dior that followed after. Next came Galliano in the late nineties: no one can forget his playful and theatrical masterpieces that enlivened Dior's classical New Look. Unfortunately, his glorified time at Dior came to a disturbing end, following an anti-Semitist scandal. As the flamboyant Dior dissipated with Galliano's exit, Bill Gaytten took charge of designing for the brand whilst it entered a period of uncertainty as to who would be the next artistic head. Of course, soon enough, the artistic pioneer that is Raf Simons acquired the throne in 2012. The house's directors were in search of a return to simplicity and the traditional roots of Dior, and Simons' enchanting minimalism fulfilled this wish. (I still remember watching his Dior Fall 2014 Show and falling in love before the models even appeared - Simons had decorated the venue in dozens of blooms, a dedication to Christian Dior’s love for the floral). However, it is only very recently, in 2016, that Dior – the house that celebrates woman and her beauty – finally announced its very first female creative director:
Maria Grazi Chiuri.
So what has Chiuri brought to this rich history of success, scandal, timelessness and glamour?
A sense of perspective, I would say. A deeper understanding. In her own polite and poignant words, she describes what those before her have ignored:
“It is impossible to work in fashion now if you don’t try to understand the new world.”
Infusing the taste of moderna into the age-old classic Dior, Chiuri has invigorated the traditional image of the brand. The New Dior is rebellious. Honest. Raw.
Inspired by the unapologetic self-expression of contemporary femininity, feminism and feminists, Chiuri’s vision – mirroring that of Christian’s – is to liberate the women who adorn her designs. However, unlike the long line of male Creative Directors that have gone before her, Chiuri does not feel the need to work within the iconic ‘New Look’ image that the house is so venerated for. Instead, she recognises that when Dior said fashion was about women, he meant it was about what it is to be a woman today, not what is was to be a woman 50 years ago when the house launched its first and most famous collection.
The New Dior is dichotomic and wild, elegant at heart. Taking the unpredictability of Galliano’s era, imbued with Yves Saint Laurent’s attention to detail and under the vision of woman that was first borne in the fantastical mind of Christian Dior himself, Chiuri creates a vibrant homage to the new age, coloured in undertones of couture history. Chiuri's debut collection - the Spring 2017 Ready to Wear Collection - echoes of themes of rebellion, youth, revolt and revitalised femininity. She draws imagery from the historic art of 'fencing' and its uniforms - many of the looks involved quilted, white, structured jackets. As she noted in an interview with Vogue, she was inspired by the philosophy that exists behind fencing: “You have to fight for what you really want in life,” she says. “But in fencing, you don’t kill the other person—you touch the heart.” This is Chiuri's vision for women. The most iconic piece in the collection, the We Should All Be Feminists t-shirt, takes its name from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's powerful essay that explores similar themes of modern female empowerment. Chiuri has intricately weaved these conceptual revelations into a collection that delves into the reality of womanhood in the modern age. After 70 years of continued compliance to the 1947 'New Look' mould, Chiuri has done what no other Dior Creative Director has managed to do:
She has begun a new era.
She has reimagined the Dior woman. Revived her. Revitalized her. In ways like no other:
Chiuri has brought the zest of life back into the vintage walls of la maison de Dior.