Feminism, fascination and frivolity. Maria Grazia Chiuri is the first female artistic director in the history of Dior, succeeding seven decades of male leadership. Promoting femininity and thinking about millennials in her new vision of the brand. She shows that being young can still be heritage-driven and all-inclusive whilst spreading messages of female empowerment, feminism and the arts.
Promoting femininity: the first steps
“In my mind, if it is a feminine brand, we have to start a dialogue with women. It’s not about describing a silhouette. It’s a message that you want to have a relationship with them. That you want to impose nothing on them but help them.” That’s what Maria Grazia Chiuri said to the Telegraph in 2017 regarding her interview for Dior. Since her appointment as the first female artistic director of the luxury brand in mid-2016, she has done just that.
Over the last four years, Chiuri has opened a new chapter in Dior’s history. She has realigned the historically male-helmed house as a projection of feminist values and idols while simultaneously redefining her own USP.
The designer modestly made her name at Valentino as co-creative director with long-time design partner Pierpaolo Piccioli. Together, they restored a fashion business that had lost its way. Introducing romanticism into ready-to-wear and creating the cult ‘rock stud’ heels and bags, which were an immense commercial success.
It isn’t just the simplicity of creating something ‘pretty’ anymore. The average customer now has more information at their fingertips than ever before. Meaning that the greatest responsibility is to engage with them. Something that Chiuri has done by adopting a modern feminist ethos. Not only bringing in more buyers but a wider range, too.
In some ways, it’s surprising that Dior, a brand who pushes femininity at its forefront, has never had a woman at the head. Instead, the brand has been looked after by some of the most exquisite men in fashion; from Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and most recently Raf Simons. Although, it has never held a message quite as strong as Chiuri’s.
Maria Grazia Chiuri broadened the brand’s appeal by building a wardrobe, not just a uniform. The feminine woman today has full autonomy and is able to dress it up, or down. Chiuri is trying to tailor for everyone.
Cast your mind back to the female designer’s Dior debut in September 2016. When models walked the catwalk wearing the now renowned slogan t-shirts, the message was clear.
What emerged wasn’t a predictable repackaging of the houses’ codes but rather an all-inclusive range which challenged the definition of feminine. Jolting anyone who expected Chiuri to start with her usual romanticism, the collection instead was an ode to fourth-wave feminism. Creating clothing for all women: classic or pragmatic.
A fascination of feminist surrealism
Not only does Chiuri champion feminism in fabric, silhouette and style – she also expresses it within her references. “Surrealism speaks about dreams and the unconscious, and often about women’s bodies. It’s very close to fashion” Chiuri declared to Vogue, speaking of Leonor Fini.
Fini was an artist that Christian Dior chose. She exhibited her art in the gallery he was involved in before starting as a couturier. Chiuri used Fini’s designs as a reference for Dior’s Spring 2018 Couture show. She showed admiration of how the artist ‘performed’ her identity through extravagant headdresses and clothes.
Chiuri’s interest in celebrating women artists is known. She has paid homage to Georgia O’Keefe for her cruise collection; gathered inspiration from Sonia Delaunay for her pre-fall 2019 and re-introduced the world to art historian Linda Nochlin for her Spring 2018 ready-to-wear.
She is conscious about what she represents and wears her politics on her sleeve (or in some cases, her t-shirt), engaging with the world and the clothing she designs.
Frivolity: it’s the message that matters
Chiuri’s Dior is serious. Her collections are the perfect balance of both feminine and masculine tailoring. Yet, the message comes across as somewhat light-hearted at times.
The shows are always a spectacle and have kept Dior on its pedestal within the fashion houses. The brand is outperforming so spectacularly that the other labels at LVMH need to take note. However, Chiuri’s main point of focus is to ensure her message comes across as clear as possible.
After her debut at Dior, in a collaboration of capitalism and the high-street, shops began to fill with knock-off “we should all be feminists” t-shirts at the small cost of £10 rather than £600. It thrilled Chiuri to know this. She told the Telegraph, in 2016, that “some of them didn’t even know they were wearing copies. They just related to the message.”
It shows that, after four years in the Paris institution that is Dior, Roman-born Chiuri knows how to drive her atelier. Feminists worldwide can rejoice in more diverse Dior for many more years to come.