Christian Dior officially has a new heir to the throne, and this time, it’s a queen.
Maria Grazia Chiuri, formerly of Valentino, arrives at Dior as its first female creative director. For her Spring/Summer 2017 collection, feminism was her central inspiration, one that was strong in concept but definitely encountered some bumps and bruises in execution. This debut neither particularly wowed nor totally failed. We missed much of what we’ve come to love about Dior, but perhaps the house famous for creating the New Look is fostering a fresh one.
Chiuri’s collection definitely takes an aesthetic departure from the Dior of Raf, of Galliano, and really all of its predecessors — the opening look pairs a white fencing jacket with knickerbockers, a rather curious and unexpected start to a collection centered around feminism. Also, quilted fencing kits with buckles are worn with sneakers and knee-high boots, contrasting with the sleek high heel one would typically associate with Dior. In a Vogue review, she explains how the fencing motif, “involves mind and heart at the same time, which women always need if they are to realize themselves.”
Dior is a fashion house famous for celebrating femininity. In the past, this has been expressed architecturally through cinching bodices, swooping curves and elegant craftsmanship. Maria Grazia Chiuri continues this celebration, but takes a more concrete and less subtle approach. On the runway, she sends down t-shirts that literally read “We should all be feminists,” a phrase that’s long been cycled through the fashion and sociopolitical realms, and thus commercialized. But she veers towards the whimsical with sparkling, airy tulle skirts embroidered with solar and lunar tarot card images, strengthening the apparent theme of depicting women as strong and earthly, yet otherworldly beings.
Chiuri plays with the duality of women by transitioning from a white, dainty phase to a black-dominant, witchier phase and settling in a fiery red one. She often juxtaposes hard with soft — underneath translucent tulle skirts are boxer shorts and combat boots; atop leather dresses are unforgiving chokers; tightly pulled buns reveal graceful braids up the models’ heads once they turn around.
But it’s difficult at times to even focus on the garments for how pale the show was — hardly any models of color were featured and those who did walk the runway were very fair in complexion. Feminism is a movement that emphasizes the support and empowerment of women across all racial and ethnic backgrounds, ages, abilities and socioeconomic classes, which is why it comes as a surprise that Chiuri, a blatant champion of feminism, misses the mark in this regard.
It’s also worth noting that in the aforementioned Vogue review, Chiuri reveals that she sees herself as a curator of the house, as she plans to draw from the work of previous designers for Dior in her future collections. This is a respectful strategy, but perhaps limits her scope as creative director. After a collection that took Dior in such a defined direction, falling back on past influences may stunt her progress.
Chiuri succeeds in alerting us that we are entering a new age at Dior, and though the welcome hasn’t been flawless, there’s hope for it heating up.
Kaylee Warren is a contributing writer. Email her at violetvision@.nyunews.com.