When appointed Creative Director of the house of Christian Dior in 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri was the first woman in the brand’s 69 year history to steer its creative side. It’s a feat she took literally, taking us on a voyage that season by season, collection by collection, explored the complexity of relationships between feminism and femininity. To aid this quest, she engaged prolific feminine writers, researchers and artists along the way, from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to American art historian Linda Nochlin, and most recently second wave feminist artist Judy Chicago. In turn, Chiuri has become the feminist prophet of modern fashion; reckoning with the feminine cause in some form.
Today in Paris, her pursuit continued, however she referenced someone much closer to home, her mother. Chiuri’s mother was a seamstress in Rome in the ’60s and ’70s and someone she has long attributed as the inspiration for her career. For Autumn Winter 2020-2021, it was two photos of her mother that began a deeply personal dialogue which she navigated through the prism of her teenage diary. These two photographs transported her back to a time in her life – namely the ’70s – a time Chiuri credits as the beginning of her feminist awakening.
Presenting the most personal collection we’ve seen of Chiuri, indeed the angsty punk spirit of her youth was palpable in plaid, polka dots and pageboy caps, along with other markers of youth – denim, quaint collars with ties and combat boots. But in fact some of these styles and fabrications recalled another history; the history of the House. “I love checks. They can be fancy and simple; elegant and easy; young and always right,” Monsieur Christian Dior wrote in The Little Dictionary of Fashion. Checks have long been a code of the Maison, reimagined throughout history by its myriad designers; Bohan, Ferré, Galliano, Simons. But it was Marc Bohan’s Dior which resonated most profoundly with Chiuri, and his play on checks – particularly an ensemble with the motif placed on the bias – that informed the structure of the collection’s skirts.
Polka dots too present as eternally youthful yet elegant, and for the House’s patriarch, were very much aligned with the charm of the check. “I would say the same about dots as about checks. They are lovely, elegant, easy and always in fashion.” For Chiuri, a polka dot scarf found in the Dior archives served as the starting point for a series of dresses in various lengths that explore the print’s infinite possibilities. There were also lovely pea coats and pleated skirts, along with fringing – the biggest trend to come out of Fashion Month as a whole – that provided kinetic ornamentation on long-like skirts. While knitwear spanned sweaters, jackets, skirts and pants, both cosy and creative.
Under flickering neon signage designed in collaboration with the anonymous artist collective Claire Fontaine, Chiuri’s own The Little Dictionary of Fashion came to life. Beneath the slogans of “When women strike the world stops”, “Consent” and “Feminine beauty is a ready-made”, her autobiographic pieces spoke volumes of where she’s at in her journey. Much like her mother, Chiuri uses fashion as a conduit; as a way to assert herself, to rebel, and to communicate to others how she wants to be perceived. She hung the words of the preeminent art critic-turned-feminist activist Carla Lonzi at the show’s entrance: “I say I”, one final symbol of the power of self-assertion and the infinite project that femininity represents. And in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s guilty verdict yesterday, it has never felt more powerful.