Words are important. Today, the world constantly bombards us with images from ubiquitous screens and it can feel like there is no room for anything else. But words have a force that is all their own. They resonate in our minds and push us to give real shape to the ideas they express. At least, that is my experience.
As a designer, I am naturally inclined to “translate” words into objects that convey all the vigour of the ideas behind them; the way they are made, their materials, their contours, their details. That is why I like to use words as a starting block: I allow myself to be struck by the deeper meaning of sentences I come across when I read, when I listen and when I think back to conversations I have heard between people. Hence the decision to use the phrase from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We Should All Be Feminists”, for my first collection as Creative Director of Dior. This phrase, which for me is a slogan, struck me because it brings the definition of feminism up to date and creates an opening onto the present, onto the here and now. Adichie’s reflections on the importance of living one’s own femininity and pride is a declaration that I immediately found to be in synch with the vision I have of “my” Dior.
Since then, the various collections through which I sought to break down the complexity of the relationship between femininity and feminism put words first, followed by images. Thus, the voices of Linda Nochlin and Robin Morgan, Claire Fontaine and Carla Lonzi, the actions of Tomaso Binga, Penny Slinger and Judy Chicago, the reminiscences of Niki de Saint Phalle, Claude Cahun, Leonor Fini or Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington have been important. These artists have inspired me along the way, showing me how to make my work inclusive and informed, with the utmost respect for the struggles women have faced and still face – and that have such a strong impact on how we live and think today.
I don’t consider feminism as a metaphysical concept. On the contrary, I firmly believe that feminism is an integral part of our daily lives, a way of seeing the world and of living in it. That is why my idea of feminism is part and parcel of the creative process and of designing. It helps me think up and produce objects that speak not only to the female body but to the mind as well. Objects that reveal our own beauty to ourselves. Uniforms useful for facing the world day after day. Wearable statements that go to show our body is the first stage where activism plays out.
Fashion is a powerful tool capable of communicating with a vast audience and even acting as a catalyst for change. As such, I feel directly responsible and I renew this commitment on a daily basis. I express myself through clothing, through their materiality. My point of departure is the female body, and I think about how the body and fashion come together to allow me to express ideas and re-shape identities.
My work is rooted in passion, study and a desire to be on the frontline, with my own interpretation and also my own personal way of living the extraordinary adventure of being a woman.
I think that a woman designing fashion for women has a different perception of the body. The female body is something I have first-hand knowledge of, and that I nevertheless see from the outside, looking at it as I do with the eye of a designer.
Being a woman also means thinking with your heart, and moving through the world in your own body, proud of how it looks. All of these sensations are part of the fabric of my collections, which are my way of responding to the demands of society. For me, reiterating that my work is done by a woman for other women is a way of strengthening the role of women not only in the world of contemporary fashion but in society as a whole.
Before becoming part of the legacy of this extraordinary fashion house, I saw it as an icon, the brand that best embodied an ideal of femininity in step with the times – and it was thanks to an extremely competent founder and the different creative directors who succeeded each other at the house’s helm. Each added subtle nuances to femininity àla Dior: grace, playfulness, sensuality, refinement, elegance. When I became Creative Director, I entered a reality of which I knew only the myth, and this allowed me to observe it and understand all its different shades and complexities. At the same time, it helped me see contrasts within myself: I found myself more reflective, I gained awareness of the value of my femininity, and was happy to celebrate it through fashion, and I was even more proud in terms of the role women in fashion can – and should – have today. Coming face-to-face every day with the definition of femininity that Dior represents and has defined over the years is a complex job, and one that I strive to do while always bearing in mind my interests and goals. Interests and goals which stem from who I am, from my personal history and the way I approach my work as a fashion designer: first and foremost as a woman.
My relationship with the Dior archives has been paramount since day one. I wanted my work to be extremely contemporary, but also respectful of the history of Dior, so intricate and rich as it is to explore. My excursions – sometimes real and true “immersions” – into the Dior archives not only served to inspire me, but also anchored me to a legacy that must be preserved and refreshed on a constant basis. The suggestions that I receive from the archives always pass through the filter of my own sensitivities, which guide me through my research and help me translate images and atmospheres from the past into objects that speak of the present. The balance between past and present comes from constantly checking in with my team, who help me put into perspective every choice I make and develop the best ideas, between retrieving from the past and producing something new and meaningful.
The Fall/Winter 2021 collection gathers together and displays the different elements that make up my personal Dictionary of Fashion, interpreting in my own way the icons that Monsieur Dior first identified as codes. Monsieur Dior said about checks, “I love checks. They can be fancy and simple; elegant and easy; young and always right”, and that is how Marc Bohan interpreted them in the 1960s and 70s. I would say he is the designer and that is the period that resonates the most for me. It was indeed one of Bohan’s looks that inspired my take on checks, proposing an unexpected geometry applied to different pieces from the collection. I am very drawn to squares, polka dots, diamond shapes: these are timeless, elegant and fascinating patterns that are “always in fashion”, as Monsieur Dior himself used to say.
I see my approach as Creative Director like that of a curator, who chooses a theme and develops a narrative to go with it, carefully selecting just the right objects to express every facet of the story, and setting an appropriate pace from start to finish. I always start with the abstract: reflecting on femininity. I pivot around it and I draw up a map of references and images that serve as a point of departure for developing my collection. Between the archives and the current cultural landscape, my research serves to give concrete form to this constant thought; to identify techniques, tones and shapes that make a silhouette come alive, and form the cohesive final results of a broad reflection that morphs and goes off in many different directions.
Today, we are waking up to a new world, after months of being closed off. And many things will still change before we reach the horizons that have not yet come into focus.
It is clear that fashion must re-think its relationship to time. A more serene assessment of the quality of “human” time, and a more direct connection with the desires and needs of people: that is what it will take for the fashion industry to maintain its relevance in society and consolidate its role as the barometer of modern culture. Slowing down does not mean losing something, but rather having the time to produce something that has a strong intrinsic meaning. This goes for clothing and objects in general, but also for the things that come with it: fashion shows, presentations, editorials, and exhibitions that feature fashion. I hope that the awakening of the collective consciousness will also motivate us to root out some of the ills that plague society: rampant waste, political messages reduced to mere acts of PR, abstentionism, and turning a blind eye and deaf ear to modern problems.
To be sure, couture is a field where best practices dictated by the slowdown are being tested. I like to call couture “fashion’s dream”, a place where ideas and sublime craftsmanship meet, where the traditions of creating and thinking are turned into beautiful things. The moments when couture is “unveiled” – in presentations, images and shows – are and will always be fundamental for showing the world the master hands behind the scenes. The ideal substance of couture – as an idea that indeed is generated in the eye and expressed in the mind of creators – takes on concrete form when it meets its clientele. That way, the idea changes through dialogue with the clients, who are the recipients of couture as artefact, or rather, as clothing. The situation we found ourselves in prompted us to be even more creative in imagining this encounter: we created a short fantasy film with Matteo Garrone and then we sent miniature pieces of clothing from the collection to clients’ homes, in a dollhouse-sized mansion that imitates the Dior headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. That goes to show that couture is extremely resilient; it’s capable of moving with the times.
I can’t choose a single moment that exemplifies my journey as creative director of Dior. Yes, it is a journey. That is to say, it’s nothing definitive, and even less so finite, but an ongoing process that constantly evolves and is moving toward future destinations. I am glad to have used fashion as a frontline tool to make feminism something more inclusive and especially vocal. The meaning and context in which this word has more than just conceptual value has expanded so much that a global community now exists who demands equality, joins forces in a fight for a common cause, and exploits media so that we can all participate in a movement no matter where we are. On a daily basis, I am happy when I see that the women who follow Dior today are aware that fashion is not just a parade of clothes, however beautiful they may be. Fashion is a means of communication, a tool for shaping and expressing one’s own identity. The evolution of Dior codes goes hand-in-hand with making claims, acting up, and with the steady progress of movements that look to feminism, guardianship, and sustainability as the new building blocks we need for constructing a more just and equitable society.
I am honoured to be living this extraordinary moment for the House of Dior, and for the entire world.
Photography: Paul Morel
Creative Direction: Dané Stojanovic
Fashion Direction: Marne Schwartz
Hair: Jean Luc Amarin
Makeup: Osseil Ramos
Photography Assistant: Julien Dauvillier
Production Assistant: Cyril Gourdin
Casting: Ikki Casting
Model: Calista Choley / W360