The moment the slogan tee appeared, we knew the collection is best missed. This time, “Why have there been no great women artists?” was the poser. Seriously, Maria Grazia Chiuri? Firstly, you can’t say it in your own words (instead, you quote American art historian Linda Nochlin, as you did last year Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Secondly, you repeated yourself. We know you have broken the glass ceiling when you were installed at Dior, but one year on and you’re still harping on the lack of opportunity and recognition for women? Can we get on with fashion?
These are socio-politically sensitive times, we know, and what is said (even well-meaning; even in fashion criticism) can be construed as anti-feminist. Lest we’re seen as non-feminist, we should state unequivocally that we’re all for prospects and respect for women. But if Ms Chiuri wants to use fashion as a platform for her political convictions—valid as they are, then show us that she is made of sterner stuff: that she can be a great woman artist. Don’t just ask rhetorical questions emblazoned on the front of T-shirts. Is that not the same as including a hoodie in a collection and calling it street, or hip hop? Ms Chiuri stands alongside many, such as Donatella Versace, who want women to be recognised for their power and their ability. Nothing wrong with that, just don’t spell it out.
Create great fashion. That unfortunately did not happen at the Dior spring/summer 2018 collection. Ms Chiuri did not change the dialogue one bit since her debut at the French house. Instead, she sticks to her preference for clothes that supposedly appeal to women, or girls, who want real, woman-for-woman clothes, but at the same time also those that are transparent enough to reveal the power underneath—underpants. This contradiction (perhaps not for those who think that power means one can wear anything, even if they unravel conventional notions of modesty) is the undoing of the collection. Ms Chiuri’s design is as banal as Sumiko Tan’s writing is trite, Sunday or not.
We wanted to be fair to Ms Chiuri, so we looked at the clothes—from the show videos and the stills—five times. (Prior to that, we examined her pieces up close in the store, to see what they really are like. Truth be told, we were quite shocked by the jumpsuit in the Takashimaya store window. And the ordinariness of design and make that are similar to what Hedi Slimane first introduced at Saint Laurent.) And we came to the conclusion that this is not in any way a collection that dares to be different, that dares to up the ante, that dares to engage our desire to go beyond powerful and pretty.
To please is the main thrust. And this could be delight to any feminist, from Ms Ngozi Adichie to Beyonce to Emma Watson. Ms Chiuri wants feminism to be worn on the sleeves, rather than speak from the heart or transmit from the head. Her clothes offer no suggestion of intellectual rigour and definitely no delectable wit; they pander to desire for unmistakable femininity, quasi-cuteness, and blatant sexiness. And somewhere amid all that, the vapid sporty cool of Alexander Wang!
Repeated viewing reveals to us what appears to be juvenile, almost like term work—rather than graduation collection—of design students. The inspiration is the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (whose most famous work appears in the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris, the one next to Centre Pompidou), a woman who was no stranger to child abuse, or Dior, having worn Marc Bohan’s designs in the ’60s (Ms Chiuri has said that she does not only look at Christian Dior’s Dior but also the Dior of subsequent Dior designers). She plays up the cute/weird creatures and shapes that the artist was known for by way of surface embellishments, but she does not transmute Ms de Saint Phalle’s misshapen-as-anger images to exposition of the challenges women face today.
The diaphanous skirts—now we know Ms Chiuri loves them—appear again, possibly to underscore their popularity than to establish them as part of the house code. The idea of the exposed shorts (or underclothes?) has as much newness as T-shirts with slogans. Puzzling is the addition of bumble-bee stripes (in the form of a leotard, with shoulder straps that read, gosh, Christian Dior repeatedly!) since parallel lines that alternate between yellow and black seem more the domain of Jeremy Scott. The heart shape that is positioned at the crotch (of a knitted romper!)—shape and placement Mr Scott is likely to do—escapes our understanding too. We think it’s possible that Ms Chiuri is adhering to the minor (and lame) trend of the vulva as motif. Love ’em, not grab! Digestible and commercial feminism?
These are indeed clothes that easily lend themselves to duplication for the high street. Slogan tees, pleated tulle skirts—entry-level clothes—and sequined rompers are not the stuff of nightmare at factories that cater to H&M and the like. They are the very garments that facilitate rapid production for dizzyingly fast fashion. You don’t even need to wait till the first drop for spring in December to partake in Dior-ish feminist fashion. The floodgates could open next week.
It has been suggested to us, by a woman designer no less, that women designers tend to be more emotional when it comes to designing as they take into account the various aspects of their multi-faceted lives (motherhood a particular milestone), all the while not wanting to lose the sex appeal that is considered modern and empowering, and central to womanhood. This could be said of Maria Grazia Ghiuri, “feminist designer” at Dior. She’s connecting to women with accessible clothes, and referencing the art of a female artist, but not by answering the very question she poses. That is clever.
Photos: (top) screen grab from Dior and (catwalk) indigital.tv