When fashion and feminism meet on the storefront
This is a Dior window we have never thought we’d see. It is a print of a collage that includes the text “WOMEN” and “CES’T NON NON NON ET NON (“that’s no no no and no”, which is also on sweaters and other tops of the autumn/winter collection)” amid torn images taking prominence over the clothes. And somewhat hidden away from the full-cap messages, two other words peeked: “MEN” (afterthought?) and “YOUTHQUAKE”, which prompted an SOTD reader to remark to us, “Which era are they in?” And, on the window design, “Stupendous banality, beyond vapid”.
Dior is on a roll. After this season’s uninspired advertising campaign, now this lame window. Frankly, we did not expect Dior’s political stance to come this far, or to the storefront. No Dior designer, as we can recall (please correct us if we are wrong), has worn their political convictions on their sleeves or the front of their T-shirt. Neither had any emblazoned messages on wallpaper to be plastered on the brand’s store frontage. Christian Dior himself may have been a political science student (at the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris) and his New Look—with their extravagant use of fabrics—may be seen as a reaction against the rationing of cloth during World War II, but it is hard to say that Monsieur Dior was a ringing political voice.
It is not clear if Maria Grazia Chiuri is a political creature or a political opportunist. Or both. It seems that being the first women designer in Dior’s 70-plus-year history isn’t enough a political statement, she sees it necessary to lend her voice to the causes she believes in. Nothing wrong with that, but how effective can one be as fashion designer and political activist? Dior’s “YOUTHQUAKE”-inspired window display barely engages the political discourse nor offers a social mirror to the real vexations of the world. Despite its social message, it is still patently brand communication, made more unmistakable by the recurrence of the DIOR logo when the store is already well identified.
You’d think if there’s anyone who would take their political conviction or feminist zeal to the fashion front, it would be the one-time communist Miuccia Prada, who, like Monsieur Dior, studied political science (graduating with a PhD at the University of Milan), who, according to popular telling, wore Yves Saint Laurent to protest. But Ms Prada, also a known feminist, has not succumbed to sloganeering to get her message across. As a designer, she used design instead.
Politically-correct/aware dressing of body and mind is, of course, trending now. That fashion should be embroiled in the current state of world affairs is emblematic of how passions and emotions are now easily and deeply stirred in people on either side of the socio-political divide. Fashion designers using their clothes (rather than storefront) as medium of political expression isn’t a Trump-era trend. One of the pioneers of political-slogan-as-fashion-statement—yes, emblazoned on T-shirts, Ms Chiuri—was Britain’s Katherine Hamnett. In the late ’80s, her messages were boldly printed on the entire front of T-shirts to be unmissable, although it is not certain if those who copped the tops shared her beliefs or were just interested in text on tees. In the UK’s fashion community, Ms Hamnett wasn’t alone. On and off, Vivienne Westwood, too, used similar methods to draw attention to what she felt fervidly about. Interestingly, women designers are the ones more inclined to speak their mind through their clothes. Ms Hamnett and Ms Westwood, however, wasn’t merely going afloat with the current of the their time. Theirs were ardent beliefs independent of social trends.
Dior’s collaged tear-sheets of newsprint images of women protesting in the ’60s with placards declaring “Mini skirts forever” (and such) are perhaps too distant and too grassroots for a luxury brand, and, thus, appear to be token engagement, especially when the windows and their encircling spaces offer little to shoppers that could arouse the mind. Bottom line: is it meaningful? As Miuccia Prada once said to Document Journal, “Someone who is superficial gets only the façade”.
Photo: Galerie Gombak