Dior’s House of Bernarda Alba

It’s nearly all black. Who’s in mourning?

 

Dior couture AW 2019 M1

We’re thinking Federico García Lorca and his house of women, but this setting is, of course, less rural, and could be set in the home of the 1% in Spain or outside. Even eastwards, all the way to Russia, never mind if the interior could be the set of Sleepy Hollow. As it turns out, our overactive imagination is not on the same wavelength as Maria Grazia Chiuri’s.

She is contemplating another writer, the Austrian-American Bernard Rudofsky—not nearly the contemporary of Mr Lorca, but certainly of Christian Dior. Reportedly, Ms Churia has been reading the essay Are Clothes Modern? that Mr Rudofsky wrote in 1947, the year Christian Dior himself created what would be dubbed the New Look. The prose came after a 1944 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of the same name that was curated by Mr Rudofsky, an architect, then also known in fashion circles as a “a sandal designer” for his Bernardo sandals (variant of Bernard again!) that appeared in 1946.

Like Mr Rudofsky, Ms Chiuri is a questioner. She is partial to questions to which she has vague responses, or no answers (such as last spring/summer’s “Why have there been no great women artists?”). She does not use clothes to reply to the posers she put out, usually across the chest, in the tradition of the slogan tee, which has become sort of a tradition for Ms Chiuri at Dior since the beginning of her tenure in 2016. Still, Ms Chiuri is a late entrant among the many women designers who have used the bodice as a screen for their own social and political convictions—Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett were two of the earliest, if we recall correctly.

Dior couture AW 2019 G1.jpgDior couture AW 2019 G2

Ms Chiuri’s question this season—her first for the couture—appeared in the first outfit, a draped covering (with a T-shirt neckline) that looks like a toile of a dress, but is, in fact, a peplos, the body-length one-piece that women of ancient Greece typically wore. The rest of the clothes are a complete departure from this, which appears to act like an intertitle—those worded narration printed on screens, used between scenes in silent films, except that the dresses that follow don’t seem to answer the question. We can’t see the point of the peplos.

What’s notable is how monochromatic this collection looks, so black, in fact, that the darkness of the clothes and the atmosphere of the show are positively funereal. We are not sure if women go to couture houses for mourning clothes. Perhaps they do… for threads to attend the memorial service of a fallen dynasty? Or, an anointed individual? Frankly, we don’t know.

Everything, to us, are evocative of widows’ weeds (from the old English ‘waed’, meaning garments), including what could be ‘weeping veils’ (the netting now a signature?), perhaps even reflecting Ms Chiuri’s own Italian sartorial heritage: the appeal of the Sicilian widow (on that note, the Spaniard, too), an image so powerful in its dark austerity and severe elegance that it’s been used in films, as well as clothing designs, especially those of Dolce & Gabbana. Upon closer look, the dresses are supremely detailed—every couture technique available is applied, but what stands out is their serious lack of joy. Or, perhaps Ms Chiuri, too, desires what Bernada Alba wanted the outside world to see: “the perfect picture of grief”.

Dior couture AW 2019 G3Dior couture AW 2019 G4

Some, instead, see a goth who found glamour. Ms Chiuri alluded to that when she told the press that “I am Generation Black”. Christian Dior himself is partial to this darkest of colours—so all-ages, so every-occasion, so multi-purpose that he once stated that he “could write a book about black”. However black Ms Chiuri’s collection is, it is not an opportunity to surprise couture watchers and customers with unexpected expressions, the way a group of Japanese designers did in the early ’80s in Paris. Could black be a convenient way to avoid consulting the colour wheel or Pantone’s staggering chart? Or, to stand apart from her former co-designer Pierpaolo Piccioli?

The dresses have been compared to gladiators’ garb, but they could be what you see in the sorrowful court of Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert (the extravagant mourning clothes were not only trendy in England, they crossed the Atlantic and found likes among the society women in the US). Ms Chiuri adores a certain silhouette and the placement of sheer against opaque; she finds herself repeating the adoration as if she has forgotten that she’s now working with the maison’s petite mains. And all featuring waists that would have benefitted Kim Kardashian’s upcoming ‘Solutionwear’. Predictable are the one-shoulders and the wide V-necks. Annoying is the umpteenth appearance of the sheer skirt under which shorts/underpants peek. Curious are the ancient Egyptian usekh (or wesekh) collars that most recently first appeared in Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show that Karl Lagerfeld presented for pre-fall 2019!

If the first outfit was pointless, the last was even more so. The final model came out wearing a house-for-a-dress that we later learned is an actual doll house made to look like the façade of Dior‘s HQ, 30 Avenue Montaigne, created by the set (“scenography”) designer Penny Slinger. Never mind that the dress came unhinged as the model walked on—it appears that the House of Bernarda Alba reference may be quite apt after all. It does look like a casa that the matriarch would keep her daughters captive. Mr Lorca would have appreciated Maria Grazia Chiuri’s imagery: home as lockup. Or the body confined by couture?

Photos: Dior

 

Redundant!

Ivanka Trump may be pretty in pink, but she’s not powerful in pink, nor percipient 

 

Front and centre: Ivanka Trump at the G20 Summit in Osaka. Photo: AP

By Mao Shan Wang

Oh, to be snubbed! Most of us would have buried our heads in shame. Not Ivanka Trump. She carried hers high, along with her hands, moving them for emphasis and attention. Also referred to, perhaps a little derisively, as the “First Daughter”, she is, I concede, not one of us. She’s made of sterner stuff—her father’s go-to whatever.

In a video posted by the French government and subsequently shared by many news agencies, Ms Trump was captured eager to participate in a conversation that she possibly did not initiate. The members of this group chat were head of states Theresa May, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, and the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Legarde, and it is the IMF chief’s reaction that is truly—allow me to use Mastercard’s marketing tagline—priceless!

The now-diplomat-wannabe appeared to want to engage powerful players of world politics (or, maybe, interrupt), but was unable to even catch their attention, not even with her hand gestures, made more emphatic by the equally gesticulating trumpet sleeves that framed her wrists; she was frowned at. To me (and most of those who live online), Ms Trump appeared out of place, visually incongruous, not in the same league. Sesame Street fans will recognise this episode in the song/game “one of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong” (don’t mean to call anyone in the video a ‘thing’, but you now what I mean). And Taylor Swift fans, too!

Let me rub it in: Professionally, she’s not up there; intellectually, she’s not of equal heft; and sartorially, she’s not cut from the same cloth; she who has no more of her own label to turn to. Talking about cloth, is dressing like you’re going to lunch with your BFFs in a newly starred Michelin-rated restaurant a good look at the G20 Summit?

Professionally, she’s not up there; intellectually, she’s not of equal heft; and sartorially, she’s not cut from the same cloth

 

Admittedly, she did stand out, although not in a way that might be appreciated at such a high-level international forum, since this wasn’t a meet-and-greet at a Marie Kondo convention. Neither did Ms Trump rock it (to borrow a term often associated with Rihanna) in the pink Valentino, with what the brand called a “snowdrop” print, however sweet it was. Perhaps, she merely wanted to show the world how she had contributed to the US retail performance of Q3. Frankly, looking at her, I don’t know who or what she was representing—the White House, the United States of America, or the Miss Universe Organisation (even if her father doesn’t own it anymore). The floaty dress looked lame on her, a femininity enhancer and little else, something Jamie Chua might wear to host a program for her sadly inane YouTube channel. And I have not even started on the insipid white belt.

The thing is, we may not be able to see through that dress, but underneath it is a person with skin that can only be described as thicker—a lot thicker—than the fabric that sheathed it. We know her father has never stopped their family outings, not even after taking up residency in the White House, but that does not mean she should avail herself to what has been largely foreign-affairs occasions, even if it is often said that her husband Jared Kushner runs a “shadow State Department” (settling the Israeli-Palestinian problem/conflict a pet project)! Even the G20 Summit wasn’t enough. After Osaka, she went along with her father to North Korea, and no one knows what the president’s daughter is doing at the DMZ. If the Trumps wanted to see how “surreal” the hermit kingdom is, they should have joined a tour.

Okay, I forget. She did have an agenda at the G20 Summit: to sing the same song of “women’s empowerment” as she did—if you don’t remember—at the last G20 in Hamburg where she marketed her also-in-pink self. The sad thing about Ivanka Trump is this: it’s not the pink (Angela Merkel wore pink too in Osaka). She not only often looks like she’s done for the day and is off to the spa to spend quality time with a therapist and scented candles, she sounds just as inconsequential—in fact, trite and unoriginal.

At the summit, she called women “one of the most undervalued resources in the world”, and felt they should not only be a social justice issue, but one of “economic and defence policy” too. Didn’t Theresa May, responding to Emmanuel Macron comment on social justice, earlier say something to that effect in that conversation Ivanka Trump was not welcomed?