Maria Grazia Chiuri, no doubt, has a common touch. Her Dior reaches out to any and every woman, a strategy that keeps the house profitable and her in LVMH’s good books. But is Dior a house of mere clothes?
Maria Gauria Chiuri’s work at Dior reflects a strengthening trend that is especially prevalent in fashion: the desire among women creatives to help other women express themselves better through what they wear. We’ve seen that as personal and brand mission with Mercury’s Tjin Lee and the duo behind Love, Bonito Rachel Lim and Viola Tan. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and is an admirable trait among women-led businesses, but sometimes the good intention/social conscience/corporate communication speaks louder than the core business: fashion (or, for some brands, clothing)—the good causes eclipsing the lacklustre offering, be they design or kindred enterprises such as show production. Could this be a distraction strategy, one that diverts our attention from what is not exceptional creativity?
That, and giving voice to the women now considered great, but not celebrated in their time. For this season, Ms Chiuri chose Christian Dior’s relatively unknown, decorated sister Catherine, whose bravery in the face of arrest and, subsequently, torture (she was a member of the Polish intelligence unit) by German forces during World War II in 1944 was not (and still isn’t) talked about, even by her own brother. Ms Dior died not too long ago, in 2008, but only now is a book being written—by soon-to-exit Harper’s Bazaar UK editor-in-chief—about her. In chosing to spotlight her, Ms Chiuri is not only helping to give the book pre-release publicity, but also to underscore the feminist causes that she believes in.
So where does fashion come in? Part of Ms Dior rehabilitation after the war took place in Grasse, a town in the French Riviera, not far from Cannes. His brother had re-acquainted her with the South of France and its much-admired flowering fields, possibly to heal her of the memory of the cruelties she experienced during capture. Ms Dior settled here and grew plants. It is this woman’s work with flora and fauna, apart from her wartime story, that “inspired” Ms Chiuri. This requires no further direction to the end point. It also needs no guide to how the garden and its content are interpreted. Throughout her tenure, Ms Chiuri is not subtle in her references (sloganeers rarely are) and does not frame her ideas in ways that beguile. She picks flowers and flowers you get, cut and pressed too.
These are clothes that beget the reaction, “so beautiful”, and you might concur if you’re easily stirred by representations of nature’s offerings in ways already previously explored in dress design. Ms Chiuri offers a picture of pretty for a new generation of Dior wearers for whom prettiness is the princess they were told they were when young, and the thought had since been a part of their visual preference and reference, never mind if Christian Dior himself had once said that “women are most fascinating between the ages of 35 and 40 after they have won a few races and know how to pace themselves”. Extreme prettiness too—augmented by embroidery and applique on fishnet! Season after season, for Ms Chiuri, it’s minor variation after minor variation of this every-girl-hopes-to-look-dainty-and-bewitching-for-the-royal-balls-of-Genovia shtick. While “women” may love Dior, according to the “numbers”, Ms Chiuri appears to cater to the schoolgirl if, for instance, this season’s limped Pipi Longstocking plaits (not to mention sleeveless dresses worn as pinafores—yes, just like uniforms of convent girls’ school) are any indication.
With 89 looks, compared to Raf Simons’s 50 of his swansong for Dior, there is a lot to offer. Ms Chiuri is not (yet) known to be a prolific designer, as Karl Lagerfeld was (no one can as yet match his output). As such, the large number of looks compelled the need for “fillers”—those ensembles put in the show to make the numbers, not to express design flair or to lead with it, the way Dior had in the ’40s. Which really puts the name in an odd place in terms of brand positioning: does Dior care about the design legacy of previous designers such as John Galliano and Raf Simons, not just its founder alone, or is it happy to let Ms Chiuri turn it into an upmarket Mango? To which a reader of our site recently commented, “yes, Mango is just about right for her”.
To be sure, there is, of course, a place in this inclusive world for such clothes, but whether they can carry the torch for a storied house of 72 years, or push the the city’s leadership status in fashion is another question altogether. LVMH, the multi-billion-Euro-earning parent company, probably feels no such pressure or obligation. Additionally, there is, of course, a general emphasis for saleability and clothes that are easier to produce to improve the bottom line, and for looks to trump design. Many women, too, want brands there are not only ready to wear, but easy—easier—to wear, and they’re happy to take bland as well. But, ultimately, Dior must do better, a lot better.