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


Two Of A Kind: Handling Transparency

Dior Vs KorLeft, Christian Dior Autumn/Winter 2014 and right, Michael Kors Spring/Summer 2015

In a post bursting with delight, HerWorldPlus was over the moon, declaring that “Michael Kors approves of our favourite 5 looks from his SS15 show”. One of the looks is, according to the website, “how Kors wants you to wear transparent pieces—the embellished see through skirt was ideally conservative with a tucked-in dress shirt so long that it covers all your lady parts.” And the thigh and knee are no lady parts? But that’s beside the point.

A season earlier, or on 28 February in Paris, the house of Christian Dior, led by Raf Simons, showed some evening wear that were sheer embroidered tank-dresses over sleeveless T-shirts—also embellished. The beautifully fitted tees were fashioned to be long, with the hemline going way past the hip so that by themselves, the T-shirts were really dresses too. What was exceptional here wasn’t so much the design of the two separates (although the graphic interplay of the deep scooped neckline of the dress against the adorned oblong of the tee is no less design!), but the proposal of pairing a sheer dress over an opaque inner that had the right length to guard a woman’s modesty.

Mr Simons’s Dior would never be considered “ideally conservative”, yet it embraces traditional dressmaking in the sense that the finished designs are never improper, no matter how Mr Simons juxtaposes or layers fabrics of different textures and densities. This evening ensemble for the current AW 2014 season isn’t classic red-carpet dressing, but its take on sportswear shapes is acknowledging how younger women like to dress on a glamourous night out: with no fuss, and with the ease of slipping on a tank top for a weekend trip to the suburban mall.

Mr Kors’s long shirt (not a “dress shirt” since a dress shirt would not have sleeves that are too long) worn under the diaphanous skirt may appeal to those unable to reconcile fashion and the potential exposure of “lady parts”, but in essence, the idea comes six months too late. Putting the two outfits side by side, one looks decidedly present, the other, belonging somewhat to the past.

Photos: vogue.it

Dress Watch: Paper Lantern Revisited

Dior lantern dress

I call it a lantern dress. Maybe, you can understand why. But then, maybe not.

Today, when kids rely more on their parents’ iPads than on imagination for amusement, playing with self-made paper lanterns may be as familiar as occupying oneself with origami. Who uses paper anymore? Or folds them? Or cuts them? But I did and still do, and I remember. As a kid, I made a whole lot of them lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival. I took an oblong coloured paper and, in landscape orientation, folded it into half; then made slits of equidistance in the centre of the paper, right across its length, leaving a border at the top (which would also then provide the same border for the bottom whem the paper is unfolded). The paper was opened up, the breadths joined and sealed to form a column, which, when gently compressed at the top and bottom, yielded a slotted lantern. I made a few of them, and hung them up in a group. At that very young age, I believed I made art.

In my eyes, there is art in this Christian Dior dress. And seeing it up close earlier this afternoon, my interest was piqued by this wash of nostalgia. Raf Simons’s clever and skilful composition of a bustier-dress is, naturally, nothing like what I made out of paper. Here is a dress that is anything but flat. You sense movement even when it is still. The less aware may call it wash-bay curtains at the gas station or horizontal blinds at your office, but these panels are not left to catch the wind so that, collectively, they leave the dress formless.

While the use of un-joined vertical panels is not entirely new, applying horizontal ones to control their resultant shape is. The upper half of this silk dress is secured with a broad elasticised corset belt (possibly to underscore the bust). In the bottom half, panels in black are woven—almost ketupat style—across and around, forming soft hoops and effectively holding the bell shape of the skirt. In the rear, the vertical panels are allowed to hang from the top unsecured, cascading like Watteau pleats!

For a brief moment, I was drunk with awe.

This panelled silk dress, SGD12,000, is available at Christian Dior, Ion Orchard