Dior’s Tale Of Lesbian Awakening

Another side of Dior, even if only in a tarot-based fantasy?

Are we taking everything too literally when we say that this is a tale of same-sex discovery? Or are we narrowing our thinking, the result of staying too much at home? There is the bath scene. What was that all about? What is it doing in a fashion film? Or, perhaps some might say, why shouldn’t it appear in a fashion film? But isn’t fashion about putting on clothes, rather than taking them off? And what fashion can be discerned when making out in a bath tub? Where the two characters, male (er, masculine should be the better word) and female, played by the same actress, the Italian-French Agnes Claisse (most recently 2017’s Blue Kids) really, in the end, just a union of the ying and the yang, the opposites that exist in us all? Is it possible that loving both our masculine or feminine side is, in fact, just the narcissism we have always denied? Or, is this the love that dares not speak its name—forbidden colours, to quote Yukio Mishima? If the non-utterance and forbiddance is so not now, isn’t it because the film seems to depict medieval times? Don’t you hate it when films, long or short, leave you with more questions than answers?

Fashion is, of course, about fantasy, the faraway, the stuff that exist in dreams until some designer takes it out of there. In hard times, fantasy and dreams are good, some seem to think. While many designers have reacted to the current still-pandemic-stricken situation by reflecting what the mood among fashion adopters is, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri prefers to take the contrary position. Her latest outing takes us to an imaginary Le Château du Tarot (actually a Tuscan residence) in a time that is believed to be when the tarot cards were invented and used the way we know them now. Divination is not alien in the history of the house, as, reportedly, Monsieur Dior himself had often resorted to the reading of tarot cards to help him move forward in hard times. This superstition and the illustrations found on those cards, in particular, the ancient ones, are the basis of the visual positioning of Dior’s spring/summer 2021 haute couture collection.

For now, Ms Chiuri has retired her political/social/feminist statements. The replacement is a moody dreamscape/fantasia that is alive with assorted characters found on tarot cards: the women and feminine representations, such as the High Priestess, Temperance, Justice, and, inevitably(?), Death, appearing in the film by Italian director Matteo Garrone, who had also directed last season’s Dior couture presentation, set among nymphs and fairies in the woods. The dreaminess and soft focus are, therefore, visually recurrent to better recreate a magical realm and, as Dior states, “tarot cards are among the keys to accessing” it. The storyline, as you watch the film, is not immediately clear. It takes place among the many rooms of the said château. The protagonist arrives, she goes in, and is led through multiple rooms by different inhabitants (or are they, like her, visitors too?), one of them laughing dementedly (or eerily?). She sees a masculine character and is lured into seeking him-her. She is given directions by the splendidly-attired that she meets. A few have head-dresses to equal Maleficent’s. Apart from playing ushers, what were they really doing? The climax is the bath, where she who seeks finds he-she who lures. There was the disrobing and then the inevitable kiss. Two become one, to paraphrase The Spice Girls. The masculine absorbs the feminine, and the change of hair colour confirms the union.

The clothes—it’s always about the clothes—hint at her years with her former employer, Valentino, where she co-designed the collections with Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose “reign in the House of Valentino,” Frances McDormand wrote in Time, “has been a lesson in grace.” Ms Chiuri has brought a vestige of that grace to Dior couture, specifically the decorum linked to medieval times, which both designers explored when there were colleagues. There is a palpable modesty to it all, as if to negate the skin bearing or hinting that she has introduced to the RTW. Or are all that fabrics necessary to show off the skills of the atelier? The luscious gowns, without doubt, represent the epitome of dressmaking done mostly by hand. The recherché classicality deliberately illustrates the exquisiteness of couture, in case you didn’t know. It is difficult to position custom-made collections these days. Does a house celebrate craft or design? Can both coexist? Despite the dreamy and fanciful filmic musing, Dior has not really answered the question.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

What’s The Point?

Dior strikes a raw nerve. Again

 

Dior AW 2020 P1

These days, watching a Dior show—the live stream for us—means trying not to succumb to a dulling of the senses, best described as maddening. That is, of course, not possible. Actually, in the Malay language, there is a perfect word to term the feeling after even giving Dior a cursory glance: geram. This can be translated to mean angry, but is really dosed with annoyance and certainly, disdain, especially in reaction to something that should not have to be exasperating. Hard as it is, we try convincing ourselves that we have not viewed something akin to a mall show. That, too, is not possible.

Maria Grazia Chiuri has created fashion week high by going low—raising the bar not. Make pretty clothes. Let them be young-looking. Better still, common-seeming. These are, by her own admission, reminiscent of her teenage years and—no service to Dior—they look it. These are clothes that don’t augment the wardrobe or challenge the eye, certainly not the mind.

Just as Ms Chiuri is not able stay away from the average, the unexceptional, the quotidian, or move beyond those sheer panty-revealing skirts shown since her Dior debut (is “consent” required to look?), she is unable to dial down the volume on her feminist call to arms. Slogans have now gone from T-shirts to stage set, blaring like a sale announcement in a hypermarket. Yes, feminism is well and alive. The #metoo movement has its oxygen. Harvey Weinstein is a convicted felon. Let’s get on with fashion.

Dior AW 2020 G1Dior AW 2020 G2

Perhaps, not. Season after season, Ms Chiuri creates a Dior for the Dior novice, the fashion newbie, for the humble masses. A humbler Dior? Why not common then? Or is that already achieved? In fact, many of the pieces are painfully pedestrian. Is it any wonder why Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons want to get together “to relook at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system”, as Mr Simons told the media.

Ms Chiuri’s reference points are not entirely comprehensible too. Several fringed dresses (yes, by now we know fringing is key) look like something a hooker in movies made in the ’90s would wear. As we have said here at SOTD, the irony is that even hookers today don’t want to look like one anymore. Every single fringed dress is cringe-worthy. One, in black, brings us to Britney Spears. Or is it the newsboy hat? To be sure, this isn’t a Jennifer Lopez in a green dress moment.

It has become increasingly clear that Dior wants to sell the likes of a trucker jacket, but must they be placed on a runway show? Do low-barriers-to-entry designs require a spotlight? Can’t they go straight to the store? Most brands want to be commercial (no longer a dirty word in the trade), but many also offer something more directional—20% of the collection that might be difficult to sell. But Dior is 100% what one fashion designer describes to SOTD as “clothes that have no special technique in execution. They are so easy to produce, the ROI for LVMH must be delightfully high.” Given that they charge so much, he added, “shouldn’t women expect more?”

Dior AW 2020 G3Dior AW 2020 G4

There is more: more of the Book tote (yes, it appears on the runway again, the one Joanne Peh, aka Mrs Qi Yuwu, uses as a grocery bag). Its recognisable fascia means it can morph—box logo et al—into a blanket-poncho. Or, anorak. These could pave the way for more profitable bag-to-garment transmutation in the future. As any CEO would say, you do need to work (flog sounds too cruel) the good ’ol cash cow. Oh, yes, those transparent skirts, too.

At the risk of sounding harsh, not a single outfit paraded deserves a runway. Ms Chiuri’s work easily fuels the inspiration behind many of today’s copy-to-survive brands. This is not, as some will misconstrue, having a misogynistic go at Ms Chiuri. Regular readers will know that we admire Rei Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada, Consuelo Castiglioni, Phoebe Philo, Jil Sander, Chitose Abe, Vivienne Weswood, Clare Waight Keller, Lucie Meier, Donatella Versace, and, lately, Silvia Venturini Fendi. To this cohort, we should add Phoebe English, Mary Katrantzou, Ann Demeulemeester, Maureen Doherty, Iris van Herpen, and Woo Young-Mi (this list isn’t, admittedly, extensive). To us, it is really the depth of design. When Ines de la Fressange for Uniqlo is better than Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, it is perhaps understandable why we are geram.

Photos: Dior

Denizen Dior

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?

 

Dior SS 2020

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.

Dior SS 2020 G1

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.

Dior SS 2020 G2

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.

Photos: Dior

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

 

The Dullness Of Dior

Dior W AW 2019

The one glorious thing about Maria Grazia Chiuri is that she’s not easily bored. After six seasons at Dior, she’s still beating the same drum. And it reverberates with the beat called feminism. Sure, her messages on T-shirts have been influential and copied, but the question is: by now, can’t they be delivered in another form? Is it not better to prove the point by being not only the first female designer to head the house of Dior, but also the best?

Maybe she knows she can’t be the best. Her Dior does not astound as John Galliano’s did or moved the way Raf Simons’s touched hearts. So, she leaves her mark by exploiting the commercial (what can be more so than T-shirts) and the popular, such as those proclamations on social media delivered in coloured quadrilaterals. For the third time now (or maybe more; we’ve stopped counting), she is delivering feminist messages (“Sisterhood is Global”, frankly, has less punch than “Girl Power”!) on unremarkable tees. Her brand of feminism may be politically trendy, but they’re sartorially boring. These are not the “J’adore Dior” of the #MeToo age.

Dior W AW 2019 G1

Ms Chiuri positioned Dior in such a way that there is nothing to look forward to. Asking to be surprised is like expecting to be impressed, which is not what one hankers after at her shows. Hope for a spark of wit, a glimmer of genius, and hope in vain. Pray they do not show up again and they do: the Bar suit, the strapless dress, the sheer skirt under which shorts peek, all in different fabrics, but no different from the season before, and before that. They don’t even try to negate the fact that they’re repetitive and plain dull. As the feminist messages and posturing gain momentum, so do the ultra-feminine shapes and flourishes, styled for the romantic heroine. All the silk tulle in the world, all the lace, however, won’t veil the apparent: high-end middle-of-the-road.

Fashion Week analysts and insiders keep saying that Ms Chiuri’s Dior is designed to attract younger customers. This perhaps explain why her aesthetic sense does not heightened anything on the wearer other than to make them look like catwalk clones or influencer wannabes. Young women these days do not have fully formed ideas of what makes distinctive fashion. They may know what they like, but not what is nice. To them, as long as these clothes are good enough for the catwalk, they must have the requisite for being fashionable or cool. So all the reasons for those swinging pleated skirts, those can-be-from-anywhere shirts and blouses, and certainly those warped-neck T-shirts.

Dior W AW 2019 G2

Journalists. who have nothing to say about Ms Chiuri’s design, write about how well-made the clothes are or how beautiful the 3-D flowers festooned on skirts look. Should we be expecting anything less from the 72-year-old house? But luxury fashion is more that the fine stitching and the application of decorative details. It needs the extra fillip—not taffeta and tulle, something visceral, something that prompted Carmel Snow to exclaim in 1947 in the Dior salon, “What a new look!”

There may not be another such moment in fashion. But there could be others: clothes that show previously unconsidered possibilities, and styles that dare to be different. Christian Dior was all that—and more, materially and metaphorically.

Photos: Dior

Window Pain

When fashion and feminism meet on the storefront

Dior store front Oct 2018

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.

Dior store front P2 Oct 2018

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

Add The Subtitles, Subtract the Subtleties

It maybe cinematic, but is it poetic? And what happened to show, not tell?

 

Dior ad AW 2018 P1

This is trite. Plainly, simply, painfully trite. This isn’t some IG post with inane comments by a KOL who can’t conceal her daftness; this is a Dior autumn/winter 2018 ad with needless, vapid, whatever-for captions. As you see, the above photograph communicates a hyperbolic message: “Women who don’t cry should be outlawed.” What’s with the Billy the Kid language? Sure, we know designer Maria Grazia Chiuri is predisposed to proclamations, not susceptible to subtleties, and the face of feminism in fashion (“we should all be feminist”), but can this ad escape overkill, if not oversell?

We have deliberately chosen this photo without the Dior logo because we know that you may think it is a Gucci ad, and we don’t blame you. That look, those glasses, the Seventies vibe: they have been done before. Gucci fans know it, and we’re sure you do too, Dior. Let’s not go the imitation-as-flattery route. Let’s not track the bring-a-breath-of-fresh-air-to-the-crusty-hallowed-halls-of-the-couture-house (as one follower of SOTD sarcastically offered) path. Let’s not.

Dior ad AW 2018 P2

This season’s campaign is said to be inspired by the French New Wave cinema of the ’60s, which could mean that it’s conceived for the Netflix generation or fans of Girlboss. IG-style photos with pointless text is, perhaps, to encourage perfunctory approval from those whose idea of communicative flair is influenced by social-media. Cinema as source of inspiration for advertising campaigns is nothing new, but the absence of a true vision in these Dior images is dismal and a huge let down, especially when their ad campaigns were once shot to thrill by Nick Knight.

The thing is, Dior has, to some of us, lost its leadership role as it aims for commercial blah instead of creative high. Throw in the in-your-face social messages and the evangelical effect is one of distaste. There is nothing wrong with raising awareness or kindle empowerment, but mixing the messages with the selling of clothes by a bunch of models who look like they don’t really care is unauthentic and disingenuous.

Gucci ad AW 2016 P1Gucci autumn/winter 2016 shot by Glen Luchford in Tokyo. Photo: Gucci

Perhaps what’s truly annoying is that the captioning idea, too, has appeared in Gucci ads, specifically for the autumn/winter 2016 season. Lensed by Glen Luchford, the images were shot in Tokyo and came with captions to give them an aural setting. It’s a neat trick as the photos of the bustling city were able to delight the eyes, but not captivate the ears. Moreover, Alessandro Michele has on more than one occasion approached the art direction cinematically. To help the viewer gain more depth into his brand of visual communication descriptively is totally understandable.

Perhaps this is Dior’s cinéma vérité, with its own natural action, its own real dialogue. But, as we often hear people say, “It’s only a movie”, maybe we should just tell ourselves, it’s only a fashion ad.

Photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Message On The Neckline

Text on the neckline

By Mao Shan Wang

To say that Dior is going down market is perhaps a bit extreme. But how else can I explain this? Children split at birth?

There I was, shopping at Golden Mile Complex, where the Thai supermarket in that mess of a mall is the place I go to whenever I am out of nampla. Sometimes, you do need to brave disorder and unfamiliar smells to get what you think is the best, and—I am totally with the Thais on this—one does have to get the finest when it comes fish sauce.

As I was leaving the building, bottle of the prized brew in hand, a mannequin, not at a shop front, but more than an arm’s length away from the store, appeared before me. She was fitted in a top that immediately made me think of Dior. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I was viewing the spring/summer show online and I remember, as I confronted the dummy, how unamused I was with the crochet-knit number that Maria Grazia Chiuri had put out.

I could see the two side by side, and how similar they would appear. Sure, they don’t look alike—not one bit—but the texts as decorative element on both are conceptual cousins. I don’t know about the appeal of words running on the neckline, but I thought the repeated ‘love’ had more graphic dash than Ms Chiuri’s scribbles that, in the front of the bodice, sported ‘love forever’ (as part of a longer sentence that I couldn’t decipher) and, on the shoulder straps, repeated, cursive ‘Christian Dior’. While her previous “J’adior” on a T-shirt could be (reluctantly) considered tongue-in-cheek, I am not sure the latest proper noun and simple sentence are as close to irony.

Sure, we’re no longer in an era of stylish restraint, but something not discreet that looks similar to what can be easily produce for a cheap clothing shop isn’t exactly the height of luxury fashion. The salesperson saw my interest in the top and came out to ask me if I liked it. I asked her where the garment came from, and she gladly told me that it was from Bangkok. Well, somewhere in Pratunam, someone beat Dior to it.

Photos: (Left) indigital.tv, (right) Chin Boh Kay

The Dior That Does Not Dare

Dior SS 2018 P2

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.

Dior SS 2018 G1

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!

Dior SS 2018 G2Dior SS 2018 G3

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?

Dior SS 2018 G4

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

This Is No Lady Dior

A visit to the Dior store in ION Orchard this afternoon to acquaint ourselves with the debut collection of Maria Grazia Chiuri brought us face to face with the Dio(r)evolution calfskin bags, first seen on the runway last October. We knew they would be loud, but we didn’t realize they would be this loud. By that we don’t mean that the bags are bombastic by design. Rather, it is the brand name screaming in full caps that caused our eyebrows to rise higher than usual.

Not since John Galliano’s J’Adore Dior T-shirts of 2004 has there been such bold and blatant branding on Dior merchandise. The four letters emblazoned on the front of Dior’s newest bag make the dangling charms of the Lady Dior look terribly discreet, and definitely far more charming.

However we looked at it, the Dio(r)evolution is not quite the marked change that the name suggests. A symmetrical and structured oblong of a bag, it is not particularly large. Inside, lined with suede in the same colour as the exterior, is a single compartment, with a pocket attached to the front. It is a purely functional interior designed to be capacious enough to accommodate the mobile possessions of a modern lass.

A window is cut out of the lower half of the flap cover. It reveals the “slot handclasp”, a horizontal band that allows the user to slip four fingers behind it (thumb aside, outside) should she wish it as a clutch. On this is the large “aged silver-tone metal Dior signature”, which, interestingly, is a letter for each finger. At a quick glance, the user holding the bag could be wearing a knuckle duster!

This bag debunks the myth that Dior touts only the lady-like Lady Dior and those made in its image. All the visible hardware on the Dio(r)evolution looks like supplies from the ironware section of a craft store. So are the swivel clasp snap-hooks. The strap, too, looks hardcore—as wide as a razor strop, more akin to those of a camera bag than a shoulder bag. Step back: the Dio(r)evolution looks ready to go with a pair of creepers than kitty heels.

Oversized alphabets fronting bags are, of course, nothing new. Look at Louis Vuitton’s Twist. That, however, has a decorative and functional aspect to it as the letters are cleverly fashioned as a clasp. Those on the Dio(r)evolution are there for the same reason Supreme’s are on the latter’s products. Designed as an inset—a framed glorification of its name, the Dio(r)evolution serves only to remind us that conspicuous consumption, like the tide, may ebb, but it always comes back in.

Dio(r)evolution Flap Bag with Slot Handclasp, SGD4,700, is available in black or white at Dior stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Lanvin Lame, Dior Dismal

lanvin-vs-diorSimilar silhouettes at Lanvin (left) and Dior (right). What gives?

Fashion these days is fashion with a capital F. But sometimes, it’s boring with a capital B. Paris Fashion Week is increasingly the embodiment of such extremes. The F is, of course, sometimes B, with the B more and more because of E, the capital initial of excess.

Despite all the high-drama, high-octane, here’s-all-the-sex-you-need-in-a-dress ubiquity, inclement weather et al, some brands are traipsing the now frequently trodden path of the excruciatingly dull. Fashion watchers and armchair analysts attribute it to the need (order from above?) to sell. But on the catwalk, where many of us look to for inspiration and direction, do we need to see clothes conceived to bear the weight of commerce?

In the not-so-distant past, we looked to French houses for leadership and for ideas to lift our wardrobes above the humdrum. With the offerings of fast fashion now legit style currency, labels with history steep in couture need to go above the fray, or, to borrow from business parlance, build higher barriers to entry. Just this morning, a design student was overheard saying, “Nah, Dior has nothing for me to copy.” Fashion plagiarism is a problem and a practice that must be discouraged and frown upon, but if imitation is flattery, what does it mean when no one wants to copy you?

Two of the most storied of French names seem to be in a position that may amount to that dilemma: Lanvin  and Dior. Bouchra Jarrar and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the respective design directors of both houses, have taken the position of not challenging the status quo, our aesthetic sensibility, and their own selves. Instead, they have both adopted the I-am-a-woman-who-knows-what-women-want stance, churning out clothes that, quite frankly, made us yawn.

There is nothing special about these clothes. The thing is, you do not go to Lanvin or Dior for the mundane, or pieces to duplicate your wardrobe. Perhaps buying habits these days are different, but surely, within all those fine exemplars of wearability, some garments can stimulate our appetites with distinction, if not originality?

lanvin-aw-2017Lanvin autumn/winter 2017

Lanvin

The shoes of Alber Elbaz are, no doubt, hard to fill. So, perhaps, Bouchra Jarrar did not attempt to try. Why bother if they will never fit? Slip into those shoes, therefore, she did not. Instead, she took her own mincing steps to create a Lanvin that dares not dream… big.

A first outing for a major brand may be considered easing into the job. But a second season should give us an idea of what is definitively shaping up. So far, it is clear Ms Jarrar isn’t the equivalent of, say, Nicolas Ghesquiere when he took over from Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Still, we’re hoping to see something that’s a lot more concrete. Instead, we were served with loads of predictably feminine silk chiffon (what’s with the identical opening and closing dresses?), unsurprising satin-and-lace pairings, that sweetie-poo pink, the various necklines of what we call jiaobeijiu (交杯酒 or the lock of the forearms between lovers or newly-weds as they exchange a cup or glass of wine to drink) knot, unspectacular pants and more unspectacular pants, all in a mix that would surely entice hardcore Jamie Chuas.

Jeanne Lanvin was, of course, no Gabrielle Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli; she had neither the youthful ease of one nor the witticism and humour of the other. Mme Lanvin had ultra-feminine tastes, best exemplified in her preference for the fitted bodice from under which long, full skirts sumptuously bloomed—the robes de style. Ms Jarrar seems to have a weakness for the same silhouette, only now her full skirts were sheer, and the shorts-like panties asked to be looked at. All this could be seen as a 2017 update. But how does one place or understand the lacklustre lace shirt styled with an insipid skinny black ribbon that Sasha Pivovarova wore? Mme Lanvin may have made a mark with understated elegance, but she sure did not design characterless clothes.

dior-aw-2017Dior autumn/winter 2017

Dior

A name such as Dior is always associated with something new, even when we’re not alluding to The New Look (the American description of Monsieur Dior’s debut, the Corolle). Sure, it can be argued that during Marc Bohan’s tenure (1960—1989), newness was not exactly the star of the shows, but it can be said that novelty and innovation were evident with successors such as Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, as well as those for men’s wear, Hedi Slimane and Kris Van Assche, and for fine jewellery, Victoire de Castellane. Even Yves Saint Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior in 1957 after the latter’s death, dared to be different with the Beat Look of 1960. So what’s new with Maria Grazia Chiuri?

The autumn/winter 2017 collection was not Valentino 2.0, but it was a rather literal take on three qualities always associated with the house of Dior: “romanticism, feminism, and modernity”, also the three qualities she augmented at her previous house of employment. There will always be women for whom these characteristics are essential in their wardrobe, but, at some point—which, for us, is now—boredom would set in. Correct us if we’re wrong, but we sense that Ms Chiuri was communicating a rather political message: now that I am the first woman to design Dior, let me show you how a woman dresses.

So, she offered separates inspired by men’s work wear—denim dungarees and boiler suits! And shirts—very vanilla, slim fit tops—that went with both pants and skirts (pleated, gathered, and ruched for plain is the bane of fashion today). Between embroidered chiffon and velvet, a woman needs to show her tougher side. And when she needs to reveal gentleness, there are always corseted bodices and their see-through cousins, cold shoulders, and tiered skirts to rely on. And to be certain she’s not off the sportswear/hoodie-the-basis track, she is served a relaxed version of the bar suit with a hood! If Kanye West were to design Dior, that would be a touch of genius, but this was Ms We Should All Be Feminist!

To be fair, Ms Chiuri is a lot more surefooted with her second Dior show. The choice of black and darker shades of blue, as well as the pairing of navy and black hinted ever so gently at an attempt at a concept, albeit just chromatic, and, even when collectively, the colours are akin to what Japanese retailers such as Journal Standard have been employing in at least one part of their seasonal collections (let’s not talk about how those inky hues were made popular by the Japanese invaders of Paris in the early ’80s).

But beyond that, what can we say that won’t sound like we’re negative? One thing was glaring to us. Many of the silk chiffon and tulle skirts were worn with solid-colour underpants that look like shorts. Sounds familiar? Indeed, if you were to change Ms Chiuri’s colour palate with that of Ms Jarra’s, the design directors could easily trade positions. Dior for Lanvin, Lanvin for Dior. How about that? Soul sisters unite!

Photos: indigital.tv