Dance Back To The Past

This season Maria Grazia Chiuri brings up her country of birth again, and reconnects with an Italian woman in history for Dior

It has been a while since Dior had dancers get in the way of the models’ display of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fussy, re-imagined Dior. The last was shown two years ago, during the Resort 2021 collection, staged in Puglia, Italy, where ten local dancers performed as a throbbing mass while the models walked on as if they were no obstacle. This time, Dior engaged a Dutch dance troupe formed by the siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal, dubbed “the hottest new dance choreographers in Netherlands”. The dancers, in nude-coloured costumes of tank tops painted with torsos, paired with plain underpants, executed a primal, writhing routine that could be seen as carnal. In the latest issue of Purple, the sister Imre van Opstal told the magazine, “We like to speak about the human body”. So does Ms Chiuri, who, through her love of sheerness, communicates her idea of body image, however the ideal body is framed for her culturally.

This season, with her woman-for-woman Dior, Ms Chiuri looks at the reputedly diabolical Renaissance proto-feminist Catherine (also Caterina) de’ Médici (of the powerful Florentine banking family). Like her, Catherine de’ Médici is an Italian transplanted to France, only in the latter’s case, by marriage—to King Henry II, a union few in court were thrilled with as the Médicis were of merchant class, not royalty. As Queen of France, she—not known for her beauty (she has been described as “homely”)—was patron of the arts and a fashion consumer, who, being “plump”, made corsets quite the fashion, as well as heels to make her look taller. When she left for France at age 14, she reportedly brought along a large retinue, including dressmakers, jewellers, and perfumers. While she was the embodiment of the dress politics of the time, it is arguable if she was a major contributor to French fashion the way Marie Antoinette later was (or her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers), unless the scented gloves she introduced in court is counted. The Sovereign was better known as a manipulative, even vicious regent (her three sons were consecutive rulers), who was hated by the Protestants for her supposed role in France’s religious civil wars of that era, in which many were assassinated. She was, to put it mildly, the political force behind the reigns of her sons. When she died in 1589, France mourned her with the same outpouring for a slaughtered hen.

It is understandable why Catherine de’ Médici would appeal to another Italian woman who designs for a company named after a Frenchman. According to the show notes, “women know how to explore magical territories since they have a privileged connection with nature and its vital force”. Thus blessed, Ms Chiuri establishes the link to the past, but however modern her attempts, the results bordered on the costume-y made current by today’s midriff-baring must. The corset is brought back, but not with the constriction of those that tightened Catherine de’ Médici’s waist. Ms Chiuri made them loose so that you can wear them like you would a singlet (oh, that, too, appears) with the shape of a stomacher curve at the bottom end (and what’s more modern than wearing them with elasticised-waist pants?), giving you the chance to boast a flair for sartorial historicism. And perhaps find kinship with the unconventional sisters of the past?

And then there are the mini hooped skirts (we already hear many say cute) in the shape of table food covers, showing off how exquisite Dior is with lace, also a Catherine de’ Médici fave. Clearly Ms Chiuri does not reference the past the way her predecessor John Galliano did. It appears that she went to the cutting table without humour or a vestige of wit. Still, rather funny are those flimsy skirts with hooped uppers that made them look like lanterns, or bird cage covers, or worse, mosquito netting over a baby’s cot. Pretty skirts means there are dirndl versions (in floral patchwork!), cheerleader skirts with smocking across the stomach, and those to be worn over shorts like capes for bottoms. To enhance the overall femininity, there are lacings for sides of bodices as well as neckline, or down the length of skirts; lace borders as seen on négligée: gathered trims like those on the edges of French maids’ aprons: and more open-work fabrics to delight your dry-cleaner. Oh, there’s also that much lauded print of the map of Paris., so you’ll know Maria Grazia Chiuri is putting Paris on the map.

“A Better Tomorrow”. Or, Duller?

Dior’s couture this season hopes for an improved future. For the house or the world, it is not quite clear

Despite collections after collections for both the prêt-àporter and haute couture that resist ‘spectacular’ and ‘groundbreaking’—forget ‘radical’—as descriptors, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been able to drive Dior to €18bn-revenue territory for the first quarter of this year, according to media reports, a not unimpressive 29% increase, compared to the same period last year. Do they need “to reimagined a better tomorrow”, the aim of the autumn/winter 2022 couture collection, according to Ms Chiuri to The Guardian? Dior sales across categories apparently have defied any (premature?) suspicion that the unceasing pandemic and the ongoing war in North-East Europe will dampen the brand’s outlook. This is in large part due to Ms Chiuri’s persistent push for the pragmatic, pleasantly prettified. She does not go where she fears to tread. Her clothes are well-loved because they are relatable. Women do not take to Dior with trepidation. So Ms Chiuri continually churns with confidence and delight the same delicate dresses, tempered with slogan tees and anoraks, and steadied with sensible hats and shoes.

The couture collections, too, are treated with similar aesthetical approachability, to the point that you cannot easily tell them apart from those of the pret. As we have noted before, Dior is increasingly moving away from the specialness that can inspire, among a range of emotions, awe. This isn’t naysaying. No extreme reactions are necessary to Ms Chiuri for as long as she is able to achieve the pleasantly humdrum with the obligatory see-through to mimic sexiness. Her couture presentations may have been walking theses of feminism and its attendant pride, as well as support for artists and artisans that can be aligned with Dior, but they are not designs that could provide look-back that would remind us, in the future, of revolutionary times or zeal, as The New Look still evokes. After the first prairie dress of this autumn/winter season appeared, we were ready to turn off the livestream when we received a WhatsApp message from a friend of SOTD. It said, “I don’t think Christian Dior himself had ever been to a prairie or even know what it is. Extremely sickening.”

Ms Chiuri may not have entirely abandoned the Dior house codes (she has pivoted the waist to its natural position, for example), but there has been no indication that she has forged new ones either. Or, perhaps she has: Dior is not associated with the alpine fave, dirndl skirts, or anything Cottagecore, but it now it is. She is happy to sashay in her own plodding rhythm, comforted by what we see as ennui that won’t change. Her designs are circumscribed by silhouettes that amount to five, or thereabouts, fashioned in fabrics that inevitably include the sheer. You know what will be shown; you can guess it. Predictability has never been capped. Yes, you can argue that there are those many, many stitches by the petite-mains and the details the eyes cannot see (especially not on a livestream). You can say there are those wonderful surface treatments—embroidery (on tartan: Charmed!) and floral motifs with an intricacy that screech couture or the folksy smocking on the bodice with the decorative stitches, or the frog fastening on vaguely Mao jackets. But take away all that? Are we going to be reminded of the hundreds of hours needed to make those clothes, again?

This season, Maria Grazia Chiuri pays tribute to another female creative, the Ukrainian artist Olesia Trofymenko, who is tasked to design the set. At Ms Trofymenko’s suggestion, the tree of life is used as a motif. Clichéd as the image might be, Ms Chiuri admitted to liking the symbolism a lot, with the house saying that “these traditional symmetrical structures symbolise femininity, the idea of continuity and a bright future”. The use of Ms Trofymenko’s work could appear to be a token gesture to support the war and resistance in Ukraine, but whether nominal visual value is applied or a true symbol of womanhood not expressed clearly enough already, we cannot really tell. Obvious is the return to looks that are more than retro, to a time of the pioneer women of the mid-19th century. Some of the frocks recall those of Valentino, where Ms Chiuri was a co-designer (alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli) and had loved rather medieval styles, such as the kirtle. Others, including a kirtle-looking spaghetti-strapped dress over a chemise, might look very much in place in the wardrobe of Maria Rainer of The Sound of Music. “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,” Julie Andrews as Maria sang in the 1965 film, “I know I will hear what I’ve heard before. My heart will be blessed with the sound of music. And I’ll sing once more.” Dior’s Maria does, too.

Screen shot (top): Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

Spain Saturated

Maria Grazia Chiuri makes sure that the Dior cruise collection, presented in Seville this time, is unmistakably Spanish

It is off to Spain for Dior’s cruise 2023 collection this season. In Sevilla, Maria Grazia Chiuri presented her desirably wearable clothes at the Plaza de España (or Spain Square), a half-circle complex of mixed styles that was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (mainly offices of government agencies are housed there now). The sweeping building sits in a massive garden, the Parque de María Luisa and it is in this vast expanse of space, with the Plaza as backdrop, that the Dior presentation took place. For most of the show (to be certain, we—like most of you—saw the livestream), the clothes were lost in the (no doubt breathtaking) expanse of the setting. Also threatening to overshadow the models looking remarkably listless (the runway just too long?) is the energetic dance performance—flamenco that ethnographers and dance anthropologists believe to have started here in Seville as bodily expression of the impoverished and the marginalized. But Dior’s expensive show gives no hint to that little detail of the history of the Andalusian capital.

The Dior cruise collections have mostly been a cultural promotion of sorts or as a “way to tell stories”, CEO Pietro Beccari told Vogue in 2020. From Calabasas (2018) Marrakech (2020) to Puglia (2021) to Greece (2022), the destinations were as far away as the clothes were localised. These city/town/village-themed collections also allowed Ms Chiuri to work with provincial artisans, infusing her designs with the exotic and the cultural so that they’d be artistic and edifying. Oftentimes, the pieces are the “real deal” of how much local knowledge and craftsmanship have been worked into them. In sum, they capture the sartorial spirit and tradition of the land. That, however, does not necessarily preclude the lamentably clichéd.

In Seville now, the clothes (and the very Zorro Cordovan hats!) so radiate those fashion finds from holidays in Spain that they border on the costume-y. Pandemic-era The Barber of Seville? A Roman designer working in Paris referencing Andalusian motifs is likely cultural appreciation, rather than appropriation. Indeed, can white people adopting the fashion of other white people, but of different culture be considered an act of appropriation? There is a greater cause in all this: Ms Chiuri is providing employment for scores of the local artisans and others putting the show together. We must not knock this. Jack Neo recently said of his second Ah Girls Go Army film, “Don’t scold us again… we created 400 job opportunities by doing these films.” Economic benefit in inflationary times trumps artistic merit.

These are clothes that would no doubt elicit the response, “so preeety”. Nothing wrong with that. As fashion gets inexplicably vulgar and meretricious, what Dior is offering could be welcome antidote. Ms Chiuri, whose middle name also means “beauty of form and movement”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, has always approached design with a more classical eye. Her Dior has predictable forms that prefer not to deviate from the founder’s vision, allowing movement for women to be at their feminine best, from demure to coquettish. So, this season, the modest lengths to maintain primness or the frilly off-shoulders (and bodily tiers) that facilitate flirtation. All the better to project the power of the matriarch (or that of the late flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya, who, danced “energetically” in pants and was—ironically for the Dior inspiration—not a mother): As Ms Chiuri told Suzy Menkes, “All the Mediterranean areas, especially in the South, are matriarchal families, where the women is the centre. These women are super strong. Sometimes too much”.

But excessive may not necessarily be an undesirable trait to Ms Chiuri. Faced with the plethora of Andalusian decoration on fabric, she does not shy away from them. Or, the so-called Spanish lace (much of the lace used in Spain for, say, mantillas—even, reportedly, ecclesiastical lace—were imported from France, in particular Chantilly, where Dior staged its 2019 cruise show). The clothes are accorded surface treatments as if they are destined for an Almerían or gypsy wedding. So lacy, frilly, ruffled, and tiered many of the looks are that it is hard to imagine them for a cruise, or any resort. Traditional Spanish fashion can, of course, be flamboyant—bright colours and eye-catching patterns are typical of Andalusian dress, also referred to as “flamenco”. But Ms Chiuri avoids that path to an extent. Still, it is hard to ignore the fanciness of the fringed-shawls-as-outers (mantoncillos?) Or the toreador jackets and pantalones, even when they are tempered with the inclusion of denim and varsity jackets. Maria Grazia Chiuri is clearly not thinking of the matriarch (and the inhabitants) of La Casa de Bernarda Alba.

Screen shot (top): Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

Schoolgirl Sass

Dior’s fall 2022 is for the very young?

At the end of the latest Dior show, Maria Grazia Chiuri took her usual bow, wearing a varsity jacket of the Ewha Womans University (actual name). It confirmed what we were thinking while watching the livestream of the show staged in the 185-year-old private school: she is creating her own ‘campus chic’. This is, of course, nothing akin to what you’d see in the corridors of NUS, where fashion is secondary, but the xiaomeimei (小妹妹) vibe is unmistakable and the look-at-my-young-abdominal flaunt apparent. This is collegiate girliness lensed through the Dior studio, with the usual plethora of sheerness and a paucity of innovation. Liberal education in the company of rote designing for an increasing homogeneous sorority.

The show might be staged on the grounds of an institute of higher learning, but it seems to stop at the steps of virtuosity and brilliance. Or, as the British indie rock girlband Wet Leg sang out in the opening track of the show proper, 2019’s surprise hit Chaise Lounge: “I went to school and I got a degree. All my friends call it ‘the big D’.” While the song is deliciously irreverent and so incongruous to the do-your-best ethos of varsity pursuits, the clothes have less the cheek that one might expect to reflect those individuals inclined to provoke, if not challenge the status quo within the relative safety of academic walls. They lack the lyrical playfulness of the Wet Leg song; they are, at best, catchy, but vacuous.

There is, unsurprisingly, the undercurrent of feminism that is tagged to Ms Chiuri’s work for Dior, if not the past overtone. The 88-look presentation opened with a group of skateboarders—all girls—displaying their fancy footwork, with almost a machismo that seems to dispel any belief that skateboarding is a male sport or that girls can’t be good at it. All that as-strong-as-the-guys sporting excellence, however, does not preface the extreme femininity of the styling that Ms Chiuri has embraced. While some of the looks could pass off as ‘andro’ (even if only in the attitude of the models), most are a reprise of her brand of cool-girl ethos and emptiness, including the oddly omnipresent tie, neckwear that guys are fast abandoning, even among those working in banks. Now, more incongruous on the built-for-the-show skatepark.

It is often said that the Fall—aka pre-fall—or any ‘pre’ collection is a more accessible take on the main RTW. Dior’s vision is not spectacularly differentiated; it is the Dior that has become the Dior of Maria Grazia Chiuri: those unstoppable sheer skirts, the white-shirt-as-base-garment, workwear-as-sportwear, as well as corny sports clothes, bicycle shorts under feminine skirts, negligee over shirts and such, belted dresses of various lengths, and high boots with everything. And if the schoolgirl has a prom to attend or a fashion show at its school compound to grace, there are always the sexy evening dresses. When the young need to impress their peers, sometimes, as Gen-Zers have repeatedly shown, not that much effort is needed.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Two Of A Kind: Asymmetric Pleated Skirts

Is Dior flattering Sacai?

Battle of the skirts: (left) Dior autumn/winter 2022; photo: Dior and (right) Sacai Resort 2021; photo: Sacai

Women do admire each other when it comes to creativity. In fashion, that admiration could be in the form of adopting a sartorial version associated with someone else. To the one emulated, such a move might be considered blandishment that validates a certain style. Or simple approval. But what if it happens in design? Dior and Sacai are not only brands from opposite sides of the globe, they do not have a shared history, are not of the same age, or under the same holding conglomerate. Respectively, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Chitose Abe are vastly different designers. Their outputs and aesthetics are rather poles apart, yet there seems to be, at least in one Dior skirt style of the next season, a striking similarity to Sacai’s. Coincidence? Homage? Adulation? Or were we imagining the resemblance?

Dior showed a dozen or so asymmetric, pleated skirts for autumn/winter 2022. Sacai has for almost their entire existence, so much so that whichever side the pleated part appears on the skirt, the sum is now considered a ‘signature’. And so identifiable, and associable to the Japanese label that when it pairs with Nike, a pleated fraction of fabric is used in the skirts (and tops) in the different collabs. This uneven balance has so taken the world that the influence has reached even brands with a considerably lower price point. But there is rarely a doubt as to where the pleated detail might come from.

It must say something when we immediately thought of Sacai upon sighting the first Dior skirt (look 15). And then more emerged, in varying lengths; some in print, some not. Another striking detail: the longer, pleated side appears on the left of the skirt, in versions above and below the knee. Why did this placement stick out or say a very specific name to us? For as long as we can remember and have admired, Sacai’s pleating of one part (or added section) of the skirt has mostly swung on the same side as the hand that secures the wedding ring. Dior’s skirts were more than a tad uncanny. But were they really flattering? Or, as they were to us, disconcerting?

Dior: NFT-Ready?

But, is the Bar suit and the sheer skirt prepared to make the jump?

The opening look of the Dior show would have you believe that Maria Grazia Chiuri has embraced the metaverse and is readying her designs as possible NFTs. The first model—real, not digital—of this season’s show emerges into a dark runway, her material bodysuit lit with tracings of green-hued electroluminescence that is evocative of the colour of the title design of the 1999 film, The Matrix. The squiggly lines meander on both sides of the body and limbs, forming a symmetrical pattern. When the light comes on, the black bodysuit could be mistaken for the motion capture (or MoCap) suit actors wear to record their real-life movements and so that their actions could be digitally applied to a 3D character. But Dior’s feeble dalliance with the special effects is not quite the entry into the metaverse that we thought it might have been.

That out-of-place model merely prefaces the tech used in some of the clothes. This suggestion of technological advancement is not a rupture in Dior’s way forward or wrapping itself in digital legitimacy, just a visual gimmick. According to the brand’s press release, a tie-up with the Italian tech start-up D-Air lab, known for its D-air, described by the company as “a sophisticated personal protective airbag technology”, allows Ms Chiuri to re-invent, for example, the house’s Bar jacket. It is now given the external D-Air lab contraption that, we’re told, “transforms the structure of the original model (the jacket) into a system that regulates the body’s humidity and warms it up if necessary”. Does that not sound like Uniqlo’s Heattech (or Airism), minus the gadgetry? But add the tech and the garment becomes, as Dior states, “an ultramodern celebration of self-assertion”.

Take away the technological-innovation-as-feminist-predication, the clothes enjoy the usual delicate and traditional femininity that Ms Chiuri is partial to. All her favourite items are there, augmenting the waisted-and-flare that is de rigueur to the Dior of her tenure. Is it a wonder that many do say Ms Chiuri has no more than one silhouette in her repertoire? Sure, there is some branching off. Skirts are now asymmetrical, and those half accordion-pleated versions have a distinct whiff of Sacai’s. If you look closely at the clothes this season, there is something even more disconcerting: strange fit. The D-Air lab devices add bulk to areas of the body that normally are without. Puffers wrap the body to look like poorly shaped dumplings. Oversized trucker jackets hang on shoulders listlessly. Corsets, although emphasise the waist, do no follow the contours of the bodice and hips. Leggings have oddly loose crotches. Perhaps more baffling is the wear-it-like-a-blouse fit of one jacket—the common reaction, “why is there so much excess fabric on the chest?” We don’t know.

The set of the show is an installation, The Next Era, by Italian artist Mariella Bettineschi (reported to be a feminist), who has placed black and white portraits of “female figures from the History of Painting”, as per Dior’s description, on the four walls of the show venue, but now, each woman eerily has two pair of eyes (“All the better to see with”, to quote the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood?). Ms Chiuri named the collection after this exhibition, but we can’t be certain if her “next era” refers to the one after the pandemic or the Russo-Ukrainian war. With a space-age-y soundtrack that includes 2018’s Linnaea by the British electronic musician Pariah, you’d think that Dior is being topical, if not ironic. If you wonder how that would bode for the brand, consider another track: American post-rock/electronica trio Son Lux’s Lost it to Trying!

Screen grab (top): Dior. Photos: gorunway.com

The Fake Good

Lame designs can be instructive: they convince very few

The one thing consistent about Dior under Maria Grazia Chiuri’s watch, apart from unstoppable sheer skirts, is a design sensibility that does not arouse the senses. In a word, banal. Or, another, closer to social-media speak: blah. In fact, it’s hard to find a description not the opposite of dull. Fashion professionals always avoid using the three-letter B-word. So we shall, too. But when we run out of synonyms, what are our options, really? Sure, being Dior, the vêtements are not crummy per se. But as designs not more expressive than just clothes, even if they are well-executed, can we honestly resist the simple lousy? Dior’s spring/summer 2022 show is high on colour, but why is it so low on excitement? So young, but so without spirit? So sporty, yet so enervated? It can be imagined that many women would find much of the styles “cute”, but how does cuteness really advance the house that, for so long, has been associated with grown-up sophistication?

Ms Chiuri has been described as being at the “apex” of her career. A woman designing for women, a mother with a daughter as “cultural advisor” in the same office, a feminist unafraid to speak her mind, she has the ambassadorial advantage to effect a more design-forward influence. Yet, her output is largely a commercial exercise. It is mostly devoid of wit or flair, superscribed by big hits such as the seen-everywhere (and much copied) Book tote, and pitched for gushing reviews, whether they are truthful or not. Or, for the survival instincts of reviewers such as Suzy Menkes, who gleefully posted on Instagram that Ms Chiuri has “a particular skill in picking out the spirit of the moment”. Wow!

What could this “spirit of the moment” be at Dior for next spring and summer? Immediately discernible is the throw-back to the ’60s, with a go at the colour wheel. There are mini-skirts, complete with go-go boots, and whatever screaming girls used to wear when they thronged to meet their idol-band, The Beatles. But the reference point, to be more exact, is Marc Bohan’s Slim-Line collection of 1961. Youthquake(!), but nothing trembling with newness, let alone innovation. Wait not for the aftershocks for once the season is over, you’ll find it hard to remember any of the pieces. Definitely not those vaguely modish mini this, mini that, the numerous “cute” skirt-suits (some with shorts or culottes), and those ringer-style tank-dresses! Curious is the septet of unflattering separates that seem to mimic boxing wear (like in Milan, there are bras to go with the shirts and shorts, under which are unnecessary skin-coloured base garments), and even more baffling is the white union suit that could have been Baby Gap made for grown-ups. Or, to borrow from Karl Lagerfeld referring to sweatpants in 2013, “a sign of defeat”.

While other houses such as Saint Laurent proudly wear their Frenchness on their sleeves, Dior does not, and is, in fact, becoming more, er, Italian? Or Roma, the place of Ms Chiuri’s birth? Is this her strategy? Seems so. The scenography is conceived by compatriot, Anna Paparatti, considered a key figure in the Roman art scene of the ’60s, who created the set based on the Roman night spot of the same era, Piper Club (which still exists!), thought to be the city’s own Studio 54 back then, while the soundtrack is sung live by the Italian indie electro-pop band II Quadro di Troisi, attempting Italo-disco in considerably lesser beats per minute. What should we take away from all this? Viva Roma?

Photos: Dior

Dior Goes Sporty

At the cruise show, Dior shows pieces that you could go to gym in. Will you?

Dior packed their 2022 cruise collection and sent it to Athens, Greece to be shown at the Panathenaic Stadium, an ancient site where the first modern-day Olympics took place, in 1896. This show isn’t, of course, the first fashion presentation to take place in a sports arena. Last October, Hedi Slimane showed his spring/summer 2021 collection in Monaco’s Stade Louis II, a track and field stadium that’s also the home of AS Monoca, the national football team. But the Panathenaic has a far more ancient history—it was first built in the late 5th century BC (it was rebuilt many times before), and the present stadium—refurbished in 1890s and opened in time for that first Olympics—that Dior picked for its show only hinted at what it was before. But the touristic monument’s ode to sports is commensurate with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest (feminist?) pursuit: “clothes as a way of giving freedom of movement”.

Although, ironically, only men participated in the sports of the precursor to the Olympics in 566 BC till the 3rd century AD, women too were involved. In fact, the Panathenaea, as it was known, was largely a festival that also involved religious worship (to honour the goddess Athena), cultural events (poetic and musical competitions), and the prize-award ceremony, all held in the stadium (originally the greek word stadion, a measure of length said to be roughly 600 feet, or 183 metres). According to the show communique, “the choice of this venue, creating a prodigious bridge between sport and culture, ancient heritage and contemporary youth, is highly symbolic for Maria Grazia Chiuri, notably through its connections to the body and the freedom of movement she cherishes, but also through the motifs that inform the collection and its sportswear spirit…” Operative word: “freedom”, the exemption from the old believe that sports clothes are kept apart from couture.

Sportswear, it should be noted, is not necessary sporting clothes, just as athleisure has very little to do with athletics. Ms Chiuri’s garments for fitness pursuits are really puttering with the idea of looking sporty and not for the specific engagement in rigorous activities of the athletic kind. These in a gym would have a look-at-me side effect that no serious gym goer would desire (they rather have trimness or musculature be appreciated). The print-heavy pieces would appeal to, say, tai-tais who like to amuse themselves and their friends with the believe that they’re fitness fanatics. Healthy is the new wealthy. This is, however, not Undercover’s Gyakusou line. The pieces are, at best, ‘activewear’ for running around, not for raising the heart rate or meeting the 10,000-step health quota. Or, what sports brands call “lifestyle” options. Luxe Lululemon? Ms Chiuri also appears to target her sportswear at hip-hop artistes, who often blur the line between sporting clothes and those worn for performing—looks that make a statement, fashion that serves as status symbol.

Ms Chiuri’s idea of modern is to pair sneakers with nearly everything, even red carpet-ready dresses. Despite the many pairs of trainers worn, there is something overly dressed-up about her sports ensembles (you’d need time to pull everything together), which may reflect the sartorial mood at the Panathenaea, maybe not. In ancient times, the Panathenaic Games comprised athletic and equestrian contests, and contestants required no footwear (at least in the beginning. Athletes who wore sandals—the daily footwear then—were seen as novel, even parochial). Perhaps the most delicious irony of Dior’s layered and gaudy looks at the Panathenaic stadium is that the men who participated in the sports here, back in those early, early years competed in the nude.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Two (Plus One) Of A Kind: Is The Swan Dress Really A Thing?

It has been twenty years since Björk wore the much-ridiculed swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards. Now, Dior is offering one too. An anniversary homage?

From left: Björk at the 73rd Academy Awards, Valentino 2014 spring couture, Dior cruise 2020

Did Maria Grazia Chiuri think we have forgotten? Or did she think we remember? Either way, is it time to revisit an old idea? Ms Chiuri is a designer with commercial instincts, so it is hard to fathom the need of a swan gown in the Dior cruise 2022 collection or the fascination with the cygnus. Many of us, of course, totally recall Björk at the 73rd Academy Awards in the cocktail number that looked like a white swan had taken the Icelandic singer as a mate and somehow attached itself to her. She clearly was not attending the ceremony as Odette the swan princess. Thirteen years later, Valentino showed a swan number for their spring 2014 couture collection, which convinced commentators and the fashion media that the house was paying homage to Björk and her unusual choice for the red carpet.

When Dior announced in April that their cruise show would be staged in Greece and will “showcase local artisans”, we knew there would be goddess dresses or interpretations of the peplos, and, sure enough, there are, even when Ms Chiuri said she wanted to avoid clichés. But what we did not expect was the swan dress, already no longer considered fascinating or a dressmaking feat. In fact, repetitive is that white gown, with a tiered floor-length skirt and what seems to be the neck and head (or beak?) of a swan that Valentino showed seven years ago (then, the head was fashioned to hug the back). But now, it seems to resemble more closely the Travis Banton dress Marlene Dietrich wore to a costume party in 1935, as the Spartan queen Leda. It is not immediately clear if there are any dots to connect swans to Greece. Even if there are, the association is as obvious as rainwater in a (swan?) lake.

At the time of Valentino’s couture swan dress, Maria Grazia Chiuri was a designer at the house, together with the present creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli (both were jointly appointed after predecessor Alessandra Facchinetti left in 2008). The Dior cruise swan gown cannot resist the speculation that Ms Chiuri could be stating irrevocably that the waterfowl form was her idea to start with. In 2014, the publicity and accolade had to be shared, but not this time. Now, she enjoys the spotlight as the sole styliste, and is giving herself the opportunity to reclaim past glory. Or, to flow with the achingly trending, is this a Gucci-Balenciaga-style hacking?

When Björk wore her swan dress, designed by London-based, North Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, she did not merely appear in the outfit. As she told the media later, “I was very aware when I went to the Awards that it would probably be my first and last time. So I thought my input should really be about fertility, and I thought I’d bring some eggs.” And she sure did—six of them, all ostrich eggs, presumably large enough not to be missed by the paparazzi’s cameras. She even pretended to lay the eggs, there and then on the red carpet. Like Kate Middleton, Björk is not opposed to repeating her clothes. In fact, the swan dress seen at the Academy Awards (she was voted for best Original Song for Dancer in the Dark) made its fourth appearance. It was first featured on the cover of the 2001 album Vespertine, and then it joined the Vespertine Tour, followed by an appearance at the 2000 Cannes Festival, before finally hitting the red carpet outside the Shrine Auditorium in LA. Looking back, Björk was ahead of her time.

Photos: (from left) Wire Image, Indigital Images, Dior

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.

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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?”

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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.

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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