Dior has a new designer, and for the first time in its 70 year history, the designer is a she. The significance of the appointment of Maria Grazia Chiuri, formerly half of the design duo at Valentino, as artistic director of one of Paris's most significant couture houses has been lost on no one, and no one, it would seem, would have missed her debut on Friday.
The Paris Fashion Week runway show was held at the Rodin Museum, where guests made their way gamely through police barricades to slowly take their seats, a long process that, once nearly completed, was followed by the arrival of designers and celebrities—more than you would believe. From the modeling world, there was Carla Bruni, Arizona Muse, Karlie Kloss, Marisa Berenson, and Kate Moss, who wore a denim shirt embroidered with the titles of Elvis songs. From fashion came Kris Van Assche, the designer of Dior Homme; Pierpaolo Piccioli, Chiuri's former design partner and now the sole creative director at Valentino; Alber Elbaz; Bruno Frisoni; and Pierre Cardin. Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence entered, each with an entourage.
It was a big moment for Chiuri, and she capitalized on it big time with a striking new look for Dior that was rooted in streetwear, fencing uniforms, and most visibly, feminism. There are very few women at the very top of fashion—perversely, most of the top design houses of women's fashion are run by men, and it has been men in the top creative roles ever since the day Christian Dior introduced his New Look in 1947. Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace, Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera, and Diane von Furstenberg are a few notable exceptions, and Chiuri now joins that exclusive club. And she did so by shaking Dior to its foundations, right down to the underwear, really.
Her collection began with a play on fencing uniforms. "The uniform of the female fencer is, with the exception of some special protections, the same as for a male fencer," Chiuri noted. "The female body adapts itself to an outfit which, in turn, seems to have been shaped to its curves."
The opening looks were so decidedly androgynous, with white men's briefs bearing a "Christian Dior J'Adior" logo on the visible elastic waistbands, and white dress shirts with a bee logo that had been lifted from the men's collection, that Chiuri's point of equalizing the sexes was obvious enough. She hammered on that point some more with a T-shirt that said, "we should all be feminists." In effect, Grazia made her argument for dressing without the rules of masculinity or femininity not with subtle points but with a bullhorn, making a point of showing casual day wear, like jeans and a red biker jacket, from a label that has traditionally stuck to evening wear and fancy suits (albeit in different forms over the years, from the romanticized theatricality of John Galliano to the modernist minimalism of Raf Simons).
Chiuri kept her evening looks to a minimum, with layered transparency and childlike embroideries that referenced the signs of the Zodiac and tarot figures, along with more expected Dior flower charms. While it will undoubtedly be a controversial start, with its unabashed embrace of basics and briefs, it also reflects a sensibility to modern times that some critics may be overlooking. It's no secret that the luxury fashion business is tanking, with social media–addled customers bored to death with runway fashion by the time it gets anywhere near a store. So smart designers are responding to the market by giving customers what they want, which is casual fashion that has some sense of purpose to justify the highest price tags, like a cultish cut of jeans or a T-shirts or a shirt with a recognizable logo or a new bag that everyone has to have.
Another of Chiuri's ideas was to meld the J'Adore Dior tag into J'Adior. OK, so it may not have been as poetic as Maya Angelou on the first go, but it gives women a reason to come back to Dior.