At Dior, Feminism Under the Spotlight

PARIS — Does it make a difference to have a female designer at the top of a major couture house?

This was the inevitable question surrounding the debut of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to be named creative director of Christian Dior in the companyA company is an association or collection of individuals, whether natural persons, legal persons, or a mixture of both. Company members share a common purpose and unite in order to focus their various talents and organize their collectively available skills or resources to achieve specific, declared goals.’s 70-year history.

Symbolically, of course, the answer is, “absolutely”: There is something bizarrely retrograde about the fact that a business based on catering to women never had a woman running it. And given that this year may see an unprecedented number of women at the head of major geopolitical powers, it was about time.

This has not escaped Ms. Chiuri, who has both a son and a daughter, and who said one of her primary considerations in taking on the Dior job was the ability to show the next generation that it had “the same opportunities,” no matter what gender.

So in preparation for her first show, she read not only Dior’s classic memoir but also “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” the late-20th-century classic of pop psychology and anthropology about the wild woman in us all.

And then she invited, as guest of honor, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose 2013 TedX talk, “We Should All be Feminists,” went viral when it was sampled for the Beyoncé anthem “Flawless.” Ms. Adichie sat in the front row next to the usual celebrity crew — Diane Kruger, Marion Cotillard, Rihanna, Bianca Jagger — and her presence was as much a statement of change as the white box in the garden of the Musée Rodin that had been stripped to its simple essence, with pine blocks as benches and pine boards for a runway.

To better to showcase. … what?

Fencing jackets!

Pure white, in cotton, sometimes quilted, atop trousers cropped knickerbocker-short and frilled tulle petticoats. (Well, what woman doesn’t have to thrust and parry now and then? Or what man, for that matter?) Also glimmering tulle ballet skirts under T-shirts flashing the title of Ms. Adichie’s speech, or the slogan “Dio(r)evolution.” Which pretty much summed up the point.

Ms. Chiuri was taking all the elements that were already in the house, and doing it her way.

Indeed, unlike any Dior artistic director who had come before her, Ms. Chiuri acknowledged the entire history of the brand, from Mr. Dior’s bar jacketA jacket is a mid stomach length garment for the upper body. A jacket typically has sleeves, and fastens in the front or slightly on the side. A jacket is generally lighter, tighter-fitting, and less insulating than a coat, which is outerwear. Some jackets are fashionable, while others serve as protective clothing., here shrunken down and remade in cotton with pockets just over the hips to add a bit of curve, to John Galliano’s “J’adore Dior” period, remade as “J’ADIOR” on the waistbands of underpants visible beneath the tulle, and on straps of camisoles under bustiers. She even referred to Hedi Slimane’s stint at Dior Homme, adopting his stitch signature for boyfriend jeans.

Oh, and there were classic trench coats and “Kill Bill” leather motorcycle jackets in there, too. It all culminated in a series of sheer spaghetti-strap gowns embroidered in the signs and stars of the zodiac and tarot. In a preview, Ms. Chiuri said they were a nod to Dior’s own love of tarot, but in practice they most called to mind her own work in her previous job as co-designer of Valentino.

All of which is to say there was a lot on the runway, a lot of which will be accessible to many people. “I believe fashion should not impose itself on the person who wears it, but be used by them as a way to express themselves,” Ms. Chiuri said the day before the show, so she gave them lots of choices. Fair enough.

If they were united by anything, however, it was the desire to use an épée tip to puncture some of the pomposity attached to a heritage house, as opposed to a statement on what defines a woman now. And it was hard not to think, thus, that among all the options — lovely, cool, bourgeois — the most important one was missing.


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