“A lot of young people hate fashion,” said designer Dior Maria Grazia Chiuri, backstage at her big show in the Tuileries Gardens which opened Paris Fashion Week.
“They hate fashion because to them brands are part of an establishment system that represents power,” she added, in an insider assessment of a snappy candor about the problematic status of the fashion. Such candor is rare from the titans of an industry where maintaining appearances is paramount. But Chiuri’s strategy for increasing Dior’s relevance has been to tackle issues — from cultural appropriation to liability owed by fashion profiteers to a global workforce of garment workers — on which fashion week usually prefers to turn a blind eye.
Crinolines and cinched skirts, high boots with curved baroque heels, rich layers of lace secured with satin ribbons and long, delicate gloves made up a parade tribute to the Dior muse of the season, Catherine de Médicis. “She was a woman who truly understood the power of fashion to impress its power on everyone around her,” Chiuri said. “She talked about fashion as a show of power. It’s very interesting for me, because I’m part of a generation for whom fashion is about being free,” added the 58-year-old designer.
“But the history of fashion is very close to the history of power. And now when I go to fashion schools, because I’m from a big brand, I find that part of the younger generation hates what it represents, because they associate the fashion system with power .
De’ Medici was an early adopter of high-heeled shoes and the corset. The story of this Italian noblewoman who rose to power at the French court in the 16th century after her husband’s death captured Chiuri’s imagination for the way she speaks of “the fear and anxiety around women in a position of power. After her husband’s death, she dressed all in black, partly because it made her conspicuous in the crowd – black clothing was expensive, so few people could afford to dress all in black.
Chiuri’s interrogation of the mechanics of power included a sidelong look at how Dior himself played the system to his advantage. In the Dior archives, the designer found a map of Paris that centered the city around the fashion house’s Avenue Montaigne headquarters. The card became a print for a trench coat. The Dior label and the visual iconography of the city of Paris have become symbols of chic – with brands like Dior deliberately blurring the lines between the two.
In 2017, Chiuri opened a runway show featuring a model wearing jeans with a Breton striped slogan t-shirt spelling out the question first posed by American art historian Linda Nochlin in 1971: “Why isn’t there? have there not been great female artists?
Since then, she has tried to answer her own question by collaborating with a female artist at each Dior show so that the show celebrates female creativity as well as handbags. This season was a second collaboration with cardboard sculptor Eva Jospin, who created an intricate grotto as the centerpiece of the podium space. “I’m interested in the cave as a way to represent beauty and nature, but with a slight weirdness,” Jospin said at the event.
Five years ago, Dior was a household name around the world, but sales were lacking. The house, founded by Christian Dior in 1947, led fashion from the front in the post-war years, redrawing the model of chic with the famous “new look” in flared skirts. But while the prestige of the name endured, in the 21st century this was no longer fully reflected in sales. But since 2017, when LVMH embarked on a rapid acceleration of e-commerce and a series of spectacular fashion shows, annual turnover has tripled from 2.2 billion euros (2 billion pounds sterling) to 6.6 billion euros. Dior is now closing the gap with its historical rival for the top spot in Parisian fashion, the house of Chanel.