From The Issue: Claudia Croft Talks To Maria Grazia Chiuri Of Dior
In an era of post truth and fake news, the question of what’s real and authentic becomes ever more urgent. You wouldn’t think fashion was the place to find anything heartfelt, but there it was, a simple message printed on a T-shirt worn on the most illustrious catwalk in Paris: “We should all be feminists”. It’s the title of an essay written in 2014 by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She sat in the front row alongside Jennifer Lawrence, the highest-paid woman in Hollywood, and Kate Moss, the untamable, sybaritic supermodel whom Karl Lagerfeld once described as “the free girl of our times”.
When the house of Dior appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri to be the first-ever female creative director in its 70-year history, no one expected such a strident statement at her debut show. The jolt it gave signalled the beginning of a different kind of Dior. Chiuri had taken on one of the most powerful roles in modern fashion, overseeing the womenswear and couture collections at the LVMH-owned house, which reputedly boasts annual revenues of €5 billion. Its seventh designer in 70 years, she was unapologetic about the need to take Dior into the future.
France’s most illustrious house, Dior has always stood for femininity as described by a roll call of era-defining male designers. From Dior himself, whose revolutionary New Look redrew the fashion silhouette, through Yves Saint Laurent, whose abstractions of beatnik cool proved too shocking for his bosses at the brand, to Marc Bohan, who enjoyed a 30-year reign at the house, powered by his take on contemporary elegance. Gianfranco Ferré majored on architectural lines, John Galliano wowed with narrative-fuelled fantasies of unparalleled imagination and grandeur, while Raf Simons took an intellectual, art-fused approach, drawing heavily on the founder’s original codes. Whichever way you look at it, Dior was about women seen through the eyes of men, but with one show, Chiuri changed that.
Her opening passage heralded the start of a new way of looking at, wearing and shopping Dior. Crop-haired Ruth Bell wore a quilted, fencing-inspired jacket with a vivid red heart stitched on the front in the tradition of the first female swordswomen to take up the traditionally masculine sport. “This heart, which opened the show, was intended to express the strength and emotions from which the women of today are forged,” says Chiuri. “The collection is a caveat for women – use your heart, but as in fencing, don’t forget to use your head. One shouldn’t take priority over the other. We need both to win our battles.”
Bell’s boyish knickerbockers and trainers emblazoned with a bee motif, Monsieur Dior’s favourite good-luck talisman, suggested Chiuri’s woman would not be hindered by an outmoded idea of femininity.“I think women are eclectic– there can’t just be one kind of woman,” says Chiuri. So that inescapable Dior icon, the Bar jacket, was reimagined as a lean black coat that any high-powered executive would use as corporate armour.
There were perfectly cut peacoats, shouty logo pool slides, cloud-like ballet skirts worn with big sporty knickers declaring “J’ADIOR” and trophy knits bearing zodiac motifs. It was a confident broadening of the house codes, but it was also rooted in reality. Chiuri was not offering an abstract meditation on modern femininity. Whether you are a trend-hungry millennial in the market for a Dior-logo choker or the kind of woman with a social diary that requires diaphanous tulle evening gowns, there was plenty to buy for the many different types of Dior customer. “You need to offer a wardrobe in which a woman can find her own personal style,” says Chiuri. That includes froth and fragility in the form of delicate, semi-sheer skirts and bustier dresses, but they were worn with tough boots, cross-body satchels and leather jackets. “It was important to me to introduce this idea of ‘sport couture’ and mix street style with couture pieces,” says Chiuri of her determination to widen the language of Dior.
After the brand announced her as its new designer on July 8 last year, Chiuri had six weeks to design her debut Dior collection. Unlike her predecessor Simons, who pored over Christian Dior’s output of 1947-1957, Chiuri opened up the whole Dior canon for exploration, including its menswear designers. “I wanted to distil my vision of Dior’s heritage. Sometimes I think that often the only references people have are Monsieur Dior and the 1950s, and I believe that Dior is more than that. There have been incredible designers working at Dior – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, John Galliano, Gianfranco Ferré, Raf Simons, Kris Van Assche, Hedi Slimane – who have also made their own mark on the house, and shaped people’s perceptions of it, subconsciously or otherwise. I think that, in a way, I worked like a curator for this first collection, pulling out incredible work and exciting imagery, highlighting symbols I felt people would recognise, like the Dior monogram.”
There were also plenty of the supremely romantic pieces that had become her signature at Valentino. The finale gowns, embroidered with talismans and zodiac signs were so finely worked and exquisitely rendered, they could only come from the hands of an experienced couturier.Behind it all was Chiuri’s unshakable sense of self. At 52, with a shock of swept- back peroxided hair and fingers full of exquisite vintage jewels, she is a woman in her creative and personal prime. She has the confidence of someone who has enjoyed great success. In 1997, while at Fendi, she and design partner Pierpaolo Piccioli created the iconic Baguette with Sylvia Fendi. It was the world’s first It-bag and from that decorative primogenitor, the modern fashion system has evolved. Built on must-have bags, fuelled by easy credit and turbo-charged by emerging markets, the global luxury goods industry is now worth an estimated $250 billion. Chiuri has never lacked ambition. When she and Piccioli became creative directors at Valentino in 2008, they set about turning the label into a $1 billion brand with a combination of supreme romanticism and stellar accessories, such a the Rockstud shoe.
Many questioned why she would want the personal and professional upheaval of moving to Dior. But while she acknowledges that she could have stayed at Valentino indefinitely, Chiuri couldn’t quell the craving for one more adventure. When Sidney Toledano, the wily CEO of Dior, called her up, he didn’t ask her if she wanted the Dior job. He asked her if she wanted to change her life.
The answer was yes, but emotionally it couldn’t have been easy to uproot. Last July she moved from Rome to Paris, where she rents an apartment during the week, returning to her husband and family home at weekends. Her son, Nicolo, is studying engineering and her daughter, Rachele, lives in London, studying history of art at Goldsmiths. Perhaps the fact that her children are now grown up and have moved away has given Chiuri the freedom to make such a radical move. She has said in the past that family is the most important thing to her and those bonds clearly inform her work.
Claudia Croft is head of fashion at The Sunday Times, Style Magazine
Photographs by Vanina Sorrenti, a selection from “Dior: Lua & Zora” in Issue 58 of 10 Magazine, ANGELS PLEASURE FLUID, on newsstands now…
Photographer: Vanina Sorrenti
Fashion Editor: Sophia Neophitou
Models: Lua Beaulieu & Zora Sicher
Photographer’s assistant: Noel Federizo
Digital operator: Jesse Landmark at Capture This
Sittings editor: Mecca James-Williams
Production: Carly Hoff and Elle Korhaliller at Wenzel & Co
Shot at 66 Morton Street, NYC