Of all the stereotypes of the French people that exist – and there are many – one rings true: they never turn down an opportunity to protest the government or other institutions. France’s passionate protest culture is a well-documented fact, ranging from transportation strikes and teacher’s strikes to protests against Uber, government dam projects, budget cuts, the age of retirement, and more.
They say it stems from the French’s propensity for negativity and complaint – “J’aime rien, je suis parisien” – but it really derives from the French population’s determination to get things done, regardless of government oversight. The mentality seems to be, “If you’re not going to look out for our best interests, at least we will!” For example, the French Revolution was started by the people in response to the excesses of the bourgeoisie elite, and it was nothing if not successful. Heads rolled. The Republic triumphed.
This mood of French political rebellion was the central tenet of Dior’s collection for Fall/Winter 2018. Harkening back to May of 1968, when violent protests erupted in Paris, this presentation was filled with agitprop iconography and alternative styles.
In 1968, the protests started at the Sorbonne. At first, students were angry about the police presence on campus. Coupled with discontent at the outmoded university system in France and the lack of post-graduate jobs, disaffected young people with anarchist tendencies began making demands. When the movement closed the Sorbonne down, violence leaked out into the streets, the Left Bank became a battleground, then the Latin Quarter, and so on. For the first few days of conflict, students clashed violently with police, but then blue-collar workers began joining the students. The protests united everyone, even people who operated in distinctly different societal circles.
This is Dior for a new generation, and it couldn’t be more timely.
Similarly, Maria Grazia Chiuri treated her Fall/Winter 2018 collection as a common rallying point for all women, to acknowledge that feminism is needed in order for equality, liberation, and freedom to be gained by all. The theme of unification and feminism, born out by bohemian styles, was a fist raised in the face of the establishment.
Challenged by mounting civil unrest around the world as vocal factions in Europe, America, and other parts of the world move further to the political right, Dior’s response was a vivid reminder of fashion’s place in things. On the runway, this translated to gavroche caps, patchworked denim, elaborate crochet, and peace signs – the stuff of the countercultural vanguard. In the mix were youthful plaid suits, crisp leather jackets, beautifully embroidered sheer dresses, and shaggy, multi-colored coats.
It wasn’t new territory for Dior, at least as far as themes go, but it had a convincing point. If the personal is political, what could be more personal or more political than your clothing? The thing you use to express your identity to the world, in these fractious times, can be a unifying principle, can issue a message, and can initiate you into a tribe. This is Dior for a new generation, and it couldn’t be more timely.