A Woman’s World: Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri on Modern-Day Feminism

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Maria Grazia Chiuri
Maria Grazia Ghiuri | Photographed by Sylvie Lancrenon

While some designers have embraced the global feminist zeitgeist, Maria Grazia Chiuri — the first female Artistic Director at Dior – practically created the movement in the fashion world.

Chiuri, an unapologetic feminist, is widely credited as the modern-day person who relaunched a global conversation on feminism, having empowered a generation of young women with her ongoing dialogue about the fairer sex and the patriarchal institutions in which they live.

Where designers before her struggled to propel Dior into the 21st Century, Chiuri’s strength lies in understanding the power of celebrity and courting the modern-day feminist. In less than two years as custodian of the maison, she has launched a new vision for Dior – one that is unmistakably youthful – to make room for a tribe of 20-something influencers for whom Dior (previously a brand only their mothers used to wear) is now an alluring prospect.

Chiuri calls it a Dio(r)evolution.

Hers is a fertile imagination, mixed with business acumen and a very mindful approach to fashion. Though she is fascinated with women, you will notice that she is equally fascinated with reflecting women’s lives in the clothes she designs for them – a trait most notably seen in her politically charged Fall/Winter 2018 collection that was inspired by the social unrest and protests of May 1968 in France.

The day after the show, I sat down with Chiuri – or “MGC” as she’s affectionately referred to by her adoring team – to discuss the collection.

Yesterday was a phenomenal day for both fashion and feminism, with your collection being inspired by the social revolution of May 1968 – a movement that is considered a moral, cultural, and feminist turning point in the history of France. This year marks 50 years since that fateful event. What provoked this inspiration?
May 1968 marked a transformation, a break with the past, the desire to build a better future. The revolution that crossed all sectors – from the political to the artistic, philosophical, and cultural – aroused thoughts and ideas that still seem very current to me today. Because of this, it was important for me to acknowledge this moment, to confirm that we have to put ourselves back on the frontline even today, and that this is possible even through fashion.

Through fashion, it’s possible to produce a valid cultural message to give society a new direction.

The Movement for the Liberation of Women (MLF) had many famous slogans, one of the most popular being “Il est interdit d’interdire” (It is forbidden to forbid). What, in today’s increasingly feminist world, do you think should be forbidden, both socially and culturally?
I don’t believe in forbidding and prohibiting things, and 1968 taught us that freedom is important for growing up and maturing. Culture shouldn’t impose any kind of prohibition. On the contrary, it should open the door to knowledge, making us aware of our own roles, our own rights, our own responsibilities.

This movement stimulated the emergence of new ideas, changing the way women dress forever. Similarly, we saw you turning every rule of fashion on its head yesterday. Is this your opportunity to start a (fashion) revolution of your own?
My intention is to talk about an urgent need: the need to expose an unjust situation and the need to want to change things. I think that fashion is an incredibly powerful language. I mean, through fashion, it’s possible to produce a valid cultural message to give society a new direction.

Legend has it that a group of young women dressed in miniskirts protested outside the Dior boutique in 1966. In response, Marc Bohan – then Creative Director of Dior – created the Miss Dior collection to please and appease the “youthquakers”. What, in your opinion, are today’s youth protesting? And why?
Miss Dior was an immediate response to the changes that were shaking things up in the world in 1968, even revolutionizing the traditional fashion system. For me, it represents the starting point for a way of thinking that looks to the past and then superimposes it over our world today. It was a line that expressed the youngest and freest spirit of Dior, coming directly from the street, motivated by the demands of the women who were wearing Dior, but who wanted more – they wanted to be understood. Today’s youthquakers, just like before, are protesting because they don’t feel understood, because the world they have in their minds bears no resemblance to reality. They are brave enough to expose the situation and potentially work to give ‘their’ world shape, to develop it from an idea into a reality.

You have single-handedly created a movement around the topic of feminism in our industry. To what do you owe the inspiration for your first and ensuing collections, and this powerful new Dior voice?
My work is nourished by continuous exploration of the Dior archive; I select what I feel are the most significant elements, especially through my sensibility as a woman and a person who identifies with the modern world. The issue of feminism is close to my heart, not only because of my personal attitude, but also because I feel it is a fundamental issue. My aim is to work with the Dior codes and update them in light of what we are living through every day, and the way in which we relate to the world that surrounds us in our daily lives.

What does being the first female Artistic Director of Dior mean to you? And why do you think women designers have been vastly underrepresented in the higher ranks within the biggest fashion houses?
Being the first woman Artistic Director of Dior is, for me, a cause for great pride and represents a positive message for change. I prefer not to look back too much, thinking of the time that it took to get here – though it has definitely been useful for my development. Rather, I want to look forward and work hard to build even more on such important achievements, reached with such hard work.

The fashion that I design responds to the real needs of women – needs that I experience firsthand.

What is the difference between a man who designs for women and a woman who designs for women? Can you bring something to the table that a man cannot?
I think that there is a different perception of the body and, as a consequence, a different attitude with respect to our experience of the world through both our bodies and our minds. For me, fashion is a question of expressing one’s identity; a balance between head and heart. The fashion that I design responds to the real needs of women – needs that I experience firsthand. I would like to overcome the gender issue, or rather introduce a vision that comes directly from personal experience: mine, of a woman, one inevitably closer to an informed and independent femininity.

One of the many messages on the tear sheets decorating yesterday’s venue read “Un homme sur deux est une femme” (One in two men is a woman). Can you please clarify this message?
Man here is intended as human being. For convention, when we talk about ‘men’, we are often talking in general terms. And automatically, when we talk about women, we think about a niche – a sort of minority. This leads us to a wrong perception. This phrase is important for me because it lays claim to a gender difference that celebrates the peculiarity of not only femininity, but also of masculinity, re-establishing a balance that redefines the concept of equality starting from the specificity of what it feels like to be women and men.

You play with gender fluidity a lot as a designer, with most collections featuring masculine elements. Yesterday, we saw you create a sort of uniform for the modern woman of today, again employing mannish motifs. How do you manage to counterbalance gender differences, with the individual taking precedence over the role?
When I talk of a uniform, I don’t have a role in mind, but more of the daily battle that is life. I believe that fashion gives us multiple possibilities, to change whenever we like. It is really with this idea in mind that I design: thinking about offering women the possibility to express their own individuality at every moment of the day.

Dior Fall 2018 runway
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Your opening look had a sweater with the words “C’est non, non, non, et non!” (It’s no, no, no, and no!) emblazoned across it. To what exactly are we as women saying no?
Rather than to something in particular, we are laying claim to the possibility of shouting our no every time we want without the risk of being judged, obstructed, or – worse – silenced.

It’s an exceptional moment to be a woman, also difficult, but one that I feel has immense potential.

With many painful stories emerging about sexual harassment in the entertainment and fashion industries, it is a difficult time to be a woman, now more than ever. However, with the materialization of movements such as #MeToo, there is a semblance of hope in the air – almost palpable and imminently tangible. I’d like to think your feminist voice has helped a lot of these brave women come out and share their stories. What do you believe these women need in order to keep telling their stories?
Space. In terms of situations and ways in which women can express themselves, tackling more serious issues, but also seemingly more banal ones without fear of being judged. What’s more, I don’t believe that it is a ‘terrible’ moment to be a woman. On the contrary, I believe that times are changing for the better and this, as you just said, you can feel in the air – it’s palpable and alive. And women are the first to realize it, to roll up their sleeves and work together in the right direction. It’s an exceptional moment to be a woman, also difficult, but one that I feel has immense potential.

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