If you were to take a wide view of the stories told by Dior, they would be reminiscent of a mind map, branching off into hundreds of directions with each line spreading to a new idea – the 1968 Paris youth riots, the artistic takedown of the patriarchy by Tomaso Binga, feminist theory, intersectionality – and connecting it all at the nucleus of Maria Grazia Chiuri and her boundless curiosity.
The story she has constructed at Dior is complex, multifaceted, diverse, and circumferenced by strong conviction. She has a global vision. Opposite to many of her peers, it’s broad – not narrow – and it wants to catch everyone in its net. Dior’s success isn’t due to her speaking to a select few; it’s telling its story to everyone, and hoping they will listen. For Fall 2019 Couture, Chiuri tapped artist Penny Slinger, who achieved something unbelievable.
While Dior is the only house in the world that still maintains its original headquarters – the famed address of 30 Avenue Montaigne where Christian Dior set up shop in 1946 – Slinger transformed every surface of the interior into a collage of scenery: forests and crystals, flames, clouds, and watery reflections all done with photo treatments applied from top to bottom. For the pièce de résistance, she upholstered photographs of the inside of the building for a mind-bending trompe-l’œil effect. It rendered an alternate-universe version of 30 Avenue Montaigne. It was astonishing.
From this forest of dreams emerges Dior Fall 2019 Couture’s first look, and a burning question. Chiuri likes to do that. Launching a presentation with a question tips everyone off balance for a moment, and forces them to think. This time, the question was “Are clothes modern?” in reference to Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, based on his 1944 essay by the same name.
As an architect, Rudofsky was particularly adept at parsing the form and function of design. Some fashion, he argued, was not modern in that its perceived form combated its function, as in the case of pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes that harm the wearer’s feet. Craft-driven couture gave Chiuri ample playing ground for exploring this topic and, by reducing the collection to noir tones, it allowed us an unfettered view of the clothing’s construction. This is the central story: are we making clothes that are rationally designed for the human body, clothes that are livable (and what could be more luxurious than comfort)?
What could be more luxurious than comfort?
With the house of 30 Avenue Montaigne as a metaphor for the clothes that “house” our bodies, Chiuri’s focus was engineering flattering, imminently wearable designs. There were languidly draped T-shirt dresses, elegant coats that were pinched asymmetrically across the waist, signature gowns with articulated bodices featuring a flou of chiffon skirts, and roomy tailored separates. It was as elegant as it was thoughtful, punctuated occasionally by a warrior-like woman in laser-cut leather tamped with feathers. Mesh veils added a funeral-esque quality to the collection. At the end, the metaphor of clothes as a house was made literal when the final model emerged wearing a three-dimensional replica of 30 Avenue Montaigne as a dress.
In response to the posed question – are clothes modern? – Chiuri’s answer seems to be a resounding, “Yes.”