Maria Grazia Chiuri has slapped a complete counter-reading of the received legend of what the world believes Christian Dior was like in with her new pre-fall collection. “Even I had stereotypes [about Dior] when I came into the house,” she says. “But it’s a simplification of his work.” It’s a bit of a surprise: instead of an excursion into romance and fragility, she’s lined up a gang of young women layered in punkish tartans, biker shorts, jackets, and ties, and rebellious takes on school uniforms.
Chiuri described how her thought process was triggered by looking afresh at Dior’s close relationships with the women around him. One was the huge influence of his heroic sister Catherine, whose little-known life as a member of the French resistance has been carefully and shockingly documented by Justine Picardie in her new book Miss Dior. “She was a brave and unconventional woman,” Chiuri says. Others include the strong-minded characters who helped him build his house: the flamboyant, eccentric Mitzah Bricard, a lover of leopard spot; Suzanne Luling, his press officer and childhood friend; and Madame Raymonde Zehnacker, director of the Dior design studio.
Chiuri’s research into the archive—even the evidence of the variety of silhouettes she says she’s observed there—served her with quite a different take on the histories that were written about Christian Dior after his death in 1957. Those histories tend to paint him as the lone genius who put women into the corseted, escapist dresses that revolutionised fashion with his 1947 New Look. “The truth is that the house of Christian Dior was a community of men and women—together.”
“The first thing that put me on alert was reading his autobiography Dior and I,” Chiuri says. His voice seemed to hint at a far more nuanced narrative than the monolithic mythologising that was built into the posthumous story. “He could do severe, gray tailoring or the Miss Dior couture dress that was full of flowers. Contradiction is part of the beauty of fashion.”
Of course, the search for contemporary relevance—the task that every Christian Dior creative director takes up, season in, season out—all this depends on who’s looking, and when. What Chiuri has built her reputation on is looking for threads of sisterhood (a theme which literally became the woven backdrop to her last haute couture collection), and opportunities for feminist t-shirt messaging for Gen Z-ers.
This time—chiming amongst androgynous, sporty pieces—the slogan of the season is from Simone de Beauvoir: “Femininity is a trap.” It turns out to be a headline from an article she wrote for Vogue in March 1947. Amazing to think: our great-grandmothers read it here first.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com