Christian Dior: Existentialist style
Christian Dior harked backed to the 1950s with a fresh take on existentialist style in its latest collection presented Tuesday in Paris, in a show that unveiled a brilliant modern wardrobe for women.
Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri was inspired by three iconic French women – Catherine Dior, Edith Piaf and Juliette Greco – each of them representing different facets of Paris, the city which Dior effectively embodies more than any other brand.
Parading her huge cast of 96 through a giant psychedelic art installation by Portuguese artist Joanna Vasconcelos. A remarkable series of massive organic spheres, ball and droplets, all covered in fabrics, crystals, beads and feathers built inside a huge Dior tent, constructed on top of the main fountain of the Tuileries Gardens.
This fall/winter 2023 collection was an impressive array of elegance – much of which came in black. No surprise, given the preference for little black dresses by the two singers – the concert hall classicism of Piaf and the existentialist night club mood of Greco.
But also in some dramatic new mottled floral prints, a tribute to Catherine Dior, the founder’s remarkable baby sister. A courageous member of the French Resistance, Catherine grew and sold roses as an expression of beauty after the horrors of WW2.
Strangely, entering the massive set, an alien could have almost have thought that Dior was a Spanish brand – seeing as half the audience was attired in Grazia’s Seville cruise collection of Andalusian chic. Perforated leather jackets, jodhpur pants, riding hats and boots – one sort of expected them to arrive on white horses.
No house in fashion today has such a loyal following as Dior. Hundreds of international VIP clients head to toe in Dior packed into the eight rows of the show space.
While down on the front row, the paparazzi were in a frenzy rucking and mauling for photos of actresses like Charlize Theron or Maisie Williams.
No wonder Bernard Arnault, patron of Dior and on current calculations the world’s richest man, employs two substantial rugby men as his bodyguards.
The more important action, however, was on the runway, as Maria Grazia sent out a black-and-white opening of plissé, mid-calf skirts and dresses, cinched at the waist by skinny belts and worn with lambskin elbow-length gloves.
“I think all three women expressed different elements of France, and indeed of Paris. The sense of independence, the desire to make your own destiny, and a determination to break the stereotypes still imposed on women in the post-war era,” said Maria Grazia, in a pre-show preview with Italian-speaking editors.
All three women led remarkable lives, though marked by tragedy. Both Greco and Dior were taken away to concentration camps during the war. On returning to Paris, the impoverished Juliette Greco was forced to borrow boys' clothes and in the process invented the Saint-Germain style. Echoed in this show by the boyish white poplin shirts or mannish long leather redingotes, or crinkly patent leather blousons with knit collars, worn with flared Corolle skirts.
While Catherine, a Right Bank lady who shared an apartment with her brother on Rue Royale, and ended up selling floors on Rue Montorgueil, still a brilliant food shopping street today, was referenced in some stupendous prints. In a season of blotchy prints, Dior’s were the most beautiful, ingeniously revamping Monsieur Dior’s floral motifs by interweaving mottled fabric with a metallic thread, rendering it malleable, and erasing contours to obtain an abstract effect.
Chiuri then paired these great print dresses with mohair tartan sweaters, elongated cardigans and A-line overcoats that referenced the famed 'Adventure' coat of Monsieur. All were novel, eye-catching and very wearable.
Piaf, like Greco, was a great protagonist of La Chanson Française, where classic French music is allied with literary texts. Piaf’s penchant for spare black dresses and micro checks seen in many opening looks, and in the overall mood of fighting independence that permeated the show.
“I was fascinated by the idea of the 1950s and how it is seen in many different lights. I associated it with American cinema, with Doris Day. But to women of that era, like my mother, the 1950s is represented by Paris, by Piaf and Greco and their style. Even in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn wanted to dress French,” argued Chiuri.
The set, however, was resolutely contemporary and the fruit of a debate between Chiuri and Joana Vasconcelos. The result was one of the most monumental installations in fashion history, where the artist interpreted the founder’s sister as Valkyrie Miss Dior.
The first woman artist to be exhibited at the Château de Versailles, a participant in the 2005 Venice Biennale, and the subject of a solo retrospective at the Bilbao Guggenheim, Vasconcelos is a pre-eminent creative force.
Her celebration of Miss Dior as a Norse Valkyrie female deity, included a series of Baltic islands, made in floral mottled fabrics inspired by the house’s archives. Which, unfortunately, weakened the event, dissipating its energy, as the cast wandered about the huge space. So, as a runway show it never really took flight, even as Piaf’s most famous chanson Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien boomed out of the speakers.
But, as a wonderful wearable wardrobe of existentialist chic, this collection was hard to beat.
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