Nearly one year ago, Maria Grazia Chiuri made her debut as Dior's womenswear artistic director, claiming her space in the industry with the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote: "We should all be feminists." Now, she's furthering the conversation by asking: "Why have there been no great women artists?"
For spring 2018, Chiuri was inspired by female artists (or rather, the lack thereof). According to the show notes, during her research in the Dior archives, Maria Grazia Chiuri's interest was piqued by a series of photographs of French-American sculptor, painter, and filmmaker, Niki de Saint Phalle. In one of them, the artist can be seen on a camel; in others, she’s posing for Dior during the tenure of her great friend Marc Bohan, then creative head of the house. Embodying the beauty of her day, de Saint Phalle exhibits a style of dressing that’s both iconic and personal, and current in its proportions and whimsy. At the time of the liberation of women, she threw herself into a close relationship with art, the world, and herself; and like most artists, she was driven by her emotions — something that spoke to Chiuri on a personal level.
Chiuri pays homage to de Saint Phalle's most famous creations, the Nanas — sculptures of extraordinary women — and her over-the-top masterpiece, the Tarot Garden, via patterns, broken embroideries, and mirror mosaics of multicolored hearts, dragons, and the tree of love, among others. The mirror mosaics also reappeared on the walls of the white show space within the Musee Rodin. But while the space remained mostly white, Chiuri experimented with de Saint Phalle’s bright palette in the clothing, bringing to life silk, leather, and plastic in bold shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and pink.
References to Bohan (who ran Dior from 1958-1960) were also present via little dresses and jumpsuits, sometimes teamed with full skirts opening at the front. There were large polka dots, black and white '60s checks, and trousers worn with ordinary safari jackets, all inspired by his designs.
Alongside Niki de Saint Phalle and Marc Bohan, Chirui's next phase of feminism cited American art historian Linda Nochlin, whose writing challenged the traditionally male discourse in art history and fashion. Model and artist Sasha Pivovarova opened the show in a denim hat, high-waited jeans, and a breton stripe shirt that read: "Why have there been no great women artists?" a question posed by Nochlin's 1971 essay of the same name.
Vogue writes: "By connecting art to second wave feminism, Nochlin’s text reveals that even within the aesthetic realm, gender inequality helps determine who is considered an artist and what work is deemed culturally significant. The problem, she goes on, is not an actual lack of female artists of worth, but a failure to understand the imbalance of power that impacts art and society as a whole."
Though Dior has seen success projecting the power of feminism through its best-selling (albeit quite expensive) T-shirts, there's still questions to be asked around the relationship (and, let's be honest, authenticity) of politics and fashion. Yes, Chiuri has made her mark as the first female artistic director of Dior, but as the commodification of social justice continues to increase, it's worth asking: Will the industry be able commit to its call to action beyond the confines of clothing?