Just two months ago, Dior announced (finally) that Maria Grazia Chiuri, the former co-creative director at Valentino, would succeed Raf Simons as creative director. The decision was monumental not only because of the nearly year-long period that the legendary fashion house went without a head designer, but also because it meant that Chiuri would be the first woman to hold the creative reigns in the company's 70-year history. Today, after much anticipation, she made her debut, and it was unabashedly feminist. In the lead-up to the show, it became very clear that the house's spring '17 collection would put an emphasis on the power of women. First, the design team invited followers to discover the behind-the-scenes workings at Dior through the hashtag #TheWomenBehindMyDress. Then, as guests filed into the Musée Rodin, they were greeted by a sort of manifesto from Chiuri, in which she offered that "feminist is a recurring word" for her. Shortly thereafter, models would make their way down the runway wearing T-shirts that read "We Should All Be Feminists" and "Dio(R)evolution." Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote the former, was sitting front row. The spartan show space was a blank canvas for Chiuri's debut, with a minimalist, stark-gray concrete interior and wooden floorboard catwalk. Dior's established ambassadors — an illustrious group of extremely successful women — all came to show their support for the designer's debut, including Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Diane Kruger, Marion Cotillard, and Natalie Portman. Many of Chiuri's colleagues — including her longtime collaborator Pierpaolo Piccioli, who will be revealing his first solo collection at Valentino this Paris Fashion Week — were present.
It was obvious change was afoot from the show's start: Ruth Bell (of former buzzcut fame) opened the show in her shaggy, grown-out cut — a style that felt like a distinct change from the overt femininity we're used to seeing at Dior. She wore a fencing-inspired quilted jacket decorated with a bright red-heart with matching white breeches and sneakers (featuring the historic Dior bee logo). To open the show with this sport-referencing story was a nod to strength and modern womanhood — as seen through the trend-savvy lens of athleisure and streetwear. In the show notes, Chiuri explained that she strives to make clothes for women to wear today — "fashion that corresponds to their changing needs, freed from the stereotypical categories of 'masculine/feminine,' 'young/not so young,' 'reason/emotion,' which nonetheless also happen to be complementary aspects." Fencing, she wrote, is emblematic of the balance between thought and action, similar to the one she's trying to strike in her new role. Plus, the uniforms are more or less the same for both men and woman: "The female body adapts itself to an outfit which, in turn, seems to have been shaped to its curves," she said.
The aesthetic that Chiuri carefully nurtured at Valentino was never out of mind, though: Next up, there were structured tops similar to the fencing-inspired styles, but paired with soft tulle skirts or delicate lace — both recurring details that turned signature during her and Picciolo's time at the fashion house. As the collection segued into evening wear, with more chiffon, embroidery, and beading, it became clear what Chiuri had brought with her from her 17 years at Valentino. (Though some might argue it was too faithful a nod to the designer's alma mater.) Throughout the show, there was an interesting interplay between structured suiting (archival Dior), biker jackets (a contemporary staple in French fashion), and romantic skirts and dresses (Chiuri's Italian sensibility), all rendered in a palette of white, black, and red. There was a strong sporting elegance theme — and an even stronger social statement, from the notes in the program to the impassioned T-shirts shown on the runway. This is yet another notable departure from Simons' legacy, whose definition of Dior femininity was more artful and fantastical than necessarily realistic (but still lauded).
Still, Chiuri has seemingly spent time in the brand's extensive archives: The Dior bee motif reappeared throughout the collection (an appropriate pairing to the "Flawless" soundtrack blasting down the catwalk), on top of reinterpretations of the house's classic silhouettes, like the jacket. Her take on the Dior woman was decidedly modern, empowering with a precise measure of sensitivity. "Her boldly feminine outlook explores the rules of modern beauty to transpose them into a collection shaped by the sensual tension that exists between the body and clothing," the show notes read. "She explores the form and shape of a silhouette that's contemporary, agile, and Olympian." As Simons did before her, Chiuri managed to respect the Dior tradition while looking to her own future at the brand. However, Chiuri's influence wasn't quite felt strongly enough with this inaugural collection. We think it'll certainly take a few collections to see where she leads the label into this new, historic chapter.