Haute Couture has long been honoured for its extreme attention to detail and utter craftsmanship which transports its wearer to another time, another environment, and another identity. During the assertive march on Saturday for women’s rights in the wake of President Trump’s inauguration, the proclaiming T-Shirt from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut SS17 collection for Dior – ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ – was worn by many figures including Rihanna and Natalie Portman. Establishing a modern take on the zeitgeist of feminism with strong slogan shirts, it was anticipated that Chiuri would present her first couture collection for Dior in alliance with her revolutionary statement present in Ready-To-Wear: stressing that of female empowerment and equality in a bold, innovative way. To the surprise of all, her messages were not quite so point blank – instead, she offered a homage to couture’s origins in her collection rather than obviously proposing a revolution. Yet, amidst a flurry of enchanting, mesmeric gowns with fine detail and delicate craftsmanship, there was an undercurrent of influential messages concerning femininity, empowerment, beauty and the inspiration deriving from dreams.
Immediately establishing Chiuri’s motifs of her first couture collection, the romantic, mythical symbolism of the show’s setting was utterly grand but utterly appropriate. Situated in the gardens of Paris’s Rodin Museum was a specially standing secret garden, made purposely for the show. Inside radiated magical yet sinister suggestions – a maze of messy, dense greenery serving as the couture runway and a dominating tree of life holding delicate beads and ribbons to mirror the fine craftsmanship associated with couture. In a setting which so heavily illuminated nature, one could only anticipate a show filled with as much, if not more, enchantment. Thankfully, there was a lack of disheartenment as the collection was unveiled. Upon revelation, the carefully chosen order of the clothing told a narrative in itself, a progression of characters and of the changing woman Chiuri intended to present. First, the empowered woman portrayed through a typically tailored couture section, paying homage to Monsieur Dior’s renowned structural masterpieces and detailed cuts, yet with romantic and arguably revolutionary twists composed under new creation. Take the opening look, for example. A black softly shaped bar jacket, reflecting a traditional Dior-esque appearance, though with the addition of a taut, encircling hood. Red Riding’s hood, perhaps? Her characterisation was certainly fitting to the natural, ethereal environment in which she travelled. Paired with this, what at first glance appeared to be a voluminous, floor-length skirt, though in actuality, wide culottes which added sense of femininity to a typically masculine tailored look.
Following this opening monochrome parade, the show adjusted to a mesmeric fairytale, transforming the dreams of young girls and, in this case – young women too – to a palpable realty. Gown after gown flooded dream after dream, displaying couture with such delicate craftsmanship yet with subtle identifications of Dior. Much of the gowns demonstrated the prevailing natural waist-silhouette, adoring the beauty of the female figure whilst also enhancing the wearability of the clothing. Soft layers of tulle constructed the ethereal gowns, the first of which were made up of pastel, dreamy colours and projected an aura of tranquility. Imagine A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the realm of the woodland and fairyland. Chiuri’s couture was a re-imagination of this setting, her models embodying the fairy creatures – cascaded by moss and nature as they angelically floated by in dresses so long and elegant that their foot placement needn’t be noticed. In aid of this ethereal atmosphere, these fairy-like figures were topped with poetically playful flowered and feathered crowns, further stressing the youthfulness and romanticism that was so evidently being evoked. Decadent shades of bright red and green were subtly infused in the midst of the goddess gowns to add some bolder looks to the forest and remind viewers of Chiuri’s ability to incite innovation. Towards the end of the show, the narrative became full circle as the youthful gowns were infused with a sense of seduction through the return of the monochrome statement. With the darkening colour scheme and dangerous necklines, sexuality was not as easily toyed with, as force and power radiated from the females embodying the masterful creations. Chiuri’s first Dior Couture collection integrated the house’s traditionalism with feminine mystique. Monsieur Dior was frequently alluded to across detailing – his superstitious nature credited for example through a stunning astrological gold comet bestowed onto a rich navy velvet gown. Amongst an array of creations, where these gowns as a whole the dresses of dreams? Definitely. Yet, wearable dreams. There was a strong sense of escapism, as there should be with couture clothing. But despite the nymph-like atmosphere of the runway, the collection could faithfully serve all woman well if their desire was to live life in fantasy for the evening.
Despite Chiuri’s clear identification of Dior and success in creating a first couture collection for the house, was there anything truly revolutionary about the collection? Given that Chiuri has long been viewed as a designer who veers towards a sense of fantasy in her designs (take Valentino, for example – which has long been defined by its etherial qualities in couture), the feminine mystique across each gown established her persona into the house, as well as a break away from predecessor Raf Simons’s modernist ideas. Yet did she install too much influence from Valentino? Perhaps, but her infusion of this with traditional characteristics of Dior suggests that she knows what she’s doing. Reverting back to her debut SS17 collection, a clear stand out to viewers was that of her staple slogan shirts connoting strong messages such as ‘We should all be feminists’ and the powerful ‘DIO(R)EVOLUTION’ – a claim which becomes more questionable in accordance with her further creations for the house. Couture is founded on its attention to detail and devoted craftsmanship, deeming Chiuri’s designs as not completely insurgent. Perhaps at face value, the assertion of a revolution here cannot thus be maintained. But there was undoubtedly a break from previous couture collections for the house. Through additional taut hoods, feminised culotte suits, and embellishments of astrological detailing to name a few, Dior is now embodying romanticism through traditional craftsmanship.
Much like the unveiling of Chiuri’s first couture collection revolved around a mossy maze, her own development in a new fashion house is still revolving around a complex maze of challenges. During a backstage walkthrough of the show on Monday, she expressed that ‘I think it is important to maintain this idea that it’s wearable, because in any case we have the clients. But at the same time, I don’t want to lose the idea of dreaming.’ In the wake of an age where women have so recently marched for a brighter, more equal future, the ability to transform dreams into reality is a subtly uplifting message from Chiuri post establishment of demanding Ready-To-Wear. And clothing aside, escapism is needed in some senses today for a society that is likely to become fragmented. Through still establishing herself into the house and inciting a revolution to its previous creative directors, Chiuri’s first couture collection optimistically project a multi-faceted woman.
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