Dior, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year, has archives so deep and broad that they can be re-interpreted any which way. John Galliano, a previous incumbent at the house, pursued the fantasy element – the spirit Christian Dior encapsulated in 1947 when he designed a wasp-waisted suit that gobbled up as many as 80 metres of silk at a time when even rayon was rationed in some countries.
But Christian Dior wasn’t just some deluded “let them wear ballgowns” megalomaniac “A complete collection should address all types of women in all countries,” Dior wrote in his second autobiography in 1956. Ok, he was sufficiently megalomaniacal to assume the world wanted to read all about him – twice.
And at least some of it did. Dior created not just a look but a language, from full skirts and nipped in jackets; neat, business- like lapels to romantic shawl necklines; extravagant bows to small kitten heels; day-time tweeds to sweeping ballgowns. Like all the designers of his time, he proffered an entire wardrobe for wealthy women of elevated taste. He had to. Designers still made most of their money from selling clothes back then.
It’s this facet of Dior that Maria Grazia Chiuri, now almost a year into her role as Dior’s first female creative director is tapping into. It was Chiuri who brought up that quote in the first place and plopped it at the forefront of this autumn/winter couture collection’s programme notes – quite a bold move. Did she succeed?
The broiling heat – the show was in the open air in a courtyard of Les Invalides and it seems Louis XIV did not believe in shade – wasn’t ideal for Chiuri’s ankle grazing hounds-tooth skirts, Tudor neck-lined velvet dresses or sheepskin trimmed jumpsuits.
But who knew Paris would be this hot? Or that the diamonds liberally dappling a client seated opposite me would reflect the sun’s rays like a giant disco ball, making it hard to see anything at times. On close inspection however, these clothes are stunning, cleverly matched to original outfits by Dior himself. The opener – a belted jacket and long dirndl in dark grey serge wool with flat brogues, based on a 1953 design was almost Victorian and one of many respectful yet thorough overhauls of archival pieces. Broken into each element – the jacket worn with jeans the skirt with a t-shirt or cashmere – the appeal to many women in many countries becomes apparent.
Chiuri’s is a new, understated Dior. One with aviator jackets and wool all in ones. One where the details reveal themselves gradually: the glistening beads hand stitched onto the knife-edge pleats of a skirt where they looked like frosted icing, the yoked capes of jumpsuits, the gathered Dior-esque pockets worn at the back or the ghostly tracing of tarot cards (something of an obsession of Dior’s) embroidered onto a coat . As for the commercial catnip for which Chiuri is becoming noted: those skinny knotted belts, the jackets, stripped of their lapels to become an elegant, easy hybrid- blouse, low alligator kitten heels, gossamer voile maxi skirts and perfectly proportioned trilbies should more than do the trick.