Dior Cruise 2019: Down Mexico Way

On a day when Ireland made a historic decision to allow abortion as a woman’s right to choose and when women in America stood shoulder to shoulder claiming abuse by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Dior also made a statement.

Artistic Director Maria Grazia Chiuri brought all her nascent feelings for feminism into a powerful and meaningful Dior Cruise show. By the time she walked the circle of the rodeo area, where Mexican women, side-saddle on their horses, performed beside the 18th-century Great Stables of the Domaine de Chantilly, the heavens had opened. But the designer did not flinch at the downpour – any more than did the Escaramuzas, as the female rodeo riders are called.

“The message is not about horses – it is more about the idea that women can do things that they want – like rodeo,” said Maria Grazia. “The shapes are really Dior – pretty and light – but at the same time they are also strong.”

The designer stood in front of a backstage mood board filled with images – not only of Mexican horse riders and of equestrian-inspired pieces from the Dior archives – but also of French lace and toile de Jouy, specialities of Chantilly. Yet it all came together as a continuation of her earlier surge of power women at Dior.

This inter-season collection was shown in a way that sealed her vision and her style. It was all about Cruise control at the waist, which was nipped in with the cut of Christian Dior’s famous Bar jacket; or cinched with a wide, decorative belt – the better to contrast against the flurry of frills in the skirt.

In previous collections, I had felt that Maria Grazia had protested too much about feminism, especially in a classic couture house where wealthy husbands or lovers have surely been as likely as women to foot the bill. But this time, the designer, perhaps with the inspiration of her millennial daughter Rachele Reggini, caught a fashion moment. Somehow the vision of Britain’s feisty new royal – Megan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex – added to the idea that women can be both feminine and feminist.

So, how did all this play out on the rain-soaked runway? The key skills were taut shapes, smudgy colours, intricate patterns, mostly in black and white – and that great surge of tulle as full and froufrou on the runway as in a froth on the Mexican riders’ side saddles.

The wonder of this Cruise collection – and Dior is not alone here – is how much work goes into what were once retail top-ups. Pietro Beccari, who joined Dior as CEO last year from Fendi, enforced the importance of the between-season collections for the house.

The show was bold and powerful, the workmanship alone extraordinary, mixing jungle animals into traditional toile de Jouy patterns. That effect appeared on a mannish, oversized skirt or a taut Bar jacket, plus shirt and tie, with a flurry of a semi-transparent net skirt. Maria Grazia has offered this shape and style before at Dior, but this time it seemed more meaningful. Add rodeo hats by the ineffable Stephen Jones and even the head-wear looked forceful.

I asked Maria Grazia to translate the mood board and to explain how the horsey, Mexican and other elements had been translated into clothes.

“All the collection has the Escaramuza shape with a small waist and the belts – and it is like a corset in a way,” said the designer, whose daughter was wearing a vintage dress, similarly belted.

“The craftsmanship is close to Chantilly, which is famous for lace – although we did it in a different way with cotton and mesh – it is very rustic chic,” Maria Grazia continued, adding that the leather had to be cut with lasers to create not only a strong image, but also to be consistent with other elements of the craftsmanship.

The Cruise show, she explained was very important because it is delivered in early winter before Christmas. But what about the concept of appropriation? When I first started in fashion, Parisian couturiers would find a far-flung place for inspiration each season – but hasn’t that concept gone with colonialism?

“I had this discussion with Rachele about cultural appropriation,” said the designer, explaining her belief that there were physical links between southern countries, seeing in her travels to Mexico and Peru similar apparel traditions to those of her native Puglia in southern Italy and also with the South of France.

The essence of fashion is not where it comes from – but how it looks when it arrives. This was a fine Dior show, an example of imaginative appropriation – and that includes the shift from Paris Avenue Montaigne to the great knave at Chantilly where tables groaning with country-style food greeted the 700-strong audience and a sprinkle of celebrities. And the horses? Those forceful Mexican woman were probably outside, riding through the storm.