#SuzyCouture: Dior’s Ultra Desirable Parade Of Black

On the single white goddess gown in the Dior show, where black dominated over a few streaks of colour – wine red or dull gold – there was a message: ‘Are clothes modern?’ the stark words made even bolder by a background on the walls of wild nature, that included gnarled ‘trees’ climbing the stairway of the historic building.

Six hours later, when designer Maria Grazia Chiuri was back in the same Dior home on Avenue Montaigne, surrounded by her Italian family, she was receiving the Légion d’honneur from Marlène Schiappa, the French Secretary of Equality between women and men – a woman who felt equally strongly about females revealing strength.

“I was surprised because I honestly never meant to arrive in my career in this important recognition,” the designer said about receiving the highest French order of merit. “And at the end I only do what I really like to do. I speak about what I think is important for me.”

The work of the determined designer was exceptional on two levels: it was a rigorous statement about the reality of women’s lives and needs, and there were clothes that underscored the intricacy and delicate qualities of haute couture.

The essence of the collection was reduced to the feathery lace shoes that wafted up the legs in the form of hosiery. It summed up Maria Grazia’s spirit as aware, not only of the situation of women in the 21st century, but also the need for something to wear.

With its depth of thought and art references, from Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 New York exhibition about clothing and modernity, to the decor elements created currently for the show by artist Penny Slinger, did the event add up to the familiar fashion story of architecture versus decoration?

“There are no contradictions between the two things and we think too much that there is only one way to be decorative or to have architectural vision,” said Maria Grazia.

“But for the first time, the woman and the building were important, with decoration an important element of the structure. I think that we can try a way of working that has different elements, but not of contradiction. We can propose to women and let them decide. The idea is that clothes are a project – for the house and for your body.”

Deep thoughts need to be accompanied by reality in fashion. And after the initial surprise at the enclosed interior and the dense, dark clothes, the eyes adjusted to a very fine collection. Because it was almost entirely black, the focus was on the detail. And if the initial all-covering coats and suits might seem heavy, they patently were not, as the fabrics in movement revealed an easy lightness.

Almost immediately came the lace, from bodice to knees down to those shadowed legs. Separating day and evening clothes is no longer a fashion ritual, but Maria Grazia was exceptionally skilled in the way that slithers of transparency contrasted with, say, a long, dark coat draped around the waist. From milliner Stephen Jones came mesh veils that seemed sophisticated, rather than traditional visions of women’s hidden faces.

With 60-plus outfits almost all in the single shade, the designer set out to treat black as a colour, using mesh, embroidery, herringbone wool, basket weave, lacquer – and so much more. When the colour came through the dark clouds of black there was an element of surprise: a wine red that the designer described as “burgundy to black”. In the finale of evening gowns, all draped across the body, a lacquered matte finish on a pale, fleshy material had a timeless beauty.

But Maria Grazia’s skill is to make clothes for women in our time – not to produce a pastiche of the Christian Dior years, splendid though they might have been back then.

Standing beside the Minister to receive her Légion d’honneur, both women wore black, Maria Grazia in a straight-forward trouser suit. In the same building that afternoon, the Italian designer proved what every Parisian woman believes: there is no substitute for black. But it can have many different facets – not least a contribution to female strength.