Dior: Savage Beauty In A Californian Canyon
FOUR giant spheres on the California skyline included the burning sunset, the moon rising, and twin hot air balloons announcing “Dior Sauvage”.
There was indeed something savage about this Dior Cruise 2018 collection, held on the top of a canyon, with dusty tents, pillows for seating, and Rihanna wrapped in furs.
The runway and its models in their parson’s hats and prairie skirts seemed more Wild West than Rodeo Drive, where Dior has its glamorous Los Angeles store. But designer Maria Grazia Chiuri revealed an inspiration that was from even further back, at the dawn of civilisation: the prehistoric wall paintings in the Lascaux caves in southwestern France.
“Christian Dior was fascinated by the discovery of these primitive sketches and he used the graphics in 1951 for a collection,” explained Maria Grazia, who was drawn to these ancient historical symbols, showing them on straw, jacquard, knits and silk.
But the designer’s inspiration also moved beyond the Stone Age to artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her sensual treatment of nature in the sands of New Mexico. The artist’s tailored, mannish look introduced some plainer tailoring to offset the primeval patterns.
The result was a powerful, if repetitive, collection: womanly, strong, rich in texture and fabrics. This show had more depth and resonance than the designer’s first ready-to-wear collection for Dior that had a military shape played out entirely in shades of blue.
Apart from the variety of clothes – long and short skirts and the famous “Bar” jacket given a fresh lightness and a more modern shape – Maria Grazia said that the clothes embraced yet another inspiration. This was the influence a shamanic healer in San Francisco to express the designer’s desire to bring feminism into her fashion work. Somehow, among all these ideas, came an interpretation of Christian Dior’s fascination with Tarot cards.
“We Should All Be Feminists” was printed on T-shirts as a bold statement in Maria Grazia’s earlier collection. And joining the 700-strong audience, flown in from across the world, was Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the instigator of that phrase.
Like all current designers, Maria Grazia has to keep spinning the stories for collections that seem to come at a frighteningly fast pace. But she says that reading “Christian Dior et Moi”, written by Dior in 1956, convinced her that this was “a very simple man” who understood the codes of his brand and was exceptionally advanced in his global reach, selling from the start to San Francisco, New York, and even Australia. But where Dior spoke of a woman “like a flower”, she felt that she should give a different point of view.
It was hard to believe that the collection of colourful swinging skirts and, occasionally, cropped trousers, with exquisite decoration and various top halves from jackets to shoulder straps, was changing the spirit of women or their wardrobes.
“But I liked it because it was appealing in the skirts being not too long and so much of it easy to wear,” said Chimamanda; while Miranda Kerr, with three weeks to go before she steps out in her Dior wedding dress, also enthused about the original and wearable collection.
The experience of the show in a landscape that had been used to film “Gone with the Wind”, suggested a fashion Coachella – the music and arts festival in California’s Colorado desert. That could mean a meeting up of like-minded people in the wilds – although this time the music came from an energetic Solange Knowles. In its detail, colour and surface decoration, the show seemed nearer to Maria Grazia’s previous work for Valentino.
But this collection served its dual purpose in that it was respectful to women and full of attractive pieces to fill the Dior stores. I took a look down Rodeo Drive, where there are two Dior destinations, the larger boutique with a silvered shimmer set off by green plants and wooden bases for shoes and bags. These are all additions from the new designer, who said that she had also reduced mirrors and tried to make the overall effect warmer, more friendly, and involved with nature.
Dior’s CEO, Sidney Toledano, who was in Los Angeles for the show, told me not to miss the pop-up Dior store on the sleek and glossy shopping street. It was already offering next season’s Autumn/Winter 2017 collection.
The sheer volume of clothes demanded today obliges designers not to produce variations on the brand’s basic (and familiar) look – as in previous eras – but rather to work with the concept that change is not just good, but essential.
And now there is yet another reason for the brands owned by LVMH to produce a fast flow of different pieces. Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, in Los Angeles with his digitally-aware son Alexandre, has just announced the launch of 24 Sèvres, named after the Left Bank Paris store, Le Bon Marché, on the Rue de Sèvres.
“It is his project,” Arnault said, pointing to his son, “and it will start in June.”
By then, Maria Grazia will be preparing for Dior Haute Couture in July; followed by Spring/Summer 2018 Ready-to-Wear in September, and on it goes. But she seems ready to take on the challenge, while keeping to the tenets of Christian Dior.
“The idea of craftsmanship, quality, and human touch are very important,” Maria Grazia said. “I try to translate this and to understand the code of the man. But I also try to maintain my point of view. I have to think what it means to be a woman now. We want to define ourselves. And I want to design in a way that opens a dialogue with the new generation.”