For her Fall 2019 show for Christian Dior, shown today in a box behind the Musée Rodin, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri first turned the mic over, literally, to the Italian conceptual artist Tomaso Binga, a woman who, in the 1970s, signed her work pseudonymously as a man to slyly protest male privilege in the art world. Binga read a poem (in Italian) about the promise of a feminist victory over the patriarchy, while those in attendance gazed at images of a much younger, naked Binga fetchingly and discreetly conjuring the alphabet that lined the walls of the Dior box.
Supposedly present in the audience was Robin Morgan, the American second-wave feminist activist and author; the title of her classic work, Sisterhood Is Global, appeared on a T-shirt in the opening look of the show (to a soundtrack by Chrissie Hynde). Chiuri has, from the outset, made feminism part of her Dior: Sometimes it has looked like a slogan or alternative logo, sometimes it has seemed borrowed from the bold “characters” who have inspired the designs, sometimes it has felt somewhat beside the point. Today, though, the rallying cry felt insistent and personal, and it was a pleasure to see a woman in power—a woman who oversees a massive worldwide business based on marketing to women’s whims and desires—make a case for feminism just because she can. It isn’t trendy, but it should be. Binga mic drop. Boom.
Turning to the clothes, we also turn the clock back another 20 years. Chiuri sought inspiration for this collection from Britain’s postwar Teddy Girls, those working-class, rock ’n’ roll–loving beehived vixens who hit the clubs in a mix of men’s Edwardian jackets, full skirts, blue jeans, leather, velvet, and eyeliner galore. She was struck by the similarity in silhouette and the optimistic excess that characterized Christian Dior’s designs of the same period. She was also moved by Yves Saint Laurent’s addition to the Dior pantheon of a men’s black leather jacket for women in the late 1950s. So, heritage, hipsters, and herstory: What better place to start?
Here is what you need to know: The silhouette is based on a romper. Yes, a romper. A bodysuit that might begin as a cashmere polo neck, a swirly tucked bustier, or a sassy halter will end, mid-thigh, as a comfortable boy short. These rompers are adorable, and if your legs are worthy (or you think they are), you’ll toss on a fringed lumberjack jacket (buffalo-check with a touch of palm tree toile de Jouy, just because) in double-face cashmere and be off to that spoken-word evening to channel your non-bloated inner Kerouac. Or you’ll slip on a full skirt (possibly of translucent sequins or buoyant jacquard, or encrusted with 3-D blooms, or dry taffeta cut raw and seductively fringy at the hem), a massive belt, and a neat bar jacket, and head to the office or the opera, or just about anywhere where looking polished and original isn’t a crime.
This is a collection of sportswear in every sense. You take a romper, a skirt, a smart coat, a caped shawl, a trouser, a bustier, and then you layer as you like, mixing checks and palm trees, traditional couture-ish textiles and new techno-weaves, historically girlish gestures (little blooms, princessy bodice lines, tulle and sequins) and dude-like signatures (faded denim, leather jackets, drop-crotch trousers, exacting tailoring, anoraks). There’s a playfulness to the whole business, and an elegance, too. How wonderful that what appears to be an off-the-shoulder, swan-worthy ball gown in navy is actually a few clever separates that can be tossed into a suitcase and worn multiple other ways. It’s modern, for one thing, and respectful of a woman’s busy life and constrained pocketbook—her need to amortize her designer prizes (should she be lucky enough to afford them).
Another reason for women to rejoice? Chiuri’s wise hand with accessories. The shoes are often jeweled, sometimes spectator, occasionally brogued. They are walkable and oh so pretty and a palate cleanser after the armies of stomping boots of Milan and New York. Who doesn’t love a pretty shoe? We can storm the barricades in kitten heels. Or march to the polls. Or open all borders. Yes, we can.
Written by Sally Singer for Vogue Photos: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com