©Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Christian Dior supports artist Judy Chicago

At the Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2020 Haute Couture show, a message swung on a banner above our heads: “What if women ruled the world?” And from the inspiring feminist artist Judy Chicago, who had created the womb-like structure as a show venue, to Maria Grazia Chiuri as designer, the famous couture house was focusing on women first and foremost.

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©Adrien Dirand

“I think all women working creatively in fashion and art have the same problem – a feeling that women can realise themselves more in motherhood,” said Maria Grazia, who translated her deep feelings about women into clothes – a collection almost entirely of graceful dresses, wafting from neck to ankle, their surfaces decorated with light-as-air handcraft. They were her interpretation of “goddess gowns”.

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The result was not so much punchy as dreamy; the reincarnation of Grecian mythology, to show “the complexity of the relationships between feminism and feminists”, in the designer’s words.

It also revealed the exceptional craftsmanship of the Dior studios, with torsos draped, or embroidered like sheaves of wheat, above silken skirts with rows of soft folds. With the sheen of gilded surfaces, the dresses suggested the goddess Athena on a mountaintop speaking out for women.

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The effect was noble and beautiful – but on a single track with nothing like a full closet of something to wear: especially to the office.

This delve into the distant past of mythical power-women was part of the designer’s struggle to express her Italian roots alongside Dior’s deeply French culture.

“I have to balance the past story of the French house and its important history of the tailored jacket, with my own background that is completely different – Italian, Mediterranean,” said Maria Grazia, who had exchanged hard tailoring for ultra-soft dresses falling gently over the body.

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The show sent out two clear messages: the exceptional skills of the nimble-fingered “petites mains” in Dior’s studios, and the deliberate decision to suggest powerful women without the trappings of mannish garments – there were only a few lightweight and slender trouser suits compared to the number of shimmering gowns.

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The models walked around the womb-shaped space at a gentle speed, and, behind them, was another female-power message, embroidered by young Indian women.

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The sincerity and dedication of Maria Grazia is unquestionable. She personally visited Judy Chicago at her home in New Mexico, because “it was my dream to make a collaboration with her”.

Throughout her tenure at Dior, this creative director has followed a feminist line, but mostly with a clear distinction between tailored clothes for work and floaty evening silhouettes for “The Female Divine” – as Judy Chicago’s famous piece was dedicated.

There is always a nagging concern about how these deep and meaningful thoughts about women today square-up with garments, albeit mostly made by women, at a price beyond most people’s reach.

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The answer is: This is haute couture. And Maria Grazia must be applauded for bringing deep thought and powerful action into a world so long dismissed as frivolity incarnate.

Giambattista Valli puts nature first

“You know there will be an opening tonight to the public – art schools, fashion schools – I wanted to share and to inspire,” said Giambattista Valli as he stood in front of puffs of tulle in juicy colours.

This is the second season that the designer has opted for a still-life presentation. But not without reason. It is exceptional to be able to see up-close how these light-as-air creations are made. And unexpected, too, for the designer to show, root-and-branch, his working process.

Beyond the rooms in the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, showing different aspects of what could have been a runway collection, Giambattista had put his inspiration on a mood board – a collection of pictures of Italy showing, even after 22 years in Paris, where the designer’s heart is.

“What inspired me was the Italian coast, the Riviera – and a lifestyle that is not only about clothes, but really about the art of hosting or of dressing-up a table,” the designer said. “For example, the caftan with feathers was inspired by Marella Agnelli; then there is the idea about the colours – that you can bite them, taste them. The fuchsias and peonies, you almost want to smell them. It wakes up the senses.”

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“I want to show the art of what we can do with fabrics, especially the art of draping,” Valli continued. “It’s not only the richness; it’s the density of the fabric. Couture is about emphasising ideas with volume – something big that is extra and extraordinary.”

Seeing what could be done with what the designer called “a lacquered look – a feeling of ceramic, like porcelain”, emphasised the need to see couture in detail, considering each of the creations as a work of art.

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Designers are often criticised for not considering the reality of women’s lives. But to dream in fashion is something special, especially in haute couture.

Is Giambattista a romantic at heart? “A romantic?” the designer replied. “There is nothing more beautiful than nature – it’s the biggest inspiration, with the shade of colours you get from flowers and the millions of green tones from just one tree.”