Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection has paid tribute to two creative women in art history: Niki de Saint Phalle and Linda Nochlin.
Saint Phalle piqued the interest of Grazia Chiuri when the artistic director researched the Dior archives for work on Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams (an exhibition that has since ended its run at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs).
“I found this picture with Niki de Saint Phalle on top of a camel, and also a letter that she wrote to Mr Marc Bohan, where she said, ‘Thank you for the outfit that you did for me,’” Grazia Chiuri offered in an online feature by fashion journalist Suzy Menkes.
The photo is just one of the many Saint Phalle documentations in Dior’s history. As a model and muse, the Franco-American artist inspired Bohan during his early years at the French house (Bohan was hired in 1957 but took over designer reins in 1960/61). Her modernity and artistic pursuits have also been linked to the French designer’s simple yet elegant — and sometimes irreverent — creations.
The collection makes reference to Marc Bohan’s little dresses and jumpsuits, sometimes with full skirts opening at the front. There are also trousers worn with ordinary or safari jackets, and teamed with men’s shirts featuring fine stripes, polka dots, or of a romantic white:
Le Jardin des Mondes magazine cited Saint Phalle’s contribution in a 1983 article: “Her taste for faraway cultures allowed Marc Bohan to breathe a special spirit of discovery and freedom into the House without ever losing sight of his goal: ‘To make sophisticated clothes that are simple, with a dash of insolence every now and then.’”
“I found that it was very strong, the relationship between Niki de Saint Phalle and Marc Bohan,” added Grazia Chiuri in Menkes’s article. Elsewhere, in Dior Magazine No.22, reporter Delphine Valloire also wrote of this intrinsic partnership: “Marc Bohan, then the artistic director at Dior, met the artist at the opening of her exhibition at the Lolas Gallery and bought Madame, a Nana in a dress with psychedelic motifs. It was the start of a long friendship between the designer and artist, one of the muses he loved to dress…”
Like Saint Phalle, Grazia Chiuri’s mission at Dior is about celebrating femininity.
“The emotions I found in the woman and her art impressed me and pushed me to reflect on the meaning of feminine creativity. I was particularly struck by one of her comments: ‘I will show myself; I will show everything. My heart, my emotions,’” mused Grazia Chiuri, in the Valloir-penned article.
Adapting the feminist artist’s actual heart motifs into the ready-to-wear collection’s repertoire, Grazia Chiuri borrowed other controversial yet profound art imageries too, melding all of their original and kaleidoscopic colours into a sartorial insolence that both Saint Phalle and Bohan would have approved of.
And then, there was that 1960s subtext, which served as an icing on the cake. What better way to celebrate feminism than to pay tribute to an era that championed freedom and women’s rights?
There were rompers cut from sporty crotchet-mesh that were emblazoned with Saint Phalle’s monster dragons, in addition to Traces, an elaborate snake-like drawing that was reinterpreted into an exquisitely embroidered applique that embellished a fancy calf-length tulle skirt.
Saint Phalle’s Positive Dragon and Negative Dragon masterpieces were also seen flanking each other on the front leg panels of a pair of neatly-cut, high-waist fringed hemline shorts (so chic!); while in another key look, an artfully beaded motif of a Nanas (French for broad or woman, but also the title of Saint Phalle’s best known body of work that tackles many stereotypical roles of women in society: mothers, witches, brides, prostitutes…) spreads her naively-drawn wings across the bosoms of Dominican model Lineisy Montero.
Could it be that the barely-there tulle dress, which left little to the imagination, is also echoing Saint Phalle’s very own words about “showing everything”? Maybe.
The other female inspiration is prominent feminist art historian, Linda Nochlin, whose infamous essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artist” (published in the New York-based periodical ARTNews in 1971) was used by Grazia Chiuri as a stylish T-shirt slogan to inform and provoke.
Worn by model-cum-artist/current face of Dior’s ad campaigns, Sasha Pivovarova, you could say that Grazia Chiuri deliberately opened the show with this ensemble as a sort of witty protest statement.
To add to her tongue-in-cheek intentions, the slogan was splashed across a Breton tee, much like the ones worn by Pablo Picasso himself. For the uninitiated, the celebrated Spanish artist is — but, of course — one of the world’s most prolific yet arguably misogynist artist. Whether or not Grazia Chiuri was making a statement to disparage the maestro’s contemptible ethos remains unknown. Either way, her brave move speaks volumes on female empowerment — a cause by the house of Dior champions.
“…Through dresses that clearly and proudly express what femininity is, fashion can emancipate itself from the notion that creation is linked to gender. I believe in the possibility of designing fashion that concentrates on the complexity of the woman’s world and its multifaceted richness.” — Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior Magazine No. 22
Check out the remarkable show set here:
And star power that added to the dazzle:
All images courtesy of Dior.