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Feminists & Fencers At Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior Debut

Photo: Achard/WWD/REX/Shutterstock.
Just two months ago, in July, Dior made the announcement that former Valentino co-creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri would be taking the helm at the French fashion house and today, after much anticipation, she made her debut. The announcement then was monumental, not only because a successor to Raf Simons had finally been found (following a couple of shaky seasons designed by the team in house) but also because a female designer was taking over at one of the world's biggest luxury fashion houses – the first woman to hold the creative reins at Dior in its 70 year history.

In the lead up to the show, it was evident there would be an emphasis on the female and the power of the woman as Maria Grazia Chiuri and her team invited us to discover the women that inspired the SS17 collection via videos and pictures on Dior's social media with the hashtag #TheWomenBehindMyDress.

Held in the Musée Rodin, the spartan show space was a blank canvas for Maria Grazia Chiuri's debut with a minimalist, stark grey concrete interior and wooden floorboard catwalk. Hollywood and fashion's most famous faces were in attendance to show their support, including Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, Bianca Jagger, Diane Kruger, Kate Moss, Natalia Vodianova, Marion Cotillard, Giambattista Valli, former creative director at Lanvin Alber Elbaz, Gucci's former creative director Frida Giannini and Chiuri's former colleague Pierpaolo Piccioli from Valentino.
Ruth Bell, of former buzz cut fame, opened the show sporting a grown-out crop, in a look that was a distinct change from the overt femininity we’re used to at Dior. Wearing a fencing-inspired quilted white jacket, decorated with a bright red heart, with white breeches and white sneakers embossed with the historic Dior bee logo and the letters CD, it was a powerful image of strength, modern womanhood with a nod to athleisure and streetwear influences. Chiuri explained in the show notes: "I strive to be attentive and open to the world and to create fashion that resembles the women of today. Fashion that corresponds to their changing needs, freed from the stereotypical categories of "masculine/feminine", "young/not so young," "reason/emotion", which nonetheless also happen to be complementary aspects. Fencing is a discipline in which the balance between thought and action, the harmony between mind and heart are essential. The uniform of the female fencer is, with the exception of some special protection, the same as for a male fencer. The female body adapts itself to an outfit which, in turn, seems to have been shaped to its curves."

Next up was a similarly structured top, this time paired with a soft pink tulle skirt and lace up trainer boots. Throughout the show, there was an interesting interplay between more structured suiting or biker jackets and softer romantic skirts and dresses all rendered in a palette of white, black and red. The Dior bee motif reappeared throughout the collection and Queen Bee’s song "Flawless" featured on the soundtrack, as more symbols of female strength.

The chiffon, embroidery and lace were a reminder of Chiuri’s Valentino background but even the more delicate pieces in the collection packed a punch, paired with silver sneakers or slogan T-shirts and knitwear. There was a strong theme of sporting, laid-back elegance and an even stronger social statement. A T-shirt reading 'We Should All Be Feminists' was teamed with an embellished, deep navy, tulle skirt and trainers but Chiuri’s call to action felt far more impassioned and sincere than Karl Lagerfeld’s faux feminist protest at the Chanel SS15 show a couple of years ago.

The show notes explained that "feminism is a recurring word for [Maria]" and "her boldly feminine outlook explores the rules of modern beauty to transpose them into a collection shaped by the sensual tension that exists between the body and clothing... She explores the form and shape of a silhouette that's contemporary, agile and Olympian." Chuiri's take on the Dior woman was modern and empowering with the perfect measure of sensitivity. As Raf did before her, she masterfully managed respecting the Dior tradition and archives whilst looking to the future and we can't wait to see what she does next.