When she was announced as Dior’s first female creative director in its 70 year history in 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri made a statement even before the first collection under her leadership was on display at Paris Fashion Week in September. How it took this long to have a woman at the helm of one of the world’s most iconic high fashion houses is another issue for another day (or perhaps not as we already know the seemingly female-dominated fashion industry is actually run by men at the very top).
But already, Maria is showing why we need more female creative directors. Her SS17 show was like no other Dior show, as there was a heavy focus on feminism which went beyond just the aesthetic or paying lip service to a movement which has been getting a lot of trending attention online over the past few years.
Maria did her research and made sure there was depth in her messaging. Shirts emblazoned with the phrase “we should all be feminists” on some of the models would be familiar to some, as it is the title of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s now-famous TEDx Talk and subsequent book (which has been distributed at every high school in Sweden).
Chimanda herself was actually present at the show to see her literary and feminist world combine with high fashion, and it is a partnership we hope will be an ongoing force throughout the industry. But it wasn’t just that single t-shirt. Every dress seen on the runway was designed with an iconic woman in mind, and the story for each was shared on the Dior Instagram account in short vignettes.
Fans and buyers also got to see the women who physically made and designed each dress as part of #TheWomenBehindMyDress social media series. Celebrities at the show included Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence, who has since worn the “We Should All be Feminists” tee-shirt on the cover of Harpers Bazaar Germany.
It seems the runway show was not just a one-off, as the first campaign released under Maria’s direction is an extension of it. The SS17 campaign, packed with female empowerment aesthetics, is titled ‘The Woman Behind The Lens’. It has been described by the media as less of a gimmick and more of a “mission statement”.
Each of the campaign images were shot by French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, and feature British models Ruth and May Bell. The strong feminine images feature a collection of bold pant suits juxtaposed with delicate lace shirts and dresses, an important reminder that femininity and feminism comes in all shapes, sizes and styles.
“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,” said Maria Grazia in a statement about the collection.
Seeing delicate, ethereal dresses styled with sneakers and fencing-inspired jackets gives the impression that Dior is looking to market to a decidedly younger demographic. Dior is no longer just about the out-of-reach celebrities gracing an Academy Award red carpet, but the punk, street-style feminist who loves her fashion as much as her activism.
As Refinery29’s Alice Casely-Hayford writes: “The girl-power messaging of this campaign may not be as overt as in Chiuri’s first collection for the brand, but it definitely implies that there’s more to come in this same vein for Dior.”
With fashion becoming an industry flooded with body positivity and voices of models and designers normally excluded by the mainstream, it is in the best interests of established fashion houses and brands to recognize the demand from consumers. No longer can a brand separate itself from a more inclusive definition of beauty and femininity and still seem legitimate or relevant in the eyes of smart, savvy female consumers who have fare more brand awareness than ever.
If Maria Grazia Chiuri can take Dior to the masses and revolutionize its branding message, we are eager to see what she will do next.