It is 2016, and the house of Dior has appointed a woman as its creative director for the first time. Maria Chiuri, who earlier headed Valentino, succeeds men like Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Hedi Slimane. They are all well known for their tailoring, their inventive designs, and the creative silhouettes they create. Galliano in particular, was famed for his exaggerated, fantastical aesthetic, which almost fetishised the woman it was created for, turning her into an otherworldly fairy or hyperfeminine nymph of sorts. He did not create for a creature of flesh and blood, for a woman who is a real person. This, in fact, is the case across big fashion houses, which are mostly headed by men who do not care for the woman wearing their clothes.
Chiuri’s first ready-to-wear collection for Dior rescues women from having to confine themselves to these circumscribed spaces. At Dior under Chiuri, Instagrammable text tees with feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s legendary “We should all be feminists” emblazoned on them are common, allowing women to literally wear their activism. Not only that, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie herself sat in the audience while the show took place, and saw collections far-removed from Christian Dior’s original, sexist aesthetic which likened women to flowers and princesses. Chiuri’s woman is a real person, a “balance between thought and action.”
However, if we consider the permeability of high fashion into common culture, and how the ideas of haute couture designers dictate the clothes which enter our departmental stores, then it is a huge step. From Christian Dior’s constrictive and unrealistic silhouettes made of bone corsets and hip-padding, the journey to Chiuri’s braless text-tees and flowy, wire-free dresses, has been a giant leap for women’s fashion, and, therefore, feminism. It is, after all, iconic to make an idea like feminism cool, within a capitalist market which finds it most unsavoury.
Moreover, Chiuri is careful to allow women the space to revel in their femininity and sexuality, never once dismissing a woman’s need to dress in a womanly way. The results include flowy, embellished skirts paired with comfortable flats, and T-shirts about being feminists. This mix of clothing by and large represents the woman of 2016, and this is what Maria Chiuri understands. She wants comfort, she wants the space to express her feminism, she wants to own her femininity and not be ashamed of it.