Diors new creative director the first female in its 70-year history to hold the post is fascinated by modern women and how she can reflect their lives in the clothes she makes
It is Christian Dior who gazes down gravely from the portrait in oils, whose dresses are in the silver-framed photographs that sit at an elegant slant beneath the white orchids, and whose name is stamped in distinctive sharp-serifed font on the reception desk at Dior HQ on Rue de Marignan. But the living, breathing creative force of todays Christian Dior, who darts in shaking the rain out of her tousled bob, is a woman. Whats more, Maria Grazia Chiuri is nothing like the full-skirted, doe-eyed figure whose image is conjured up by the name Dior. She wears a black sheepskin coat, flat buckled black shoes and black trousers with a Mod-sharp crease.
Maria Grazia Chiuri is here to reinvent Christian Dior. A house that has been selling feminine charm since 1947 has a woman in charge for the very first time. We walk the curved staircase to the first floor, into a salon with three tall white-shuttered windows, where oval-backed Louis XVI chairs are grouped gracefully around a generous expanse of freshly beeswaxed parquet.
On the staircase we passed Willy Maywalds famous photograph of 40s Dior house model Renee, her feet posed in a balletic fourth on a cobbled Parisian street in a full black skirt and a white bar jacket. But we are not here to talk about full skirts or the New Look. After 70 years of white-gloved elegance and dove-grey refinement, the house of Dior now stands for something else: feminism. For her Dior debut in the Muse Rodin in September last year, Maria Grazia Chiuri sent on to the catwalk a T-shirt with the slogan We Should All Be Feminists, the title of a Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieTed talk. So once Maria Grazia, as her team call her, has offloaded her D-fence saddlebag, a millennial-bait crossbody with the DIOR name spelt out in knuckleduster gold, on to the grey velvet upholstery, I ask her why she wanted to put feminism on the Paris catwalk.
Dior is feminine, she says. Thats what I kept hearing when I told people I was coming here. But as a woman, feminine means something different to me than it means to a man, perhaps. Feminine is about being a woman, no? I thought to myself: if Dior is about femininity, then it is about women. And not about what it was to be a woman 50 years ago, but to be a woman today.
Maria Grazia herself is very much a woman of today. Her naturally dark hair is bleached a platinum blond, offset by sooty black eyes; the effect, teamed with her all-black outfit (I am part of the generation that wears black, she shrugs), is equal parts Debbie Harry and Donatella. The pussy bow of her sheer black blouse is tied in a rakish slim knot which is Mick Jagger rather than Nancy Reagan. Her hands, barnacled with rings, have an aesthetic that is more Hells Angel than chauffeur-driven: an eagle spreads across three fingers, an enormous pearl balances on another, a jagged flash of green on the other hand.