It was big news in July 2016 when Italian designer Maria Grazia Chiuri took on the role of artistic director for Dior’s women’s collections.
The first woman to head the storied fashion house’s creative department has since won over a new generation of social-media- savvy customers (along with the brand’s existing sophisticated clientele) with timeless designs and her signature masculine-meets- feminine aesthetic.
For her latest show – haute couture autumn/winter 2018 – Chiuri brought us back to the Musée Rodin in Paris. The set, a large box-like space on the grounds, was designed to resemble a haute-couture atelier and featured a floor-to-ceiling display of plain white garments from Dior’s archives adorning the walls. Most luxury brands pull out all the stops to showcase their elaborate couture creations, but Chiuri surprised show-goers with an array of day-to-night ensembles that exuded effortless Parisian elegance. The understated looks and toned-down colour palette (a midnight blue draped silk crêpe cady day dress and a dull gold lamé Bar suit come to mind) drew all the attention to the craftsmanship – and that’s precisely what Chiuri wanted.
Tell us about your latest haute couture collection.
I tried to make a collection that’s plain and in the realest sense of haute couture because sometimes the idea of couture is that it’s something expensive so it must be really visible, but I wanted to explain that couture is an intimate and personal luxury.
For instance, when you approach and buy couture only you know the value that there is in it. The value is in the travail de atelier [work done in the atelier] and the idea that it is one of a kind and that it is really only made for one person and for one body shape. That’s the story and the inspiration for this collection.
Several of the pieces from this collection look chic but they also look practical to wear all day long. Is this your way of designing clothes for women with busy lifestyles?
Absolutely. I don’t think it’s possible, especially now, to create something that’s not wearable because then, to me, it’s not real.
I think that we are supposed to give someone a dream and then make it possible for her to live this dream. My idea is that I want to make a dress really dreamy and desirable but at the same time one that you can simply use in your [everyday] life. I want to dream every day and not just on special occasions.
You’ve been at Dior for almost two years now. What do you want customers to associate with the brand?
I want them to associate it with femininity but in a modern way. That’s what I’ve done for two years – promote an idea of women that’s more contemporary but at the same time remains very close to the values of the house.
Where do you think the mood of fashion is going?
We have a huge responsibility with this brand because it has a big history but at the same time we have to understand that times have changed. I think that we have to try to work in probably two different ways.
For couture, we have to maintain our heritage and these kind of values because it is so timeless. With the prêt-à-porter collections, we want to play around more because it’s about what’s happening in that particular moment.
With trends like athleisure and street style, is it more about casual wear and comfort?
Nowadays, especially with prêt-à-porter, it’s important to create a collection that one can use for different occasions, because women are really multifaceted.
The idea is to propose a formal wardrobe where you can use the pieces in different ways and personalise your style. We are speaking to a generation that has more information about fashion and has more of their own sense of personal style. I think we shouldn’t impose a particular point of view but instead support them more in a way to realise their own personal style.
You’ve created your own signatures at Dior and you’ve also recreated previous house codes and accessories. How important is it to reinvent Dior’s house codes?
It’s important to change things every time but still maintain the iconic pieces like the Saddle bag. You have to see that with a new eye because the style of life changes. The initial Saddle bag, for example, was without a strap. We added a special strap with a big ribbon because now it’s more convenient. We made the construction of the bag different too, because now there is another way to use the bag. It’s not only a signature piece but it’s something that lives with you.
It seems that fashion cycles are getting shorter and shorter. As an artistic director for a luxury house, how do you cope with this kind of environment and stay relevant?
The times are very short, that’s true. I was obsessed with that. When I started to work in fashion there were only two collections, one for winter and one for summer. Now we have one each month and it’s very difficult to work in.
It’s necessary to have a good team that speaks the same language and work as a team. It’s not possible [as an artistic director] to think that you shouldn’t involve others because they have to support you and work with you on the ideas that you want to create. The only way that I found to work faster is to work very closely with all the staff. I’ll share all the information with them.
We have a big room and we’ll work together on all the categories. The only thing is to be inclusive.
Imagine you’re having a conversation with Mr Dior himself. What would it be about?
Oh, I’m very curious about him and his obsession with tarot. So I’m sure that I’d start the conversation with, “Please tell me all about tarot cards and why they’ve influenced you.” Also, I would like to know about art because he was a collector and he was so interested in art. I’m very fascinated by his life so I would like to know everything about art and everything about tarot.