Dior’s new dynamo
Maria Grazia Chiuri, the new artistic director of the storied house of Dior, drew from the great names who shaped its past and the girl-power style of her daughter, Rachele. Get to know the label’s first female creative director, here.
when Maria Grazia Chiuri took up her position as artistic director at Dior, the panda-eyed peroxide blonde had just a few weeks to design a new collection for one of the world’s most watched, loved and famous fashion brands. But even with the demands of fabric research, fittings, and model castings – not to mention setting the tone for a new vision at the house – she firmly resisted suggestions of postponing the showing until November. She insisted on travelling herself to the factories in Florence, Italy, that produce many of Dior’s accessories prototypes, instead of dispatching her minions. She swiftly found herself a light-flooded Paris apartment with views of the Luxembourg Gardens. And, instead of taking a limo to work, as most in her position would do, she relished the half-hour walk every morning.
“This kind of pressure could be dangerous if you don’t maintain balance,” she says firmly. “I don’t like to work at night. I prefer to go out to dinner, to see friends. I put a lot of passion into this job, but I want to maintain control of my life.”
And so, she returns to Rome to spend weekends with her husband, Paolo Regini, and their son, Nicolo. And her daughter, Rachele, who is studying art in London, regularly makes the Eurostar commute to see her mom.
At Dior headquarters, Maria Grazia has her office in one building and her design studio around the corner, in another building with rooftop terraces planted with lemon trees and roses.
“The brand is so huge,” she says. “There are so many buildings. It’s a little village!”
It is a corporate world away from the family culture at Fendi – then dominated by the five formidable Fendi sisters – where Maria Grazia worked for 10 years after studying fashion in Rome. And, she says, Valentino, where she and her longtime collaborator Pierpaolo Piccioli subsequently worked was “another family in a way”.
In 2008, following Valentino Garavani’s retirement and the brief tenure of Alessandra Facchinetti, Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo were appointed co-creative directors and they swiftly created a compelling, ethereal image for the brand, along with a strong accessories base – a strategy that re- established Valentino as a global influencer.
“Honestly, I never thought in my life that I could move from Valentino to Dior, but when they approached me, I said, ‘ I’m 50. If I don’t test myself now, when do I?’” she recalls.
And, just as she did at Valentino, she delved into Dior’s history to extract her own vision.
“If you think only about Monsieur Dior, I think you have lost your heritage,” she says, noting that Christian Dior himself was at the helm of the company he created for only 10 years. (Christian died of a heart attack in 1957, after which the brilliant, fragile 21-year- old Yves Mathieu-saint-laurent assumed direction of the house, followed by a roll call of influential talents.) “We have to understand that it’s possible to use the past in a modern way for modern women.”
With this aim in mind, she sampled elements from all the past Dior designers: the elaborate underpinnings of Christian Dior’s 1954 Moulin Rouge dress, the flare of Saint Laurent’s 1958 Roma dress, the pleats of Marc Bohan’s ’ 70s
“I love fashion and I know what I like for myself. But I never think about myself, honestly.” – Maria Grazia Chiuri
retro, the white blouses that were Gianfranco Ferré’s signature, the bee motif of Hedi Slimane, and John Galliano’s street-smart J’adore Dior T-shirt – and married them to the idea of historic fencing uniforms. The symbolism was clear: “You have to fight for what you want in life,” she says. “But in fencing, you don’t kill the person – you touch the heart.”
She is styling even fanciful ballgown skirts in a contemporary, breezy way that owes a debt to looks her daughter Rachele puts together.
“Of course Rachele is my muse,” she says. “I love fashion and I know what I like for myself. But I never think about myself, honestly.”
When she first wanted to dress her daughter in the romantic, pretty clothes that became her calling card at Valentino, Rachele complained that she was being treated like a dress-up doll.
“You have to listen to what they really want,” says Maria Grazia, who promptly switched her focus from froth to Goth. “Sometimes the kids teach the mother.”
This experience helped her understand Dior customers, who span vast divides. “Women are faceted, with different moods, and we love the idea of a new generation of Dior girls who express themselves freely by mixing different elements.”
The family’s holidays always involve mother-and-daughter fashion foraging. They recently hit the Marrakesh souk (the embroidered cardigan jackets that Rachele found there are her new wardrobe staples), went gaucho with ponchos and riding boots in Buenos Aires and invested in vintage kimonos in Japan.
Paolo – a shirtmaker in Rome – watches this from an amused distance. “He’s a very elegant man,” Rachele says. “I’ve never seen him wearing a T-shirt in his life. And my brother only wears blue, grey and white; he’s not very into fashion.”
But Rachele relishes her mother’s fashion life. “I’m very proud of what she does,” she says. “She’s a great example and inspiration – as a woman with a career and as a mother. Every woman should have the right to do both, and I’m so grateful to her for teaching me that.”
“We have a strong relationship,” Maria Grazia says, “and Rachele keeps me young. My children have a different point of view. They pose new questions, and you have to find new answers.”
At Dior, those answers had to be found fast. She laughingly admits that her tenuous French and quirky English make communication easier. “I haven’t been taught words to be polite. No. Yes. In. Out!”
Today, she has back-to-back meetings, first with event designer Alexandre de Betak to discuss the runway set, then with sound designer Michel Gaubert. In between are meetings to discuss minutiae such as the paper for the lookbooks, the font for the show invitations, and the details of the showroom – from the mannequins to the display modules. “I’m obsessed with visual merchandising,” she says.
On the global level, she is also rethinking the Dior boutiques, which she finds cold and old-fashioned. “We have to move this brand into the future,” she says, “and many people meet the brand in the store. They should understand immediately that something changed.”
Rachele, meanwhile, is living her own fashion fairy tale. The day after the show, she was already wearing the new Dior satchel purse slung across her Moroccan jacket, and she is coveting the leather fencing jacket shown on the runway. “It was hard sometimes having a mother who does such a tough job,” she confides. “But it has its advantages as well!”
“You have to fight for what you want in life.” – Maria Grazia Chiuri
Maria Grazia Chiuri with daughter Rachele Regini