Sur­real Chic

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - PHO­TO­GRAPH BY DEL­PHINE ACHARD

Are clothes mod­ern? Dior’s Maria Grazia Chi­uri re­flected on this as she worked her fall cou­ture col­lec­tion. Against an en­chant­ing sur­real set by artist Penny Slinger, Chi­uri fea­tured a mostly black pal­ette while ex­am­in­ing the con­trast be­tween Dior’s clas­sic ball gown and the clas­si­cally de­rived god­dess gown, in­clud­ing the two here. Ei­ther way, it was ex­quis­ite.


A gi­ant, gnarled tree, its faux-an­cient trunk, branches and pro­tru­sions twist­ing up the stairwell of Dior's re­cently va­cated, soon-to-be ren­o­vated head­quar­ters. The tree an­chored an in­tense, en­chant­ing en­clave, all fan­tas­ti­cal yet de­rived from the nat­u­ral world, cre­ated by artist

Penny Slinger as the back­drop for Maria Grazia Chi­uri's fall cou­ture show. Sur­real sur­prises with sub­tle fem­i­nist un­der­tones were re­vealed at ev­ery turn — a huge but­ter­fly masking the face of a naked woman; a woman's face break­ing through rock crys­tals; a re­gal cary­atid sculp­ture; night-sky stars dap­pling a stair­way. There was so much to see within the me­an­der­ing cham­bers of blacks and grays that one could miss the only bright spot off to the side — a glo­ri­ous gar­den with an arch over­run with vi­brant flow­ers.

It was all very heady. But then, Chi­uri of­ten takes a deep-thoughts ap­proach to her work. This time out, she started with, she said, “the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Dior and ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments.” The idea per­co­lated af­ter she came across Bernard Rud­of­sky's “Are Clothes Mod­ern?” She be­came riv­eted, not by the sem­i­nal ex­hibit in­stalled at New York's Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art per se, but ►

the cu­ra­tor's cat­a­logue es­say pub­lished in 1947, co­in­ci­den­tally, the same year Chris­tian Dior's New Look was chris­tened.

Chi­uri dove in and came out with rich in­spi­ra­tion. It made for a typ­i­cal pre­view con­ver­sa­tion as she dis­tilled some of his mo­tifs. “He did an­thro­po­log­i­cal re­search into why hu­man­ity change their bod­ies, be­cause they find the body bor­ing. They want to use fash­ion to change their body. That is dys­func­tional some­times.

“The idea is that the clothes are a pro­ject, a pro­ject for the house for your body,” the de­signer said.

“In fash­ion there's the idea that there's a min­i­mal­ist, more func­tional world, and a dec­o­ra­tive world that is more dys­func­tional. But they're not al­ways con­tra­dic­tions.”

Then Slinger, present dur­ing the pre­view, added some thoughts on her own work. “We're try­ing to cel­e­brate and memo­ri­al­ize this fem­i­nine spirit, the muse…and so she is em­bod­ied in this whole work in dif­fer­ent forms and com­bined and mu­tated with all the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments, and so we brought the Tree of Life right into the cen­ter of the house.”

Come show time, those deep thoughts would be punc­tu­ated by the first look out: a model in a white pe­p­los (a riff on the fluid garb worn by ev­ery non-naked clas­si­cal statue you've ever seen, and the tem­plate for all god­dess gowns). This one looked ca­sual and flaunted the lat­est it­er­a­tion of Chi­uri's now-sig­na­ture mes­sag­ing here co-opted from, and cred­ited to, Rud­of­sky. You guessed it, “Are clothes mod­ern?”

In an­swer, Chi­uri beau­ti­fully stud­ied that con­trast be­tween min­i­mal­ism and dec­o­ra­tion, but not in a clinical, aca­demic way. Rather, the mostly ex­quis­ite col­lec­tion looked proudly and pas­sion­ately cou­ture. The qual­i­fi­ca­tion “mostly” ap­plies be­cause Chi­uri's haute day­wear re­mains un­re­solved. Not that it was unattrac­tive; in fact, it of­ten looked quite lovely. But with their sweeping pro­por­tions and dense-look­ing fab­rics (they ap­peared heavy but weren't), sev­eral looks pro­jected too self-con­scious a grandeur for to­day.

But no mat­ter. This was es­sen­tially an evening col­lec­tion, and there, Chi­uri soared. She worked al­most ex­clu­sively in black; by ex­tract­ing color, she put the fo­cus de­lib­er­ately on shape and the abun­dance of tex­tures she worked both in­di­vid­u­ally and in in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tions. The god­dess dresses were breath­tak­ing — in black vel­vet, sil­ver lamé, Lurex-shot chif­fon jac­quard — each one lan­guid and al­lur­ing, de­scended from the cary­atid while radiating mod­ern ease.

Yet it was else­where that Chi­uri made her most dar­ing ar­gu­ment, with a trope in­te­gral to Dior, the ball­gown. Her breath­tak­ing ver­sions were as grand and op­u­lent as it gets, yet al­most freak­ishly light in lav­ish yet ethe­real ma­te­ri­als. They came in lac­quered or­ganza, dé­gradé gauze jac­quard, “tat­too” mo­tif mesh over lace, and most of­ten, some vari­a­tion of lay­ered mesh (in­spired from an archival swatch book), here em­broi­dered with vel­vet scrolls, there, with this­tles and wild­flow­ers.

They en­chanted — quickly, as the mod­els ne­go­ti­ated the wend­ing sa­lons as a speedy pace. Too speed­ily, per­haps, for the au­di­ence to fully ab­sorb the light­ness, the craft and per­son­al­ity dif­fer­ences. Yet the mes­mer­iz­ing overview was enough to an­swer the show's open­ing ques­tion: Are clothes mod­ern? If beauty's mod­ern, then so are these clothes.

Looks from Chris­tian Dior

De­tails at Chris­tian Dior Haute Cou­ture Fall 2019.

Looks from Chris­tian Dior

Am­biance at Chris­tian Dior Haute Cou­ture Fall 2019.

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