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At Dior, Don’t Look in the Mirror

Fairy tales were at the dark heart of a collection that encouraged activism over narcissism, writes Tim Blanks.

Monday was a bumper day for Maria Grazia Chiuri. She got to show her new collection for Dior at the same time as Rizzoli was releasing Her Dior, an impressively scaled book in which 33 women photographers offer their interpretations of Chiuri’s work for the brand. Appropriate, given that Monday was also International Women’s Day. And Chiuri’s latest collaborations with choreographer Sharon Eyal and artist Silvia Giambrone underscored how she has used her position at Dior as a platform to promote other accomplished women.

The venue for the digital presentation was the legendary 240-foot-long Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, built for the Sun King Louis XIV at the end of the 17th century. Which meant Chiuri, Eyal and Giambrone were actually presenting their collaboration in one of the world’s most massive monuments to male ego. That delicious irony was compounded by the fact that Giambrone’s “Hall of Shadows,” the work she contributed as a context for the show, was a series of mirrors with the glass replaced by wax and studded with prickly thorns. She placed them over the windows so that they were facing the original mirrors. If walls could talk…

Chiuri called her collection “Disturbing Beauty.” Whatever image a thorn-studded wax-coated mirror would — or couldn’t — throw back at you seemed the very embodiment of the notion, although it was more the state of fashion at the moment that she had on her mind. Social media has given mirrors a whole new level of power. Chiuri’s message to young women? “If you want to shape your identity, don’t look in the mirror, go out in the street.”

Activism, not narcissism. She herself never had mirrors around when she was growing up. In fact, she didn’t realise she had none in her Paris apartment until her daughter Rachele pointed out their absence. There was one in the lift. That was enough.

I mean, I think of “Candy Man” when I think of mirrors — sheer horror — but Chiuri thought of “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” Going to the other side. Transforming. Fairy tales were the dark heart of her new collection. Not the ones with the American-ified happy endings, more the kind of dark, instructive tales that once introduced children to nightmares. The mood was dark, almost relentlessly so. It truly was a hall of shadows through which the models walked, with eyes heavily shaded and heads often wrapped or hooded. One obvious inference was Little Red Riding Hood, but more in fiercely feminist Angela Carter’s revision, where anything-but-innocent Red holds all the cards.

Innocence was a curious sidebar in the presentation. School uniforms, white collars, knee socks, bib fronts of lacy broderie anglaise — or black leather? The fetishometer was running high. But then the long coats accessorized with head scarves and the full skirts falling to mid-calf made me think of the ’50s, more specifically the kind of kitchen sink dramas that were often set in the North of England. With leopard print added for a Saturday night out.

It was definitely a vision, but not necessarily one I would associate with Dior, and it seemed an even more rigorously stripped-back-than-usual expression of Chiuri’s own point of view. In which context, the handful of evening dresses that closed the show felt desultory. The last look was a red heart of tulle, topped by the bristling scowl of the model Sofia Steinberg, who has become the face of fashion during the pandemic. Inexplicable, except that her manifest discontent is surely the way millions of us are feeling — and, red heart aside, maybe Maria Grazia’s way of reminding us that she doesn’t believe in happy endings either. Disturbing beauty indeed.


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