Dior: Catherine de' Medici mode
A baroque moment at Dior on Tuesday, where Maria Grazia Chiuri was inspired by the only woman who ruled France, Italian-born Catherine de' Medici, just days after their homeland Italy elected its first female prime minister.
It was a fashion tour de force that recalled de Medici's “progressions” around France, where the queen reinforced the power of the monarchy with spectacles, opulent balls and majestic marches throughout the country.
Created in a restricted palette of white, gold and a great deal of black. Though she managed to give birth to 10 children, and three sons who were kings of France, Catherine was a widow for 30 years, during which time she nearly always wore black. Hence her nickname, the Black Queen.
“My idea was to find shared common ground between Italy and France, as my work at Dior often does,” explained Roman-born Chiuri, the only woman to have been creative director of this great French maison.
“An exhibition on Catherine originally ignited my imagination to consider her influence on France and its culture. To me she was the first person to understand the importance of fashion to represent her role,” said Chiuri, referring to a 2008 exhibition in Florence comparing Catherine and Maria, the two Medici queens of France.
Ideas poured into a ready-to-wear collection staged in a collaboration with several artists, each of them considering the artistic renaissance that Catherine brought to French.
Hence, Chiuri worked with artist Eva Jospin, who built a dramatic grotto and portico out of recycled cardboard. Her large cast marching around the artwork backed up by a soundtrack of Bjork emoting mightily through her tune.
Performances by the troupe of Imre and Marne van Opstal expressed theatrically the balls Catherine often staged the better to show of her power and position fashionably.
Though all reimagining Catherine in far lighter materials, so a semi-sheer guipure pinafore was topped by a simple beige cotton T-shirt. A fan of ancient maps, Chiuri found one dating from the 1950s, an overview of Paris with Dior’s headquarters on Avenue Montaigne at the centre. Drafting the map into some great trench-coats, beautiful cutaway frocks; big overalls and a cool new lightweight corset, one of many in this collection. Even bloomers, of which there were also many, in a long show, that could perhaps have done with a stricter edit.
After arriving at the French court in 1533, she went on to rule France as a regent, when her sons were still too young, and commissioned the Tuileries Gardens, where today’s show was staged. Remarkably few of the buildings Catherine commissioned survived except one, a fluted column tower built to admire the stars, located behind today’s Pinault Foundation.
An orphan within a month of he birth, Catherine spent several formative years in convents, where she learned needlepoint, later bringing the skill to France. And elements of delicate needlepoint and embroidery imparted a refined sense of finesse to many looks.
But Chiuri’s Catherine is no distant monarch, regal yes, but occasionally raunchy. Her crinolines are semi-sheer lace, and worn with just a bra; her peasant skirts and big blouses are ruffled posh hippie style. Crinkled wool sheathes were faintly bold and boudoir undies and silk bras were more sassy widow than lady in mourning.
Dior’s de' Medici marches in punky, multi-strap boots finished with mountaineer’s ropes or spiked platforms. Diminutive in stature, Catherine preferred stacked platforms herself. And, you know that both of Chiuri’s versions will keep the cash registers ticking over at Dior, where Maria Grazia’s ability to blend class and commercial, mode and merchandise is second to no other designer in fashion today.
Unusually for a ready-to-wear show, hardly a suit or indeed a jacket in sight. Yet in the end this was a coherent collection by a designer very much in control of her destiny. A Roman woman conquering couture and fashion in France. The Florentine-born Catherine would surely have enjoyed that.
This season, Dior also worked with a remarkable supplier of jacquard, Tassinari & Chatel by Lelievre. Founded in 1680, it would become the official supplier of the greatest courts of Europe, from King Louis XV to Napoleon I, producing sublime creations for Marie-Antoinette in Versailles. Somewhat ironically, one of the most famous portraits of another fashion queen Coco Chanel - the house of Dior’s greatest rival - was of her dressed like de Medici in a baroque black tunic and white ruffled shirt.
In effect the show was a meditation on power in fashion and dressing staged just 48 hours after Italians voted into power the first extreme right wing government since WW2, and one led by a woman, Giorgia Meloni.
Asked by FashionNetwork.com for her opinion of Meloni, Chiuri replied: “Obviously, her victory has made us reflect. But more than her winning, I think the left lost. I am still stupefied that only the right wing had women leaders, and that instead the left has few women in this position. Also, personally I believe in certain values regarding the right to abortion, to gay rights and to divorce, and I am very unhappy that there is not a woman with the notoriety on the other side to lead the fight for those rights. Very, very disappointed.”
How did she think that Meloni’s modest manner of dressing - in jeans and simple woollen sweaters - expressed power?
“I don’t think she has any strategy in her look… But I’d also say that a previous generation of women who entered politics were obliged to make an almost totalitarian choice - they had to be completely conformist to a visual code that was fully masculine. And I’d include Queen Elizabeth. She had to pay a price to incarnate her role visually,” she philosophised, to conclude a pre-show preview.
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