Masked faces bobbed through the crowd, some smothered with a velvet softness, others decorated with mighty plumes that shivered and shook while their owners swayed to the music.
Just for a moment, it was possible to imagine that this was the crowd around the young Christian Dior, who hung out in the 1930s with arty friends, especially the Surrealists. And there was, indeed, nothing more surreal than seeing today’s luxury boss, Bernard Arnault, President and CEO of LVMH, partying with other executives, all masked, while mini chocolate cakes shaped as dominoes were served up by staff with clouds painted on their shirts. Meanwhile, houses of cards hung perilously off skeleton trees and were printed on skirts that flapped saucily as women danced on tables.
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Dior’s Artistic Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, spelled it out in black and white. She found inspiration from those early years at the house, as seen in the recent massive retrospective study of the Christian Dior heritage at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
“When I saw the exhibition, one of the first rooms was his art gallery and I found out that he was very close to Dali and other artists like Giacometti,” the designer said. “Dior held an exhibition by a woman called Leonor Fini, who claimed, ‘only the inevitable theatricality of my life interests me’. Having her in his gallery at that time – the idea was completely new. I am fascinated by this part of French culture, when people treated going to a ball like a performance. In some ways it is like people taking pictures with a selfie today – they want to give others an idea by giving part of themselves.”
Before it was given over to the party, the giant tent in the gardens of the Musée Rodin was set up like an Alice in Wonderland world, with a black and white chessboard floor and Surrealist chessboard patterns on dresses. These three-dimensional effects could only have been created by haute couture, where the hand-workers had joined small pieces of fabric together with a minuscule running stitch.
It made for a stunning start to the Dior collection, as masked models, walking on the eye-popping black and white tiles, brought the dot and square effects to life. Add cages around the upper body, inspired by a pannier dress that Maria Grazia found in the Dior archives, and the suggestion was, according to the designer, Freudian dreams from the subconscious.
But Maria Grazia promised that her treatment of the pannier made it more palatable for Millennials. “There is a big difference between Italian and French couture,” she said. “Italian couture is linked to the sartorial side, (meaning wearable) while French couture is more theatrical. I want a mix of the two.”
“And I really love the masks that Stephen made for us,” Maria Grazia said, referring to hatter Stephen Jones. “It’s a reversible mask, because Surrealism is about seeing what lies behind. You see the eyes, with the idea that it would be to see yourself in the mirror. We did that with embroidery and with mesh.”
How did this myriad of ideas, rooted in Christian Dior’s artistic side way back in the last century, work on the 2018 runway?
The show was really an ode to dresses, most of them rooted in a timeless beauty. The work of the atelier rose to stupendous heights when it came to creating dresses with feathered-wing embroideries running down the front; or a cape and dress smothered with flowers and feathers, as well as an ivory horsehair cage. Maria Grazia and Dior should be proud that they can reach such summits of technique with such subtle results.
Yet there is nothing so new in either the re-positioning of Christian Dior’s vision from so long ago, nor in the clothes that Maria Grazia is offering. There might have been many more daytime outfits and much less focus on transparency, especially those cage tops. But it resulted in a striking show and a dramatic masked ball, both making a strong statement in black and white.
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