“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.”
When Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep’s Wintour-esque baddie, delivers this line in The Devil Wears Prada, it is an acid indictment of fashion’s milquetoast decorative tropes.
But for designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, opening Paris fashion week with her spring collection for Christian Dior, florals for spring can indeed stand for a fresh perspective on fashion in 2019.
With the fashion industry under fire for its contribution to environmental damage, a designer with a passion for both clothes and nature would now find themselves in a love triangle.
“Christian Dior loved gardens. Flowers are part of the heritage of Dior. But when I see flowers and gardens now, I don’t see just joy, or the beauty of nature. I see all the concerns about our future, and the need to take action,” said Chiuri before the show. “So I was asking myself, how can we celebrate nature in a meaningful way?
A temporary grove of 164 trees set the stage for the collection, ready for planting in protective burlap grow bags. This was a collaboration with Coloco, a collective of urban landscapers whose philosophy is to “facilitate active exchange between citizens and nature” through communal gardens. Chiuri had hoped to stage the show in one of their urban gardens, “but the logistics didn’t work out.”
Instead, the trees will be repurposed in sustainability projects in the Paris region, reinforcing wooded areas – the GoodPlanet Foundation in Longchamp and the Murs à Pêches site in Montreuil – and creating urban groves in the city’s heart, as well as on Base 217, the former Air Force base in Brétigny-Sur-Orge.
Feminism being to Chiuri’s era at Dior what pearls were to Coco Chanel, there was also a feminist angle. Muse for the clothes on the catwalk was Catherine Dior, the designer’s sister, a member of the resistance and a devoted plantswoman who later became one of the first women in France to hold a professional licence for wholesale floristry. “She was a great woman,” said Chiuri backstage, pointing to a photo on the season’s mood board of Catherine in her gardening clothes: a man’s shirt, sleeves rolled up, with belted trousers.
The long skirts which have been a Dior motif throughout Chiuri’s tenure came in rough hessian, paired with a shirt in utility blue. The embroidered “book tote” which has been this year’s smash hit, doubled as a trug, carrying forks and trowels. There were shades of Vita Sackville-West, who was also name-checked on the backstage moodboard, in the loose trousers and casual espadrilles.
The botanical prints of 17th-century German botanist Maria Sybilla Merian were the starting point for prints tracing the darker beauty of thistles and poppies and wild flowers, as well as roses and delicate, cultivated flowers. Under their low-brimmed hats, the long haired models wore their hair in twin plaits – a style which at this moment in time can only be read as a reference to Greta Thunberg.
Under Chiuri, Christian Dior has come to rival Louis Vuitton as the star name in the pedigree stable of luxury group LVMH. In 2018 Dior’s sales were over €5bn for the first time, putting the house in an elite group of the biggest six luxury players alongside Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Cartier and Hermès.
Profit margins at Dior still trail those at Chanel – a unicorn among the fashion houses, with an alchemy of aspiration and pop appeal that remains a secret formula – but they are growing fast. A new Morgan Stanley research report named Dior as “a real standout of the industry”, with operating profits expected to reach €1bn in 2019, putting them five times higher than they were a decade ago. “Perception rankings”, which evaluate consumer prestige, are also tracking higher than ever.
But addressing the issue of greenwashing, Chiuri acknowledged that the message of the show is not a true reflection of the current state of the fashion industry, which continues to damage the environment. “The times that we live in now plant a lot of doubts in my mind about what I do, working in fashion,” she said backstage.
“Fashion has a voice and the power to speak to people, but right now I have many more questions than I have answers.”
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