Couture shows, traditionally the most elite of fashion events pre-pandemic, have opened their doors to the general public – as long as you have an internet connection. But even with this new layer of inclusivity, some more traditional ideas of representation remained.
Usually a physical event in Paris twice a year, couture fashion week is digital this season, with brands foregoing catwalk shows in favour of collection preview films on their websites.
Christian Dior, which would have been a highlight of the day at a physical fashion week, kept its standing in a digital space but faced criticism for its choice of casting in its promotional film which primarily featured white models.
The film Le Mythe Dior – directed by Matteo Garrone in collaboration with creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri – put mythical creatures and goddesses including nymphs, mermaids and Venus, as the focus, in a setting of a lush green forest.
It was 15 minutes of escapism, but the casting of almost all white models showed how far away Le Mythe Dior was from reality. It particularly contrasted with Naomi Campbell’s speech to open the event. Wearing a T-shirt which read “phenomenally black”, she said: “The time has come to build an industry with checks and balances. It is now more than ever compulsory to include them in a permanent way and not a transient one.”
Asked about the casting after the show, Grazia Chiuri and Garrone said it was based on the references of classical myth and Botticelli – where, typically, all of the characters are portrayed as white. “We felt it could be forced,” said Garrone.
“For me, I think diversity is important but it depends on the situation and the reference,” said Grazia Chiuri. “If I do another film probably I make another casting. I don’t think it’s possible to make all the things with the same language even if I completely agree with the value.”
The casting was called out as not moving with the times. Colourblind casting has seen, for example, a black actor cast as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, a character typically portrayed, up until now, as a white woman with red hair. “We all know Italians love excavating fossils and their ancient references (which do not see colour) like no tomorrow – we love them for this,” tweeted fashion blogger Bryan Boy. “But it’s 2020. Instead of replicating them tit for tat, make them current and adapt them to the multiracial societies that we live in.”
Pam Boy, the senior editor at Love magazine, wrote: “Was this Greek mythology storytelling an excuse to avoid diversity?”
Grazia Chiuri has, in the past, addressed diversity. A cruise show in Marrakech last year was praised for its series of collaborations with black designers, and models of colour regularly feature in the brand’s ad campaigns. After the Sauvage perfume was criticised for appropriating Native American culture in September, the product was withdrawn and the brand apologised.
Grazia Chiuri has always been outspoken about women’s rights in her role at Dior. Her first collection featured the “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt, quoting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay. For a Zoom call ahead of the film on Monday, she namechecked female surrealists Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington and Dora Maar as references for this collection, partly down to a long-overdue reassessing of their work, in comparison to the male artists they were close to. “In my mind, they are more than muses,” she said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010