Dior went back to the feisty Teddy Girls of 1950s Britain for its vision of a feminist future in its Paris fashion week show Tuesday.
With black leather jackets, long nipped-waist Dior “New Look” skirts with leather cumberbunds and tartan a-go-go, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri raided the wardrobes of the rebel girls of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.
The original royal rebel Princess Margaret — a Dior addict — and the proudly proletarian Teddy Girls who were the “queens of the ravaged landscape” of postwar Britain were the two pillars of the Italian creator’s autumn winter collection.
She took some of the most feminine clothes of the epoch — kitten heels with black socks, shiny bucket hats and tight woollen sweaters — and mixed them with a more masculine and sportswear silhouette.
Chiuri has been on something of a crusade during her time at the most feminine of French labels to make its famously chic clothes simple and adaptable enough for everyday wear.
And you could easily imagine women wearing trainers under even the most intricate of dresses in this collection.
The Teddy Girls were the punks of their time, “impertinent characters with wild quiffs who wore Edwardian-style men’s jackets with ample skirts, jeans and black leather jackets,” the designer said.
“London always represents tradition and at the same time the breaking with tradition,” Chiuri told AFP.
– ‘Fashion is a political act’ –
The show was a long love letter to the iconoclasm of British style, and comes as a exhibition about Dior at the V&A museum in London has become a sold-out hit.
“I tried to create pieces in this collection in which everyone can express themselves in their own way by using different combinations while respecting the codes of the brand,” Chiuri said.
Since her debut collection in 2017 — when she made headlines with a “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt — Dior’s first female designer has put down a ladder to women artists and writers.
This time she lionised the veteran Italian artist Tomaso Binga, who took on a man’s name to satirise male privilege.
One of her most iconic works, an alphabet formed from the naked body of a middle-aged woman, was the backdrop for the show in a huge pavilion in the grounds of the Rodin Museum in Paris.
With Hollywood star and #MeToo activist Jennifer Lawrence in the front row, the 87-year-old artist (whose real name is Bianca Menna) dressed up like a kind of cardinal to read a stirring declaration urging female solidarity before Chiuri sent out her models.
– Saint Laurent’s killer vamps –
In another feminist nod, three wore T-shirts bearing the titles of books by the American feminist thinker Robin Morgan — “Sisterhood is Powerful”, “Sisterhood is Global” and “Sisterhood is Forever”.
“Today fashion and the act of buying is a political act,” Chiuri told AFP.
“Apart from clothes, bags and shoes, people want to know that behind objects there are values in which they believe,” she said.
It is safe to say that Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello is less up to speed with latest feminist theory.
Shortly after he took over the label he found himself in the firing line of outrage over a “hypersexualised” 2017 ad campaign for the label that put painfully thin models in “degrading” poses.
The young Belgian designer has not backed down from his sexed-up vision for the brand, and his Paris show was a procession of leggy models in black micro dresses and hotpants.
Vaccarello’s women are night owl vamps and his only concession to winter was to drape some in big overcoats with exaggerated shoulders — all the better to show that every one was a man-eater, wearing her sexiness like a weapon.
These were clothes to sin in, to turn heads at glitzy cocktails and nightclubs, with a line of flourescent looks literally lighting up in the dark.
His co-ed show under the Eiffel Tower also made a game bid to steal a march on his Saint Laurent predecessor Hedi Slimane, who has created a male line for the first time at Celine.
Vaccarello’s response has been to go toe-to-patent-Chelsea-boot-toe, out-Slimane-ing the man they call the “sultan of skinny” at his own lux-grunge rock god game.