Baroque crinolines and heels: Dior pays homage to the 16th-century muse at a Paris show

“Many young people hate fashion,” said Dior designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, backstage before her grand show in the Tuileries Garden that kicked off Paris fashion week.

“They hate fashion because, to them, brands are part of an established system that represents power,” he added, in a remarkably candid internal assessment of fashion’s troubled state. Such candor is rare in the titans of an industry where keeping up appearances is everything. But Chiuri’s strategy for increasing Dior’s relevance has been to engage on issues, from cultural appropriation to the responsibility of fashion profit-makers to a global workforce of garment workers, whom fashion week fashion mostly prefers to turn a blind eye.

Hooped crinolines and skirts, tall boots with curved baroque heels, rich lace capes held in place with satin ribbons and long, dainty gloves made up a runway homage to Dior’s muse of the season, Catherine de’ Medici. “She was a woman who really understood the power of fashion to impress everyone around her,” Chiuri said. “She referred to fashion as a show of power. This is very interesting for me, because I belong to a generation for which fashion is about how to be free”, added the 58-year-old designer.

“But the history of fashion is very close to the history of power. And now, when I go to fashion schools, because I’m from a big brand, I find that some of the younger generation hate what that represents, because they associate the fashion system with power.”

De Medici was an early adopter of high-heeled shoes and the corset. The story of this Italian noblewoman who rose to power at the 16th-century French court after her husband’s death captured Chiuri’s imagination in how she speaks of “fear and anxiety surrounding women in positions of power. After her husband’s death, she dressed entirely in black in part because it made her visible in a crowd: black clothing was expensive, so few people could afford to dress entirely in black.”

Chiuri’s interrogation of the mechanisms of power included a sideways look at how Dior itself has harnessed the system. In the Dior archives, the designer found a map of Paris that centered the city around the fashion house’s headquarters on Avenue Montaigne. The map became a print for a trench coat. Both the Dior label and the visual iconography of the city of Paris have become symbols of elegance, with brands like Dior deliberately blurring the lines between the two.

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