Paris (AFP) – Fashion house Christian Dior went all surrealist in the first big show of Paris haute couture week Monday with a collection that was a feast for the eyes as well as the imagination.
On a chequerboard set worthy of a Salvador Dali daydream, with plaster casts of ears, noses and eyes hanging from a mirrored ceiling, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri channelled one of the great forgotten women of surrealism, the Italian-Argentine artist Leonor Fini.
The flamboyant and multi-talented Fini began her career as a painter in pre-war Paris, where Christian Dior in his pre-designer days gave her first exhibition.
She was the bohemian intellectual “It” girl of the era, turning up to parties wearing only boots and a feather cape — a look which Chiuri spectacularly reimagined in a floor-length cape and dress embroidered with flowers and feathers.
The haute couture shows — which are unique to the French capital — are the creme de la creme of fashion with thousands of hours going into the handmade dresses that can only be afforded by the richest women on the planet.
And Chiuri pulled out all the stops to display the artistry of her ateliers in a show of more than 70 lavish creations mostly in black and white, the colours she insisted that “the surrealists said we dreamed in”.
Chequerboard patterns proliferated as did see-through hooped “cage” corsets, another borrowing from surrealist symbolism, she said.
– ‘Fit for a fairy princess’ –
But her cages — the set was also hung with them — were a symbol of women freeing themselves, Chiuri told AFP. “Our cages (on the set) are absolutely open, and there is nothing inside,” she laughed.
Many models also wore masks, a nod to the masked surrealist ball Chiuri has organised in Fini’s honour late Monday.
While A-line floor-length dresses dominated, the collection was far from totally two-tone. One organza ball gown embroidered with pale gold sequins had New York Times critic Vanessa Friedman tweeting, “Fit for a fairy princess.”
But Chiuri insisted her show carried a strong empowerment message.
The Italian designer has used her feminism as a weapon in her previous shows for the label, beginning her reign at Dior in 2016 by putting the slogan “We should all be feminists” on T-shirts, and acidly asking, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, in a later show.
Fini, she said was a feminist hero, fearless and “very modern — she built herself like a piece of art”, who once famously said, “There is nothing more fake than being natural.”
This time she used temporary black tattoos across her models’ collar bones to get her message across: lines borrowed from Andre Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto” including — aptly given the sophistication of the clothes — “It’s not about understanding but about loving.”
– Starry front rows –
Clearly supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was on the front row along with South Korean television star Song Hye-kyo, were fans.
Ironically, the Schiaparelli show, the label whose origins go back to its founder’s collaborations with Dali and Jean Cocteau, was a lot less surreal.
Apart that is from its description of its wildly diverse collection as “sedimentation of Afro-Western culture which reveals the contemporary divinities… born from a cosmopolitan femininity”.
Ralph & Russo, the London-based Australian house which has been a huge commercial if not critical success, has no truck with such pretention. Instead, they had Kylie Minogue in their front row.
Earlier in the day, the critics’ great favourite, Dutch designer Iris van Herpen — whose ethereally beautiful creations are consistently at the cutting edge of what is possible — produced one of her most wearable collections for years.
Her delicate silvery skin-tone and tortoise-shell hued dresses made their wearers look like higher beings from another aquatic dimension, while her wedge stilt shoes were all over Instagram within minutes of the show.