In the fast and furious world of contemporary fashion a creative director is expected to be a master of all trades. A chief designer should also be able to build a coherent brand image, overseeing all processes and stages of creative production. In 2012, as Hedi Slimane was hired by Saint Laurent to control everything from advertising to the interiors of boutiques, it was considered revolutionary and unprecedented. Meanwhile, with the ever-fastening pace of fashion schedules, it has become normal for brands to look for someone who is able to take charge of all things creative.
Last year’s fashion film “Dior and I” revealed Raf’s important role in creating the clear vision of the brand, shaping the way Dior is seen from the outside. The designers currently in charge of the female line – Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier, though unarguably talented – fail to produce the same consistent and sophisticated Dior image as Raf did. Simons’ main contribution to the French fashion house was to modernise, rethink and reshape the recognisable Dior-esque staples, including the Bar jacket and the ultra-feminine dresses. While maintaining the signature elegance of Dior’s original designs, he updated them to create ensembles with increased contemporaneity and empowerment.
The past nine months without a creative director have been dramatic for Dior, especially in an industry that places huge amounts of credibility on the stability that one design figure provides. Absence of a chief designer has the ability to affect consumers’ decisions; a product is more difficult to connect to a brand image if there is no designer behind its production. The sales revenues for Dior have stalled since Simons’ departure, and though the brand explains it with the sharp fall in tourism, the lack of a creative director might be another reason as well.
It is also difficult to see coherence in Dior’s latest moves. “Incongruous” was the word of choice used by many to describe the brand’s resort 2017 show. Hosted at England’s Blenheim castle as a homage to the brand’s noble history, there was a certain symbolism in staging the show in a castle where previous generations of Dior designers – including the founder and the young Yves Saint Laurent – held their presentations. However, though ostentatiously staged, the show lacked brand credibility. In its attempt to eliminate Raf’s influence, the label went too far with its decorative paraphernalia. Dior’s cruise 2017 consists of all things summery, but incomprehensibly misses on Dior’s staples – the Bar jacket, the feminine elegance, the signature accentuated waistlines.
The couture collection presented earlier this week, as Tim Blanks wrote, “felt like a kind of ground zero”. The simple, understated, seemingly half-finished designs seemed to declare the end of uncertainty and the beginning of a new chapter for Dior. The message was timely, as Maria Grazia Chiuri, who was long rumoured to become Raf’s successor, has now officially left Valentino to join the French luxury brand.
The appointment of Chiuri is another unexpected move – for the first time in its history, a woman heads the fashion house known for its femininity. The formidable Coco Chanel once branded Christian Dior a “hater of women” for his flower-like, impractical and constricting designs. The appointment of a woman can truly be the beginning of a new era for Dior.
For Maria Grazia Chiuri it marks her first role as solo designer. At both Valentino and Fendi, she worked in tandem with Pierpaolo Piccioli. The new job is going to be challenging for the designer, as she is now expected to deliver not only a woman’s view on Dior’s legacy but also speak up in a sole clear voice. And judging by the rigour and intricacy of her previous work, this heralds the start of an exciting new chapter for Dior and the fashion industry at large.