Feminism, Fashion And Christian Dior

On 12th February 1947, not even two years after World War 2 had ended, Christian Dior unveiled his Corolle collection – later dubbed the “New Look” following then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow’s, exclamatory remarks upon the reveal (Moses, 2019). The “New Look” can be seen as both a reaction to the austerity of the war years, but also as ushering in a decade of fetishised femininity. 

The elegance of Christian Dior needs no further elaboration here. As the first woman to head Christian Dior as creative director, feminist statements have become the cornerstone of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collections. A hallmark of her debut collection as Dior’s first female artistic director in 2016 was a plain white T-shirt with the words, “We Should All Be Feminists” written across the chest. The following year, a striped shirt appeared on Dior’s spring 2018 runway that read, “Why have there been no great women?” inspired by historian Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay. Some say politics and fashion don’t mix but for Chiuri, her dedication to amplifying women’s voices and addressing the inequalities women face daily hasn’t wavered (Penrose, 2020). 

On Women’s Day, March 8th this year, the Italian designer revealed the Dior Talk Podcasts, featuring conversations around the issues of feminism and art.

“We should all be feminist” slogan T-shirt. Photo source: https://www.dior.com/en_us/products/couture-843T03TA428_X0200-we-should-all-be-feminists-t-shirt-white-linen-and-cotton-jersey

“When I arrived at Dior, everyone told me it was feminine brand, but we have to reflect on what that means. We must not forget that fashion has a very big impact on how women are presented in the media and in photography. So, at Dior, I want to present a feminist point of view, I no longer want to present women as objects. I wanted to find female photographers who would understand what I want to do. I wanted to create a different image of women. The female gaze is about changing the way we want to present women in fashion. More like a subject and not like an object,”

Maria Chiuri explained at an interview with Fashion Network in May, 2020.

I found Chiuri as a rather suitable example of female designer working in the fashion industry collaborating with female talents in the creative fields – a perfect example of demonstrating female gaze. She had an interview with UK author Charlotte Jansen during the lockdown earlier on this year (Jansen’s book Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze was read and referenced in earlier research).

Jansen questioned “do women and men photographers work quite differently?”  and How difficult was it for Chiuri to find women to work with commercially? during the interview – which is another fact I personally curious about.

“Very often, with the male photographer, I always think there is a sexual tension between who is front of the camera and who is behind it. With women, it is more a dialogue. You feel that in the image. A female can identify with the model because she is also a woman. It’s completely different if it is a male or a female photographer. (With a woman) I feel more comfortable and relaxed.”

I then had an opportunity visited Dior’s latest exhibition: Christian Dior, Designer of dreams at Long gallery, Shanghai, China. In fact I’ve visited the original exhibition at the V&A museum back in London last year, but never had a proper chance to carefully observe these works as it was way too popular.

Pictures taken during the exhibition.

In dialogue with the selection of photographs at the exhibition, images by Chinese photographer Leslie Jiacheng Zhang caught my eye. I found similarities between him and myself, educated in both China and the West, with a painting background. He tells stories in his photographs, having a touch of Chinese iconography embracing in his own stylised aesthetics. To me his visions are way beyond traditional male or female gaze but a huge interpretation of Chinese contemporary aesthetics with the East (and female Chinese models)remains the greatest muse for his artwork. His works are just so different from what I’ve ever seen, I feel this vision of creative thinking would be a huge inspiration on my own work.

Leslie Zhang was Interviewed by Jennifer Sauer with CRFshionbook in May, 2020.

Updates: 22-Nov-2020

Dior Podcast: Dior Talks: In conversation with Female creatives discussing subjects that compel them, their output and the challenges of tomorrow, from the role of art to the key stages of feminism.


My picks:

  • Alina Marazzi: [Female gaze] The director discusses the film she made for the Spring-Summer 2021 show and her relationship to feminism. https://podcasts.dior.com/femele-gaze-alina-marazzi
  • Julia Hetta: [Female gaze] The photography rule-breaking fashion photographer discusses her career, aesthetic, and portraying women. https://podcasts.dior.com/female-gaze-julia-hetta
  • Lean Lui: [Female gaze] Lean Lui, a brilliant young Hong Kong-based fashion and art photographer, discusses her burgeoning career. https://podcasts.dior.com/female-gaze-lean-lui
  • Raffaella Perna: [Female gaze] The feminist art historian and critic discusses self-portraiture and photography as tools for female self-expression. https://podcasts.dior.com/female-gaze-raffaella-perna

Reference list

Cartner-Morley, J. (2019). Dior designer wins fans by putting feminism above femininity. The Guardian. [online] 1 Jul. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/jul/01/dior-director-wins-fans-by-putting-feminism-above-femininity [Accessed 12 Aug. 2020].

Deeny, G. (2020a). Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri on feminism, the female gaze and working with women photographers. [online] Fashion Network. Available at: https://ww.fashionnetwork.com/news/Dior-s-maria-grazia-chiuri-on-feminism-the-female-gaze-and-working-with-women-photographers,1216236.html [Accessed 1 Aug. 2020].

Deeny, G. (2020b). Fashionable feminism at Christian Dior Couture. [online] Fashion Network. Available at: https://ww.fashionnetwork.com/news/Fashionable-feminism-at-christian-dior-couture,1177462.html [Accessed 12 Aug. 2020].

DEFOUILLOY, P.M. (2020). Dior and feminism: The house is even more committed. [online] Vogue Paris. Available at: https://www.vogue.fr/beauty-tips/article/dior-and-feminism-the-house-is-even-more-committed-dior-stands-with-women [Accessed 25 Sep. 2020].

Interior Monologue. (2017). Maria Grazia Chiuri in a Dior Wonderland. [online] Available at: https://interiormonologue.com/maria-grazia-chiuri-dior-wonderland/ [Accessed 9 Sep. 2020].

Leitch, L. (2020). Community, Craft, Collaboration: How Maria Grazia Chiuri Engaged the Town of Lecce for Dior Resort. [online] Vogue. Available at: https://www.vogue.com/article/maria-grazia-chiuri-dior-lecce [Accessed 4 Nov. 2020].

Penrose, N. (2020). Maria Grazia Chiuri Puts Feminist Agenda Front and Center at Dior’s Fall 2020 Show. [online] ELLE. Available at: https://www.elle.com/fashion/a31105423/dior-fall-2020-show/ [Accessed 15 Sep. 2020].

Sauer, J. (2020). Leslie Zhang Reveals the Chinese Inspirations Behind His Fashion Photography. [online] CR Fashion Book. Available at: https://www.crfashionbook.com/mens/a32450695/leslie-zhang-chinese-fashion-photography/ [Accessed 3 Aug. 2020].

Thomas, M. (2020). Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Feminist Mission Goes Beyond Slogans. [online] ELLE. Available at: https://www.elle.com/fashion/a34050277/maria-grazia-chiuri-dior-profile/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2020].