Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri
Her T-shirt „We Should All Be Feminists“ started the big trend of slogan wear. Chiuri designed it for her first Dior collection, which she showed in September 2016. She had previously worked at Fendi and with Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino. For her Dior collections, she draws inspiration from a wide variety of cultures and artists. And from her daughter Rachel. Chiuri, 57, lives with her family in Rome.
ICON: How are you doing after such a different year? After all, you were very productive despite everything.
Maria Grazia Chiuri: Not only me, also my studio, we are very tired. The current lockdown over Christmas is not a problem for us, we just wanted to rest. It was a very intense year, a constant up and down. There were moments when I thought nothing was going right. Then I was super enthusiastic again when I realized I could make dreams come true. The Haute Couture. The very real Cruise Show in Lecce. At the same time, you had to constantly question what the future would bring, how things would continue. Normally we think long and very concretely in advance, about the timing when you have to present something and when it needs to be delivered, we could forget about this and went carefully step by step. Despite all the new circumstances, of course, we did not stop working, we know about the dependencies, what comes after the work of the studio, that the supply chains must remain intact. But we also understood that something was changing, many doubts and no answer.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Dior’s perfume production in Grasse was briefly switched to the production of disinfectants. Did you sometimes have doubts about what you were doing? That you design beautiful, but expensive, exclusive products. Did you have any doubts about luxury?
The reaction of the world at the end of this crisis will possibly be a surprise for some. Because I think that people wants to forget everything. That worries me, I think we need to remember. And work differently in the future, pay more attention to the future and the environment.
What exactly worries you?
I worry that everyone will consume more than ever at the end of the pandemic. Some people will be much richer, others much poorer. The risk is that the gap will widen. We should definitely help the small family businesses. I’m not worried about the big ones, but in Italy and France, especially in our industry, there are many small family businesses. Or in India, just the embroideries, I fear for all of them. For their culture.
But doesn’t luxury just stand for the issues that have come into focus: Like sustainability, quality, longevity, less instead of mass.
That may be, but I think consumers will have less money. The desire, however, will remain the same. It may be annoying that we humans are like that, but we always want something new. I probably shouldn’t say that critically in my position, but that’s the way it is. Nobody always wants to wear the same dress, the same suit. It’s not exactly sustainable, but it’s part of human nature. Even in strict political regimes, fashionable abandonment could not really be enforced. So I believe that we are only limiting our consumption only because there is less money to spend.
And young people? After all, they are the ones who are increasing the pressure on our consumer behaviour.
I’m optimistic about them. They are more conscious, like to buy vintage, less overall. But there is also a large group of young people in the world, depending on the market, who like to buy clothes very much. It’s complicated and complex.
With your daughter Rachele, you have a good advisor, right?
She, like my son, knows so much about fashion, about the system, the work, they are not representative. I talk about the people who don’t have the same opportunities to have something beautiful, special as they do. For my children, a certain attitude is easier. But if you never had a really nice coat or something, then the desire is different. And should we then tell them: But you can’t buy that now because it’s not good for the environment! That’s arrogant.
So you have to be able to afford environmental awareness?
Absolutely. You have to keep an eye on the inequalities. If you’ve always been able to travel, it might not be a problem for you to travel less. I’ve been to so many places in my life, too. But if someone has never been able to leave their hometown and you say to them, you’d better not travel anymore, what answer will they give?
Do you see a solution?
Maybe the people who have more choices have to do without more to create some balance? But this is only a small group, I don’t know if their weight is enough.
You showed a wonderful, surreal video for the presentation of Haute Couture during the Lockdown, where, as in the old tradition, clients were brought a wardrobe trunk full of mannequin models – though in this case the clients were mythical creatures. Not all companies mustered that much creative energy at the beginning of the pandemic in Europe. What was it like for you?
I was in Rome and I quickly realized that we would have to do something different. A physical presentation would not be possible and I wanted a different approach. The starting point was the book „Théâtre de la Mode“ that I have at home. It’s the story of 15 women designers who got together in 1945, a year before Christian Dior founded the house, to present their collections on small dressmaker’s mannequins, first in Paris and then in a traveling exhibition. Their goal was to raise money for war veterans and revive French fashion after the war. It became a huge success. And a symbol of the resilience of creativity in difficult times. I was thrilled with the idea.
I called Matteo Garrone.
The director of „Pinocchio“.
Yes, he was also in Rome and I asked him to make a film about Dior’s Théâtre de la Mode. I had long thought of using a film to show the uniqueness of Haute Couture, but that’s not my medium. But when digital took over communication, the moment was right. And Matteo and I speak the same language. By that I don’t just mean Italian. And: it was possible to realize. Three days in Rome. No one had believed that it could be done in such a short time.
But wasn’t that also a realization of the past year: That you can work very efficiently without the usual loops and with a small team?
Yes! That was also true for the Cruise in Puglia. My studio is small, the core team has been working together for a very long time. We know each other well. And it was very helpful during the pandemic that I have been in my profession for a very long time. I also know the suppliers personally and spoke to them directly. I don’t know if the film or even the Cruise presentation could have been realized otherwise under the conditions in the spring without the personal relationships.
Personal was another key word. Lecce meant a lot to you, it’s your home.
It was the most personal show and collection I have done in my life. But at the same time, it was a community project, everyone felt connected. I got so many calls from people saying they would like to participate, help. We wanted to set a sign of hope for the fashion industry.
No audience, but a real show. The Dior Cruise collection in July in Lecce, the home of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s father.
In what way?
You have to remember that in the pandemic, criticism of the fashion system also reached a new peak. The industry is certainly not perfect, but we have to think about how to work in it. We can’t destroy an entire industry without thinking about the many people and families who make a living from it. I’m 57, I’ve had my career, but I’m afraid that many of the young people who are now making sweeping criticisms of fashion have no idea how many livelihoods are behind it. And I’m not just talking about luxury. In fast fashion, too. There are grievances without question, production facilities are used that do not have the same conditions and wages as in Italy or France, but what does it mean for the people there if they lose their jobs? In the future, there won’t be enough work anyway.
You are still on the road a lot?
We have special permission because Dior has an operation in Tuscany and also in northern Italy for the accessories and in Paris the atelier. I move between these places, but it’s complicated, the rules are constantly changing.
I dream about it! For example, I would like to do something in India, but I have not been there since November last year. And I have a lot of friends around the world, I miss seeing them. But in general, for sure, if there’s something we’ve learned in Lockdown, it’s that we don’t need to travel as much as we did in the past.
Work yes, pleasure no, is the political motto.
Yes, I only go out to work. My husband told me that just before Christmas there was a scandal because many went to ski quickly in the area near Rome before lockdown. I love it too, but it’s not really necessary. I miss simple things. Seeing my mother. Having a few people over for dinner at home on the spur of the moment. A year is a long time.
The pandemic also worked like a spotlight, shining into corners we didn’t want to see. But also into ones that surprised us. What did you discover?
Characters. Also those around me. Whether they are interested in the common good or only in themselves. And I clearly decided for myself who I want to work with or no longer. I want to surround myself with people who feel responsibility for what they do.
Home-office was much more home instead of office. There was a terrible increase in domestic violence worldwide. What does your network say, how do you see the situation?
I also see the economic crisis as a big problem. Women get fewer jobs in crises. Schools were closed. To think you can take care of the children and work is nonsense. That hit the women again. And, this is even more true for men, if they do not go to the office, then they lose their social recognition and presentation opportunity. This is unbearable for some. They need a social position, and if they don’t have it, they can become very aggressive.
Apart from not being educated, many children feel rejected. The psychological extent of the crisis remains to be seen.
We are human beings, we have to talk to each other, socialize. I know some people who say; oh Rome is so beautiful when there are no tourists. Maybe. But the city is not made to be empty.
Berlin is also duller without the party people…
We should learn from this that so few people live, can live, in the famous cities. They have become museums for tourists. I hope this will be reconsidered now, not only the issue of people no longer being able to afford the city. For example, many rent out an inherited apartment in the centre and prefer to move somewhere else. It’s a job, so to speak. Rome and other cities are about to lose their soul at some point.
As a creative, what do you take with you into the next decade?
Our work is much more different and intense than it used to be. We have to control and question everything we do. The material, the ecological impact, the consumers. Even though I don’t think it’s good to use these factors just to sell more, we work with much more attention to these issues than in the past. When I started working in fashion, they didn’t exist at all, honestly. In that respect, our work is very different. We also have to know everything about the new technologies and be in constant exchange with production. As designers, we don’t just create a collection anymore. After that, the work really begins. The system changes, has to change, not my creativity. More green, but that’s a big word. More conscious of what we are doing. I am convinced that in the future we will sell more value than quantity.
Chiuri’s new favorite bag „Caro Bag“
But there are cultural differences, aren’t there? Italian, French, Chinese, German.
In my experience as a designer, it’s simpler: The people desire something or not. It’s not about nationality. It’s about the respective lifestyle. One needs more practical pants, the other more cocktail dresses. And if you’re interested in fashion, you want something that’s in fashion. I’ve never really been surprised when a certain piece became desirable. Because the first person to do is me. It’s about the specific moment.
Today we talk mostly about morals, sustainability, materials, does simple desire have a hard time in this context?
No. I can make very sustainable products, but if no one wants them? You also don’t have a desire for something because it’s sustainable. But of course it’s much better when both come together.
What about fun and entertainment?
That’s why my fall collection for 2021 is so cheerful, I want to make this year forget. Fashion is the means to express yourself, to play, to dream. Or to be a princess. When I was young and came to fashion, it was a dream to see a dress that came from another part of the world that I had never seen, that I knew nothing about. I remember the colourful rubber boots that I wanted so badly. Me in those yellow things in Rome, where it never rains! But it was super cool to have them.
You are one of the most influential designers at the helm of one of the most powerful and well-known fashion brands. What do you expect from this year in terms of women’s issues?
Whew… I know next year comes under the sign of Aquarius. And this stands for innovation.
They say in astrological circles that after two hundred years of being earthbound, we are now moving into the air phase.
That is good. Everything is changing. But we should not be obsessive about the future, rather be patient. My dream is that we really understand and implement how to live sustainable, develop more community spirit. It’s time. But I am optimistic and quite excited about the young women. They are strong and courageous. I think they can really make a difference. And that’s all I hope.