It's a story that begins with her; with a smile... an infectious laugh. The eyes are quick; they look without judging. The rings are like messages wrapped around her fingers, and there's that absolutely light-weight blonde. It's like the lightness that Maria Grazia Chiuri recalls on several occasions while talking about her new adventure at Dior. It can't be said that it's easy, in fact. An important creative maison and a business size that doesn't go unnoticed, at the center of high aesthetic waves and recent financial manoeuvres by the luxury Lvmh armor. Between flashes of photographers, red carpet, shop windows, celebrities, shops and fashion shows all over the world. A machine with inertial force that did not resist to opening its heart to the charm of a quick refresh, just like popping its fingers. It took just a word: J'Adior. Click. "I think of today's woman. I want to talk to the boys, to the millennial generation," Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of the women's haute couture, pret-à-porter and accessories of the French fashion house, told MFF-Magazine For Fashion. "After all, I'm being asked to drive this brand to the future, so I need to talk to them. I'm now, they're tomorrow." The Dio(r)evolution started without forgetting the past. This will be evident in the show to be inaugurated next July to celebrate the 70 years of the maison, from its founder until the arrival of Chiuri. The mission is to merge heritage and tomorrow.
Maria Grazia Chiuri - Dior
Stefano Roncato: What was it like to take high fashion to Tokyo?
Maria Grazia Chiuri: It was the first time I had walked the catwalk. However, I felt that the moment was a bit special. Apart from the fact that the show took place on the roof of Ginza Six, the entire fashion world was there. Everyone was opening their shops in this mall, and it seemed as if Italian and French fashion had moved to Tokyo...
SR: How important is Japan?
MGC: It’s historically important because it's the most adult market, where fashion has always been perceived and understood. Definitely strategic, because succeeding there means that your work is recognised. On the other hand, there has been a colonising appearance also in the past, in the 1980's, when it wasn't so mature. Today, in fact, all companies have to invest in a different way, to give awareness of the values of the company. I've been to Japan many times, even to Kyoto. I really like it because it's a country that places a strong focus on tradition, but also pushes for modernity. It reminds me of London, with the queen and the punks. I like countries where different aspects coexist. It's stimulating. From the emperor to the geisha on up to the cybernetics. And then there's the language, with a twist of "Lost in Translation."
SR: Talking about commitment, how about a first evaluation of this period at Dior?
MGC: Positive. Personally positive, I honestly enjoy it. I'm very lucky at this time of my life. I want to work with fashion because I enjoy it. It's okay as it is.
SR: How does it feel to be the first female designer of Dior, so far always in the hands of men?
MGC: I don't think about it. More than anything else, I want to try to do something that communicates with women. And that somehow helps women not to be defined by others or by fashion, but to define themselves alone. I love women. What I'm doing is a personal thing for me, it's a dialogue be-tween me and my daughter.
SR: What do you want to tell your daughter?
MGC: That she has to define herself. Not to be defined by others. That fashion should be used as a game, in her own way. Free to be as she feels like.
SR: So, freedom... How important is it today?
MGC: That is essential. I realised this when my children grew up. I also thought I was quite free, however, we were influenced by stereotypes, education, and the system. We aren't really so free from the judgment of others. And that isn't good. You have to reason with your head, follow your instinct and have your point of view. You need the courage to be yourself, but it's very difficult. You immediately feel cornered, and it becomes a limit to your creativity; to your happiness. I wish my children were happy, but to be so, you must not be imprisoned by these things. You must at least give it a try.
SR: And is she happy about this adventure?
MGC: Very much, otherwise I wouldn't do it. Because it takes a lot of sacrifice, being in a city that isn't mine, leaving the people I love, I had to make choices. Even physical commitment. From Monday to Friday I'm in Paris; then, at the weekend, in Rome.
SR: How was the change to start working for a big French company?
MGC: French companies are different from Italian ones, although they have points in common. The French can value their heritage. The strength of Italians is the ability to get involved, to be flexible. I'm trying to put the best of both cultures together.
SR: At your first show, you said you had recovered the heritage of all the designers who had come after Monsieur...
MGC: In my opinion, in a company that's 70 years old, you must be a curator. You can't pretend that there has been a hole after ten years of Monsieur Dior. It seems anachronistic, like erasing sixty years. Dior's decade was fundamental, he was the founder and he gave the imprimatur to this company. And the more I get to know him, the more I understand he was a genius. He immediately made it worldwide. In 1947, two years after the war, he showed in Australia. Then he was in cities like Buenos Aires, Havana, New York. There was a brochure, created after the first six years, with all his branches, growth charts, perfumes, labels. Chapeau. On the other hand, there was another 60 years. For my generation, the reference in Dior was John Galliano. As an Italian I remember Gianfranco Ferré very well, and, by the way, some friends of mine worked there. Marc Bohan did a lot at Dior. You can't close your eyes to a more recent Raf Simons. Hedi Slimane was fundamental, needless to say. He created Dior Homme and changed the aesthetics for men. It seems anachronistic to me not to be lucid with respect to these talents and it's necessary to act as a curator. I repeat this isn't my brand, I'm here to become the artistic director. But then there will be a future.
SR: What did it mean to talk about feminism from a stage like Dior's?
MGC: I honestly talked about feminism because when I came to Dior, it was very much emphasised by the appearance of a female brand, an expression of femininity. It was the slogan. He said that women are like a flower. As a woman I thought of what women want today and they want equal opportunities. My mother's generation fought for equal opportunities, and I was a beneficiary, but I took it for granted. As if once you get them, you no longer need to talk about them. At one point, a cold shower. It isn't true, it wasn't acquired. We are the way we were. It will be necessary to start talking, again about tolerance and about equal opportunities. I was lucky, first with my family and then working for Fendi with five women.
SR: What did you keep from working with Fendi and Valentino?
MGC: I'm still in touch with the sisters; with Anna, Paola and Carla, and obviously also with Silvia. There's a strong affection, I recognise that they've taught me so much. It's important to work with a company's founders. They explain it to you; they tell you how everything works. When I meet them it's as if not even one day has passed. I also learned a lot from Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti. Another kind of approach is that they shared their founders' experience with me. I don't deny that I was quick to understand it.
SR: What is one thing about them you'll remember?
MGC: Valentino is determination itself. He is the man with the fewest doubts I've ever met in my life. The ladies are all about questioning themselves in a constructive way. It's a continuous exchange, never leaving an idea for the next season. It's better to do it right now, never lose the moment.
SR: After Valentino with Pierpaolo Piccioli, what was it like to be under the spotlight alone?
MGC: I don't feel alone. There's a great staff that supports me, with whom I relate, with so many people from different backgrounds, cultures and languages. It's a more international company. French, English and Italian are spoken here. One always takes for granted how the words are of great value. Speaking the same language makes it easier. It's more complex but also stimulating. And I'm a very curious person.
SR: The market has well received your arrival. How was your Dio(r)evolution?
MGC: Honestly, the first show was made without thinking. Not even four weeks, pure instinct. I just thought of how everyone says this company represents femininity and women. I say how women are today. Very personal. There are so many aspects that belong to me. I was formed with ideas of very high quality; of craftsmanship. There's also a pop aspect that's part of my generation. On the other hand, there’s this constant dialogue with my children. They're my reference, they're future generations. I don't talk to myself, but I talk to them. In speaking to them, I understand myself. So, I question myself. It was so personal that I did not realise it. I'm instinctive.
SR: Is it nice to see people understand this change?
MGC: I did not know if they would understand. I needed to do what I felt like. After all, in this moment I'm working this way. Urgency to do and say. It probably depends on the age. I'm in that moment of my life in which you do things because you feel like doing them. Very lightly.
SR: Even in the backstage, you seem to have this lightness...
MGC: Everything but stressed. I can be tired because there is so much to do. It isn't stress, but enthusiasm to accomplish everything. Fashion has to be fun, it's a nice, creative job. And then, living in Paris, I feel like a transfer student. At the time of Fendi, I lived in Florence with my fiancée at that time, my husband nowadays, and I traveled to and from Rome for eight years. Suddenly you come back to that kind of life, invite people home for dinner, a home that isn't a family home. I came back to live as when I was 25 years old. I also say it to the guys who work in the office.
SR: Feminine imprint, sparkle and determination. A compliment, they say the "pink avalanche" has arrived at Dior...
MGC: Always for the usual lightness that accompanies me, or for blissful consciousness, I did not realise it. If there was any obstacle, I did not even see it. I did not reflect too much. Actually, they all seemed very available.
SR: That is a good thing. Energy, drag...
MGC: It was summer when I arrived here. There was only one month to make the collection. It was fun. I don't feel that I'm working, that's the truth. It's as if they give you a new game. But with the awareness of being able to play.
SR: The first moment you were impressed by Dior?
MGC: The size shocked me at the beginning. I must be honest. Besides Sidney Toledano, the press office has also provided a lot of support. It's a very big machine, it takes time to understand.
SR: How does it feel to see some of your pieces already sold out?
MGC: I'm glad. It means they're appealing. The greatest satisfaction is seeing that people love what you do. They buy it, they wear it. I'm very proud. This fills you with responsibility, to do it well again. At the end, no designer is ever satisfied. I have this risk, and it comes from my education. I had a very demanding mother. It can be done better. Instead, it's great to learn to stop for five minutes, happy and satisfied. And then start over.
SR: Is it true that there are men who buy Dior?
MGC: It's nice, I saw guys with T-shirts, jackets, bags or fencers. But there are also women who buy Dior Homme sneakers. I myself, in the 90's, was wearing male blue techno satin Prada trousers. It seems very normal to me that people buy what they feel like.
SR: And J'Adior? Were you sure it would work?
MGC: I did not think whether it could work or not. I did it, I did not tell anyone. Because language has simply changed. It was made more synthetic by Instagram, which has not only changed fashion but image as well. It's one of the things I argue about the most with my son and daughter. What do they tell me? That I use too many words.
SR: A word to summarise this concept...
MGC: How do you say J'adore Dior? You say J'Adior. It was born in the kitchen of my home in Rome, where we were working. The thing I like most is that you have to contextualise and conceptualise what you're doing. Who is your interlocutor? I want to talk to these guys, these women, to the millennial generation. After all, I'm being asked to drive this brand to the future, so I need to talk to them. I'm now, they're tomorrow."
By Stefano Roncato - MFF Magazine for Fashion
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