Last autumn, Dior dressed Queen Camilla in a navy blue cape dress for a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles. Dior may be sweeping all before it on the red carpet currently, with celebrities from Elizabeth Debicki and Natalie Portman to Jennifer Lawrence and Rosamund Pike wearing its designs, but royalty and Britophilia are never far from its heart - in 1954, 1958 and 2016 Dior presented at Blenheim Palace.
Creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest couture collection, brimful of wasp-waisted silhouettes, is a case in point. Princess Margaret, who chose a multi-layered tulle couture Dior dress from the house’s “Oblique” line to wear to her 21st birthday party in 1951 – and became a loyal patron of the house – would have found plenty that seemed familiar, and at the same discombobulatingly strange, thanks to the vastly different construction methods used today.
Inspired by a 1952 dress from the archives called La Cigale (the cicada), Chiuri created a procession of shin-length skirts for 2024 that had all the fullness and spindly cicada-like angles of the originals, but without their padding and heaviness.
With La Cigale, Christian Dior attempted to prove there was far more to him than accomplished nostalgia. From a distance, the silhouette is classic New Look, but closer inspection reveals some almost futurist, fin-tail like folds.
“Christian Dior wanted La Cigale almost to have the look of an 18th-century panniered dress,” explained Chiuri. “I wanted the 2024 version to feel almost like a paréo.”
Of course she does. Chiuri has made feminism a core principle of this most feminine of houses – two objectives that aren’t always compatible. In her seven years at the house she has made Dior a platform for feminist writers and artists, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to the installation artist Isabella Ducrot who created the woven wall hangings that adorned this catwalk.
“My job is to eliminate as much of the internal engineering as possible,” Chiuri said of this collection. Bar jackets featured as strongly as ever, and lighter than ever. But just to add another layer of temporal ambiguity, Chiuri made many of the dresses in moire taffeta. It’s a technique of pressing on silk that imprints it with a watermark-like pattern and while it was hugely popular in the 1750s and again in the 1950s, there’s only one factory in France, outside Lyon, that still does it, mainly for soft furnishings.
Just as you could see how skilled Chiuri is at designing grand yet comfortable statements in the midnight blue dress Queen Camilla wore last year, specially adapted to display the sapphire and diamond necklace that had originally been given to the late Queen by her father, King George for her wedding in 1947, so here too, in this collection, the emphasis is on featherweight dressing up.
These clothes may be jewelled, feathered and unmistakably precious, but they’re designed to facilitate and project a modern ease.
There were more capes and swooping necklines, although nothing looked immediately appropriate for Camilla. Then again, the beauty of couture is that it can be infinitely tweaked.