The patriarchy is so last season. Dior opened Paris fashion week with a diatribe against sexism spelled out in Barbie pink and McDonald’s yellow, illustrated by a loose-fitting summer wardrobe which designer Maria Grazia Chiuri said was “a rejection of the fashion industrial system which dictates women must conform to an hourglass idea of perfection”. Giant video screens splashed images of housewives in makeup and Marigold gloves, and of curvy models bending obligingly over cars, while feminist placard slogans flashed with neon urgency behind the catwalk.
The words: “Take your hands off when I say no, take your eyes off when I say no” were spelled out on video screens as the first model marched past in loose black layers, a punky choker and black shoes. The second model was defiantly un-pristine in unbuttoned shirt cuffs and tails. However, how the glossy, logo-stamped designer handbag she carried gelled with the words: “Capitalism won’t take her where she really wants to go” on the screen behind her was left notably unresolved at this show.
“Monsieur Dior always emphasised the waist, but I don’t want to do that any more,” said Chiuri before the show. “The idea that we have of Dior comes from the famous images of the New Look, where what you see is always a silhouette, a body. I want to see instead the woman’s face and think about her personality.”
The video installation was created for the occasion by artist Elena Bellantoni, and was commissioned to support the message of a collection which celebrated the ease of unwaisted silhouettes, simple workwear styling and practical kitten heels. There was a pop art spirit to the 7ft screens, with their billboard-sized letters in cheerful newsstand colours. “Women in fashion don’t have to be passive – we can be critics too,” said Chiuri.
Women will be in the spotlight throughout this Paris fashion week, where 67 shows are planned over eight days, as Sarah Burton and Gabriela Hearst present farewell collections for Alexander McQueen and Chloé respectively. But while the goodbyes will be emotional, fashion is hardwired to focus on the future, and the real story of the week is intrigue over the round of designer musical chairs which these two departures will prompt.
Burton and Hearst are both central figures in the industry. Burton took the reins of the McQueen brand following the untimely death of its founder. Hearst departs Chloé after only two years, but has had a significant impact by her determination to put sustainability at the heart of mainstream fashion at Chloé. Both women leave high-profile vacancies which could catapult a new name to industry fame.
The rumour mill is also abuzz with chat that Alessandro Michele, who parted with Gucci last year, is to make a return to the fashion frontline. Fashion shows in New York, London and Milan this month have so far followed in the groove of the consumer appetite for wearable, simple classic pieces and “quiet luxury” over trend. Trend-watchers believe there is a vacancy in the system for a designer with a bold new aesthetic vision of the calibre Michele provided during his flamboyant reign at Gucci.