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Whether you’re a tailoring aficionado of long or recent standing – or an agnostic – the jacket that’s emerging as a front runner for your next Very Important Purchase is a little cropped, collarless thing that just happens to work brilliantly over dresses as well as with the high-waisted wider-legged trousers that have insinuated their way into our wardrobes lately.
In the six years she has been Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri has done a huge amount to modernise and re-popularise the classic Bar jacket that Christian Dior introduced in his first collection for his label in 1947 – a serious piece of structured engineering that, in its original form, came with horse hair padded peplums and tightly girded waists. Now she’s introduced a cropped jacket – similar to the styles first spotted in the cruise collection, which she showed in Seville three weeks ago (no it’s not you, designers’ collections come round with disorientating speed now).
On Monday, Chiuri presented the label’s Autumn couture collection in Paris – and there The Crop was again. This time it has been stripped of its matador references and acquired Ukrainian-inspired embroideries. Versatility is one of this jacket’s strengths. Whichever way you dish it up, it tends to look terrific. You don’t have to ditch your blazers – that way of thinking is so 2019. But now you have options.
“All” you have to do is get the proportions right. In fashion “right” is a movable feast. 1980s cropped jackets invariably came with mini skirts. Now designers are showing them with flared trousers and sweeping midi skirts. Yes, skirts are making a comeback. Dior’s feature pleats, delicate passementerie and lace trims, fringed hems and ruching at the waist, a detail that was also in MaxMara’s show in Lisbon last week. Interestingly, this is already starting to appear on the high street (All Saints currently has ruched black cotton maxi skirts). If the band of ruching is sufficiently deep and supportive, it can be surprisingly flattering.
Lightness is now part of Dior’s signature – a fringe benefit of the stellar workmanship produced by this house’s Paris workrooms, but also an important emblem for Chiuri. “It’s so important that women can move in their clothes,” she noted backstage. To this end, patchwork dresses were composed of black lace and guipure. Silk, translucent chiffons fluttered past. Blanket coats with ladder work seams looked weightless and effortlessly comfortable, while hand loomed fabrics and raw hems gave precious clothes a slightly rugged, not-just-for-best approachability that seems so much more modern than the do-not-touch finish that used to be the dominant feature of couture. Inspired by Ukrainian artist Olesia Trofymenko, Chiuri incorporated the latter’s depictions of the tree of life into pleated dresses and blouses… this is an intensely detailed collection that wears its craftsmanship lightly.
It can be jarring when designers make political statements – Chiuri doesn’t, but asked a straight question she tries to give a straight answer. Wearing a We Should All be Feminists T-shirt from one of her early collections, she confessed to being alarmed about what the overturning of Roe V Wade means for women’s rights across the world. She questions the role of very expensive couture when a war is raging in Europe and inflation is on the gallop across the world. Ultimately her job is to make clothes. She uses the couture wing of Dior as a vehicle for connecting disparate groups of artisans and giving them undreamt-of exposure – and to feed ideas of pragmatic, wearable, elegance into the mainstream fashion system.