She’s probably the most well-known name in fashion today, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director at Dior is making sure her message is heard.
A self-proclaimed feminist, the Italian-born fashion designer together with the House of Dior is re-defining the way femininity is perceived in the world.
When Maria Grazia Chiuri joined the House of Dior in 2016, Chiuri was already well-respected in the industry after stints at Fendi, Saint Laurent, John Galliano and of course Valentino, where she worked alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli for almost two decades. Since joining Dior, Chiuri has gone from strength to strength, creating collections that not only respect the history of the brand but also represent her own personality and values.
Maria Grazia Chiuri has a huge job to fulfil. At the helm of one of the world’s biggest fashion houses, there is, of course, a lot of pressure, but the designer seems to take it all in her stride and whatever she does, she does with passion.
This year alone Chiuri has already presented the Haute Couture spring/summer 2019 collection in Paris, autumn/winter 2019/2020 Ready-to-wear and most recently Cruise 2019, for which she travelled to Marrakech to put on a spectacular show.
Well-known for her love of embracing the many different cultures of the world, earlier this year Chiuri travelled to Dubai to present her Haute Couture collection that had previously been seen in Paris, as well as introducing an exclusive capsule collection for the region. This month her latest pre-fall collection arrives in stores, as well as an exclusive Dior Or capsule collection.
Fresh from her show in Dubai A&E sat down with the Creative Director for a very honest and fascinating conversation.
A&E Interviews Maria Grazia Chiuri
What goes through your mind just as a show is about to start?
Honestly, the first thing is that I’m happy because we arrived on time! Because the mission is to arrive on time with a collection that you like. For the Dubai show, when we decided to make a special collection they told me “OK you can do 10 dresses” then I said, “no, please we need to do 50!” And the negotiations between me and the atelier happened because it’s also very hard for them. So I’m very happy because I realised my vision and my project.
At the same time with every show, you feel like it’s an exam because you hope that everyone will enjoy it with you. To come to a fashion show is not only to see a collection, it is to invite the audience to have an emotion, and sometimes you don’t know if they will get the same feeling that you have. So you try to create that emotion and translate this new moment for them.
You designed exclusive Haute Couture pieces for the Middle East region why did you feel it was important to do this?
I think it’s important to travel around the world in order to feel the influence of each place that you’re in. It’s very different to show in Dubai compared with Paris. We tried to think more about Dubai with the pieces to introduce something that is in the same story but at the same time, especially in the colours, is a change of attitude. When you are in Dubai you think about colour, not greys so we used a lot more colour in the pieces. We tried to translate the feeling Dubai gives so that it was relevant and had a different attitude to the way we speak in Paris.
What’s been the feedback from the collection so far?
I saw the people enjoying the moment and that’s very important. I came here with the idea to put on a show that could be a moment people enjoy and I felt that happened and that makes me very happy. When you move around the world it’s a lot of work not only for the designer but for the whole company. There is a big production for us and our job is completely different from when we are in our atelier or office back in Paris. There are so many people working so many hours with jet lag it’s not easy.
And you brought the tent all the way from Paris?
This question is fun because people think it came from Dubai but no, honestly we worked so hard preparing for the show. We have to find the girls, fly them, find their visas, there are many practical things that have to be considered. You have to find local people to help you and realise the set up here – it’s a big production.
Why do you think pre-fall collections are important now?
The pre-collections are important because they are the collections that are in the store most of the time. It’s very important for the business, and also very important for the women because they find a collection that starts in summer and sees them through to winter. So it’s a collection that works all around the world. Of course, the temperature around the world isn’t the same and the collection has to work everywhere. But at the same time you have to give an image that is very clear and specific, it has to have the Dior codes but also represent a historical moment, as well as having an idea of functionality – this is very important.
What can you tell us about the Cruise show?
I’m very excited about it because I will close my eyes and think of summer. We are going to Marrakech and we are very happy because it is a place that is behind Africa and Europe, so I really think that we need to create a collection that speaks like fashion is a common ground. I am working on this direction for the next collection and I will try to have some collaborations with women and artists that come from this country. I really believe that it’s very important to send a message about common grounds.
You are a self-proclaimed feminist and we often see this through your designs – can you tell us what it means to you to express your views in this way?
For me, it’s very important because honestly when I started to work in fashion many years ago, I didn’t understand how a dress is worn so close to our body and it’s therefore so important that we express ourselves with clothes. When I started to work in fashion I had this really naïve idea that it was a way to express myself. I was very lucky because I grew up in a family who supported me and encouraged me to express myself and find my way, but at the same time, times have changed and what we believed was normal I now understand is not. Things are completely different today and the message is different. Honestly, that shocked me a lot.
When I started to work with Fendi it was a company that was really focused on women so I never felt like there was a problem. I was very lucky in this way. After having my son and daughter I understood that this is not the case for everyone. Now I have travelled I have seen many different things. When I joined Dior the first thing they told me was that Dior is a feminine brand. That was probably the moment that I decided that I wanted to speak about feminism.
I started this big reflection about fashion and what I was going to be doing. I decided that it was very important for me, but also for the brand, to start a new conversation about women, men and femininity. I never imagined at the time that the world was so ready to perceive this message, it was a very personal thing but the timing was perfect. I never thought something that was so personal would be so universal.
I’m studying a lot about this argument. The time is so different now. We live in a world that changes very quickly and for many years we didn’t reflect on how lucky we are. I criticise my past because I had an education, but no international education. So I never got to see the things my son and daughter see and get all of the information they have access to.
I tell my daughter she is so lucky that she studied in London. I have found many ways to study and understand the time we live in today. I think around the world there are many girls like me who have not had these opportunities, so I want to use the power of fashion and the power of Dior to send a message to these people to read books and research and get the support to learn about themselves and the times we are in.
You have spoken of your wish to make women feel confident – how do you think you are doing this with the pieces you create?
I don’t think it’s about dresses. Yes, a dress can help you to be confident but before you wear the dress you have to be confident in yourself. You have to really understand your personal style and that will help you to be confident. I really want to make collections that give a point of view of course, but at the same time, I want all the women that come to Dior to choose a piece and adapt it to their own personal style. I don’t want to impose a look. I think that’s something that’s in the past. We are all different and it’s about expressing that.
When I think about my past, my family liked to dress me like a ‘pretty girl’ and I remember I liked to have denim pants and a military jacket from the flea market! And so for me, fashion was about freedom. But as generations changed people were sent another message that they had to dress in a certain way. I want to give another message, one that says: “people are to use fashion to enjoy the dream and to express themselves”. Fashion is nice when you play with it.
I really love when I see men and women mixing pieces – that really fascinates me, I spend hours looking at them and the way they are styling clothes. It needs to be a creative thing, it’s super nice when people mix the looks in a different way. It’s more about expressing you and your attitude and less about the clothes.
We hear you are a perfectionist – what are the details that you find hardest to perfect?
I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist! I grew up with a very traditional idea of fashion. So I really like things that are well done with good craftsmanship. That’s part of my Italian culture and part of my generation. This is what I really love. I know that now with new media and new audiences people look more at image.
I know the power of image, but at the same time I think a luxury brand, especially a couture brand, needs something more. So it’s in the details. We have to propose to our audience something that has value. The craftsmanship and the human touch is what makes the difference.
What is one thing that inspires you in the fashion world?
I think all designers have clothes that are in part something that is in their memory from when they were young. So for me, I really like uniforms, denim, these kinds of things because this was the first time I tried sportswear. I grew up with this idea of Haute Couture and I was fascinated by it, especially things that came from other countries because it was unusual to have these things in Italy.
Now it’s different of course, but I remember the first time I went to a flea market. It was great! So probably because they came from outside of Italy, I was fascinated by these things. I think because I grew up in a place that was not so multicultural it was something new and different from what I had in my normal life. I was very fascinated by other ways to dress from around the world.
To what extent is storytelling important in runway shows today?
I think what’s more important is to give an emotion and to create an atmosphere so the audience takes this emotion with them. When I create a collection I like to think of a film that I have in my mind. So probably more than telling a story it’s the film that you want to create. Especially when you have a show in another location because you dream about this place and imagine it as a film. It’s a very visual job.
The inspirations behind your collections are often very focused – what are your main triggers of inspiration?
My personal life. When I went to London and saw the Dior V&A exhibition, that influenced me. Honestly, when you start a collection it’s like starting a film. You know, in some cases, the location but you don’t know the final film because only when everything is ready, will the image be clear. Everything that happens in your life you somehow translate this into your job – sometimes I’m shocked about that! If you are open-minded and travelling the world you receive a lot of information and this is inspiring.
This kind of job isn’t a job that you do closed in your room alone, it’s one where you see many things, meet many different people and you become inspired. Right now I’m fascinated by calligraphy and I love art. I’m learning all the time – I’m a very curious woman and new things excite me.
When you look back at the history of the brand how do you think you are continuing its legacy today?
For me it’s natural. It’s like if you come from Rome you know that you have a lot of history and you have to live this history in a way that is very natural. I don’t think you have to respect this history like it’s a museum but you can touch it. You have to appreciate this incredible history and legacy but at the same time, you have to translate it in a way that is for now. It’s like if you were given a beautiful house from your parents but you live there with your own personality. You respect that it’s beautiful and its value, but at the same time you need to put your own touch on it. Of course, you feel the responsibility to take care because it has a beautiful history.
You always have a certain femininity to your designs – why do you think it’s important for women to feel feminine?
I don’t think feminine is something you can define with what you wear. It’s more of a process. I don’t think women were born feminine, I think that as you grow, you define your femininity. It is something very personal. It’s not about what you wear. I never think of myself as feminine, I think of myself as Maria Grazia – but I don’t know what that is! I have to define that step by step in my life.
What is the biggest challenge you face today?
A big challenge is to try to make something good for the future. I really feel that we have to think about the future and future generations. My generation was very lucky. We didn’t know many things, so we probably have to listen more than the new generation. The problem that we have is that we have to try and make something different for the future.
What is a life lesson you can share with us?
So many! I’ve learnt a lot of lessons. The first that comes to mind is that – I don’t know why – but I grew up with many stereotypical ideas. I don’t know where they come from. I think that we have to lose this and we have to try and take away all stereotypes. This for me was a big lesson. But it’s not our fault, I don’t know where it comes from but I really detest this idea now and so that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt.
What is the motto that you live your life by?
My motto is “everything you can do is good if you do it with passion.” It’s an Italian motto that’s quite difficult to translate into English. It’s not important where you arrive, but it’s important that you do your trip in a way that you enjoy.
If you had not become a fashion designer what would you be doing today?
I never planned to be where I am, and so I don’t know what else I would be. I started this job with passion and a very simple ambition to find a job to pay to rent a house and buy a car – very simple things! But I did it with passion. Now I know I am working with a credible brand that is so well-known around the world so I feel a responsibility, as I don’t represent only myself, I represent the brand. I think that I have to work in a way that is not important just for me, but for all the people that work with the brand.
What would you still like to achieve at Dior?
My goal is to move the brand into the future and change the stereotypical idea that there is about femininity around the world. I want to show women in a different way and to have a conversation with all the women with an open mind and a different point of view.