• Text Alex James Taylor
  • 27th September 2017

Beat artists

The inspiration for Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest Dior offering was loud and clear. Outside the Musee Rodin, the Dior showspace was fronted by a giant stone facade, etched with a quote by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. “If life is a game of cards we are born without knowing the rules yet we must play our hand throughout the ages. Poets, philosophers, alchemists, artists have devoted themselves to discovering their meaning.” Inside, the space was the equivalent of being inside a vast glitterball as 80,000 mirrored mosaics decorated the walls and ceiling, inspired by De Saint Phalle’s totally out-there Tuscan Taret Garden.

Delving through the house’s archives, Grazia Chiuri stumbled across a series of photographs of De Saint Phalle and became fascinated by the artist and her relationship with the then-Dior designer Marc Bohan. Known for her inimitable sense of style – think Parisian boho, all black turtlenecks, berets, stripes, silk dresses and fur coats – and her passion, as a feminist and an early AIDS activist, De Saint Phalle exhibited all the qualities of Grazia Chiuri’s woman. (As the first woman at the helm of Dior, the designer knows all about muscling her way into a male-dominated arena.)

De Saint Phalle’s influence was evident from the get-go. It was there in the classic French Breton striped tops, the blue veiled berets, the sequinned mini dresses, the long trench coats and those 60s dolly-girl dresses, while the artist’s works were translated into prints, knitted patterns and embellishments. And those full skirts sliced down the front to reveal dresses or jumpsuits underneath? A direct nod to Marc Bohan’s time at Dior.

A buzzing clash of now and then, 60s tropes continued in the form of Barbarella knee-high silver boots, patchwork leather jackets, multi-coloured heart motifs and a series of leather MOTO driver jumpsuits – inspired by an image of De Saint Phalle wearing a similar style while pointing a gun at plastic bags filled with paint to create her iconic ‘shooting’ works. Meanwhile, black leather coats, witchy hats, red and black stipe shirts and black funeral-esque netting were all very Beetlejuice, straight from Lydia Deetz’s wardrobe. 

Last September, at Grazia Chiuri’s debut Dior collection, the designer sent models down the runway in ‘We should all be feminists’ T-shirts. This season that mantra was switched for the subversive, ‘Why have there been no great women artists,’ taken from the title of a groundbreaking 1971 article by feminist art scholar Linda Nochlin – a fact lost on some angry Twitter users who took the slogan at face value – a copy of which lay on each seat. Dior homework, season three.