“A global vision for the Dior brand.”

Creating the very personal language of global fashion.

Italian fashion designer Maria Grazia Chiuri is the new creative director of Dior.

You are the first woman creative director of Dior, following in the footsteps of Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Gianfranco Ferré and Raf Simons. How does it feel?

I have never thought about it like that because then you have the weight of history on you. Having a healthy disregard for history helps me, because otherwise you are trapped by it and you can’t move forward. This disregard is also part of being Italian, of being Roman.

Why is this a Roman trait?

If you live in Rome you get used to living surrounded by history, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do something, even if you are aware that it’s probably already been done better by someone else. When I started working for Dior I felt like a curator, tied into an untouchable heritage and brand. You have to live with that, and you have to know how to emphasize and promote it.

Dior Couture Collection Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Tierney Gearon

Were you nervous when you presented your first collection for Dior in the gardens of the Musée Rodin to the most important and influential people in the fashion world?

I was happy and in high spirits because it was a great opportunity. Obviously you have to be ready for people to like it or not like it, that is part of the game, but it is more important to put yourself out there. It was a great joy to have done something with my heart, with passion and enthusiasm.

Did you take inspiration from the book “We Should All Be Feminists” by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?

I asked myself the question of how to speak to women today. Literature is a reference point in my work and she is a woman who fascinates me. Dior is a brand for women and we can’t use women from the nineteen-fifties as a reference, we need to talk to the women of today.

Dior Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Morgan O’Donovan

Who is the Dior woman of today?

I don’t think that there is a specific Dior woman. Today women aren’t faithful to just one specific brand, so Dior must be a brand that approaches women in a different way. It has to offer its point of view, but at the same time it has to talk to all women, not to specific women.

Is it true that you look to how your daughter Rachele and her friends dress and think?

Yes, absolutely. It would be impossible to do this job without looking to that generation. Women in their twenties are the future. They live in a completely different way. They are completely connected, they have different inspirations, they are much more culturally aware. They are my reference point.

Why do you need to refer to them?

I am not a millennial, but today we live in a world where information comes from the web, where we are all connected. This change is momentous. It’s incredible how Instagram for instance has come into everyone’s lives. It doesn’t just have a visual influence, it influences language. I wasn’t born with a computer in my hand like they were!

Dior Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Morgan O’Donovan

You started out as an accessories designer. How did you first become involved with clothes and fashion?

My mother had a small dressmaker’s shop in Rome. I grew up there. I saw Vogue even as a small child. The fashion world wasn’t so complex back then, it was much simpler. I liked accessories, I’ve always liked shoes and bags, and I liked to draw. I would go to the vintage market in Porta Portese and buy vintage bags. Back then fashion was about designers who had their little fashion houses, simple family-run businesses. I’ve been in fashion for twenty-eight years, and when I was young was almost like prehistoric times compared to how it is today. Prada was a store in Milan, not the Prada of today. It has been a monumental change. Even Dior has gone through an enormous change.

When working at Fendi with your long-time friend Pierpaolo Piccioli you two created the famous “Baguette” bag…

No, we never claimed to have done this. We worked on the team that created the “Baguette” phenomenon.

Dior Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Morgan O’Donovan

After Fendi you again worked with Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino. Is it very different for you at Dior, being in charge by yourself?

No, because I worked with Ms. Fendi and all the founders of the company for nine years. Then I worked with Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti for another ten years, again with the designer and founders. Pierpaolo and I were creative directors for eight years. Fashion is about the ability to work in a team – not just with one colleague, but with an entire company. At Dior I’ve found a great team. There is this romantic idea of the designer alone in a room, but fashion is no longer like that. A designer needs to have a vision, but the team needs to work day in and day out to execute that vision.

Valentino said that your feet are firmly planted on the ground. Is that true?

I don’t intend to lose my sense of reality. I don’t want to be too trusting. I want to keep my feet on the ground. This type of creative work also has a societal aspect to it, because so many people work in this industry. You need to have a good head on your shoulders about what you are doing and not just think about yourself. This is incredibly important from a societal point of view.

Does keeping your feet on the ground also help you combine the creative and business sides?

Having my feet on the ground helps me create a fit that works for all women. This work is also about professionalism. To make a jacket that fits well is important. There’s also a very technical side to this job.

Dior Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Janette Beckman

How does fashion work? What does your job as creative director of Dior entail?

First and foremost it entails having a global vision for the Dior brand, finding a way to interpret this brand while respecting the past. To promote the heritage, but also to use it in a contemporary way to speak to this new generation of customers who reflect our times.

Dior is a very big organisation?

Enormous. It is a worldwide company. I’ve maybe seen one-tenth of it after eight months. There are about 5,000 people worldwide and 197 stores. Dior himself had 1,000 employees and five buildings in Avenue Montaigne.  I found this amazing book in the archives that showed a map of the world where he had opened his fashion houses. He was a worldwide brand, an amazing feat for the times. He had a branch in New York and immediately realised that American women had a sportier, more practical lifestyle than French women, so he decided to simplify his clothes.

What countries is Dior most successful in today?

This is a worldwide brand. We sell all over, to all women, French, European, American, Asian. Women follow fashion all over the world. You either follow fashion or you don’t, it isn’t linked to one country. I always say you either are fashionable or you are not.

What does it mean to be fashionable?

To be interested in fashion as a form of self-expression. To be interested in what designers do. There are many more people who are interested in the cultural phenomenon of fashion than you might think. Today it’s easier to get the information, so there’s more curiosity.

Dior Couture Collection Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Tierney Gearon

What future changes are you planning?

I’m creatively instinctive. I don’t think you can plan all that much. Fashion is also absolutely instinctive, representing what you feel in the moment. It isn’t a product that can be planned or it wouldn’t be fashion.

Do you need a lot of money to follow fashion?

There is a big difference between following fashion and “consuming” it. You can easily follow it without “consuming” it. I am very interested in art. When I have time I go to see exhibitions, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a collector. It is one thing to follow fashion or be interested in it, and it’s another thing entirely to buy fashion.

Is fashion culture and art?

In my opinion, fashion is culture. In any case, it’s a language. Therefore, as a language it might interest you, but you could just be interested in following it without having to buy it.

What have the biggest changes been since you began working in fashion?

Communications have completely changed fashion. There are more people interested and fashion companies have grown as a result. They definitely weren’t this big before. Supply and demand have grown. Everything has gone from small organisations to really big ones.

Dior Spring/Summer 2017. Phto: Morgan O’Donovan

What is the difference between working in fashion in Rome and in Paris?

In Paris the concept of fashion is linked to a tradition of haute couture, while in Italy, not just in Rome, there is more ready-to-wear. Ready-to-wear began in Italy with Armani, Versace and Valentino. Haute couture started in France. This is the main difference between the two cultures. France emphasizes its tradition and its heritage in an incredible way, Italy is more ready for change because it is more tied to ready-to-wear and the seasonal nature of fashion. This difference changes your approach and how you work. Italian companies are incredibly fast in certain ways but sometimes they forget to promote their heritage because they are always pushing ahead, looking to innovation and what’s new. France is very good at promoting its heritage, but at times it has a hard time with change and what’s new.

Armani imagines a woman who goes to the office or goes out to dinner with her husband. Prada is more extravagant and turns fashion on its ear, turns bad taste into good taste.

They are different languages.

Now that you work for Dior do you feel more French or more Italian? Will Dior become more Italian with you as creative director?

I am an Italian woman working in a French company. I have a daughter who lives in London, a husband in Rome – I feel European.  Dior will always be French. I hope to bring the best from both cultures, to emphasize haute couture but make it work in a more updated dimension, perhaps more tied to the mentality of Italian ready-to-wear.

Fashion is also in the United States, Japan and other places…

However, fashion started in France and Italy. There’s no doubt that the United States and Japan and other countries have their own specific niches. Sportswear began in America.

Dior Couture Collection Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Tierney Gearon

What country do you think has the most talented people?

Talent can be everywhere. It isn’t tied to one’s nationality. Talent has no rules.

Many top brands were started in the 20th century, but now there aren’t so many new names. There isn’t a new Gaultier or a new Alaia or a new Armani…?

Today it is much more difficult because the world is totally different. Today any talented young person who wants to create his own brand finds himself in a world that is so expensive and competitive, and this wasn’t the case before. He needs to find someone to finance him. Today, if a young person, for example, wants to simply hold a fashion show, if he doesn’t have a group financing him, how can he do it? It’s impossible. Marco de Vincenzo, a talented young Italian designer with his own brand, was, thank goodness, picked up by the LVMH group. Otherwise how could he hold a fashion show in Milan, or create an advertising campaign, or buy the furnishings to open a shop, much less open a shop?

It seems that the trend today is for the old name brands to bring in new talented designers. Did you ever want to have your own fashion house and be like Elsa Schiaparelli or Coco Chanel?

For the love of God, no thank you! I have never thought of founding a fashion house, because it brings with it certain things that I have no desire to do. I prefer to work for a big brand rather than have my own brand. Also because, realistically speaking, it is very complicated to do something like this today. Even in other professions I don’t see many people being that enterprising, because it’s a more complex world where it isn’t so easy to do these kinds of things.

Did you change the classic D of the Dior logo with J’ADIOR?

I haven’t changed the logo of ‘J’Adore’ by Dior. I have a playful side to me and fashion has a playful side. Women also want to have fun with fashion. I think J’ADIOR really represents women today because it really sums up the message. If I had to write a hashtag I’d write JADIOR. Today, everything is about speaking concisely, making up new words with this new way of talking.

Even in fashion there is the world before the Internet and the world after the Internet?

Yes, but even there clothes change accordingly because it’s all a big change. What I am trying to say is that time passes in a different way. Even the past is going by faster. There isn’t the normal sense of time that we used to have.  Before something from ten years ago didn’t seem so old, whereas today…

Is business better or the same in this new world?

I don’t know how to answer that question because it is also much more complicated, but the fact is that we cannot not pay attention to the business side of things.

How long in advance do you have to prepare your collections?

There are two ready-to-wear collections, two couture collections, and two pre-collections. It is a continuous thing, it never slows down and in this sense fashion is very fast. You need to really get out there, find inspiration and understand what you are feeling at a particular moment so you can put it out there for discussion.

Dior Couture Collection Spring/Summer 2017. Photo: Tierney Gearon

Even in fashion is there the world before the Internet and the world after the Internet,?

Yes, but even there clothes change accordingly because it’s all a big change. What I am trying to say is that time passes in a different way. Even the past is going by faster. There isn’t the normal sense of time that we used to have.  Before something from ten years ago didn’t seem so old, whereas today…

Why is black your favourite colour?

I think we are the “black generation”. Black comes from punk, it cancels out. It also allows you to think freely. It’s like a shield, a uniform.  It has an austere aspect. It is so full of meaning.

Do women still dream about long dresses, evening gowns and bridal gowns?

Every woman dreams about fairy-tale occasions. I often say that unfortunately fairy tales don’t exist, but it is better to have a dream.

What colours would you make yours in?

If it’s going to be a dream, it has to be a personal dream. I would ask a woman what colour she wanted. As for wedding dresses, I don’t think they need to be white. Today, a woman who decides to get married can choose whatever colour she wants. What is important is that she is happy.

Do you ever run out of ideas?

Honestly, no. There are always things around you that inspire you, something that piques your intellect and curiosity. What’s important is to know how to observe, and to be curious about everything. I am very curious. I am interested in everything. Reading, seeing films, and seeing exhibitions are all very intellectually stimulating. I love to learn and discover new things.

Dior Couture Collection 2017. Photo: Francois Roelants

Then you go into your atelier and set right to work on these inspirations?

You start working on it, start doing research. You get an inspiration and it’s like a wonderful treasure hunt where one thing leads to another. An image leads you to a book that leads you to a character that leads you to an artist….

Do you like to work at a fast pace?

I am a woman that goes fast in life. I have the ability to be concise. Fashion is fast, the world is fast, and life is fast. I have a great desire to live, but there is not a lot of time.

After twenty-eight years what is your enduring impression of fashion?

For me it is a language, an expression. I have a great passion for this job, and I have a lot of fun. If the time comes that I am no longer having fun I think I will stop, but I think it’s wonderful creatively to start anew with each collection, with new inspirations and new ideas. Even though twenty-eight years have passed I still have a lot of enthusiasm. As long as I have this attitude it’s all OK, because it is a very challenging job.

What is your language?

My language is to create fashion where Dior pieces can become personal for each person. Each person can interpret them or wear them in her own way. My job is to create a Dior wardrobe where each woman can mix and match in a personal way. Nowadays there’s a great desire to be part of a community, but at the same time there’s a great desire to be unique. Each person, even if she recognizes the values of the Dior brand, still wants to be able to use those values in a strictly personal and unique way.


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April 23rd, 2017

All images courtesy of Dior.