Exclusive and Unaccomodating: Dior's Feminist Statement / Elspeth Taylor
As the first female creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s feminist mantras seem fitting, until you see that the garments don’t.
The naked female body has a difficult history with the feminist movement. Long seen as the fetishised subject of the male gaze, women historically have been chastised for the unveiling and even veiling of their naked forms, leading to reductive categorisations such as the virgin/whore complex. And, according to the feminist activist and artist group, Guerrilla Girls, less than 4% of the Modern art section in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is work executed by female artists. Conversely, images of women make up 76% of the nudes exhibited in this institution. This saddening, if not surprising, art-world statistics demonstrate how widely the female body is objectified in the visual arts.
The furore that surrounded Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair feature in February of last year epitomises the reaction to female nudity within the cultural frame of feminism. Many attacked Watson as un-feminist, basing their arguments on the idea that naked breasts are only for male eyes to enjoy. In the wake of this discussion, Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote beautifully about the still-uncomfortable-bedfellows that feminism and nudity make, and about the perception of the “right kind” of breasts that are allowed to be seen in mainstream media.
In the wake of such campaigns as Free the Nipple, the perception of consensual female nudity as anti-feminist seems, to me at least, antiquated. However, the policing of the female body, whether that be by government policy, social media commentators, or the fabric of fashion itself, is still a very active feminist battleground, one which apparent allies actually turn out to be the opposite.
In this example, Dior’s recent feminist agenda is the subject of some scrutiny. Maria Grazia Chiuri has been vocal about her commitment to female empowerment. Indeed, for her inaugural Spring Summer 17 collection, she sent a t-shirt down the runway emblazoned with the now-familiar phrase:
“We Should All Be Feminists.”
Sadly it was not until after some pressure from the press that Chiuri retrospectively credited the phrase to its coiner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Eventually, five months after the t-shirt’s unveiling, it was announced that a percentage of the proceeds from this near-£500 t-shirt would go to The Clara Lionel Foundation, a non-profit organisation started by Dior ambassador Rhianna. So far, so sort-of feminist. But what about the rest of this collection?
As SS17 began to appear on red carpets across the globe, worn by some of the most famous women in the world, a ‘trend’ started to appear. Chiuri’s dresses from her ‘feminist’ collection did not fit the anatomy of the wearers. Simply speaking, the bustier-shaped bodices did not accommodate the breasts of the women wearing them. From Bella Hadid to Nina Dobrev, to Chiara Ferragni, to Kirsten Dunst, to Sienna Miller; no matter the woman, her profession, her age, her size, their breasts were forced outside of the diminutive cups provided.
The fashion industry has long been guilty of imposing unrealistic and damaging body aesthetics on consumers. It advocates western ideals of beauty and a degree of slim-ness calls in to question the health of many models. The models used by Dior for their SS17 show were unsurprisingly slight, but even their breasts did not fit the bustier dress styles. This design flaw isn’t, therefore, about size, but instead about the lack of accommodation of the fundamental features of cis-female bodies. In the same thread of feminism that allows for the enjoyment of traditional trappings of femininity such as fashion, makeup, and heels, aspects of womanhood such as breasts should be celebrated, not shamed - especially as they are a biological presence of the body.
As the first female creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s tenure is a historic one and signals a wider trend of women holding positions of power in the male-dominated fashion industry. However, until Dior can accept female bodies, and give them their due accommodation and admiration, their designs fall into the category which objectifies rather than celebrates women.
Words by: Elspeth Taylor, Fashion Editor