The first woman to lead the House of Dior and her daughter Rachele Regini share their thoughts on femininity, wearability and taking fashion into the future.
Beautiful irony has never looked better than a woman bringing Christian Dior into its 70th year. Following seven decades of male designers, Maria Grazia Chiuri is marking her first year as creative director of the house with a sprawling anniversary exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs featuring over 300 Dior haute couture pieces designed by those predecessors and herself. A testament to the times, every room reflects society’s evolving view of femininity through the 20th century and beyond. It’s Mr. Dior’s own New Look silhouette from the 40s and 50s, Yves Saint Laurent’s early-60s modernity, and Marc Bohan’s pragmatic elegance in the 70s and 80s. There’s Gianfranco Ferré’s glitzy exuberance, the theatrical splendor of John Galliano through the 90s and 00s, and the sleek minimalism instigated by Raf Simons before Chiuri made her arrival last year. The Roman designer quickly set a socially-conscious tone for the house with a debut ready-to-wear collection for Spring/Summer 2017 rooted in feminism, and followed by a decidedly handsome take on haute couture. The 53-year-old couturier, who made her career at Fendi and Valentino, approaches fashion like anthropology, measuring her creative output not only in terms of markets, but to reflect and affect the social and political zeitgeist, and the many facets of femininity she suggests fashion has to represent today.
At Chiuri’s side is her 21-year-old daughter Rachele Regini, a London-based art student, who acts as her mother’s millennial design input. She wore a Dior haute couture gown to the Met Ball in May, shortly before retreating to Rome—where Chiuri’s husband Paolo Regini and 24-year-old son Nicolo are still based—to write her dissertation on second-wave feminism. On an afternoon in July, Regini went to Paris to join her mother in a candid conversation about family relations, Dior women past and present, and fashion today.
Anders Christian Madsen—Who is your favorite Dior designer before you?
Maria Grazia Chiuri—It’s not right to say who is my favorite, because each one represents something that I really like and appreciate. I really love fashion.
Rachele Regini—But if you had to pick one?
Maria Grazia—No, it’s difficult.
Rachele—But, like, if you don’t, you’re gonna die. Who do you pick?
Maria Grazia—Rachele! It’s difficult. Do I pick the dress as a client or because I appreciate it as a designer? It’s two different points of view. They, in some way, all represent their times very well, and some I like more because I like the time more. For my body, if I have to choose a piece, it’s easily Marc Bohan, because the 60s and 70s fit my body. From the point of view of a designer, there are beautiful pieces in all the designers.
Anders—Whose room in the exhibition were you most excited to do?
Maria Grazia—I really love the white room because it’s so couture.
Anders—And who is your favorite, Rachele?
Rachele—Yves Saint Laurent. I have a thing for him.
Maria Grazia—Saint Laurent was so cool. I really love John [Galliano], because I think it was so geographic. I love him, honestly.
Maria Grazia—When I started studying fashion, I went to see the first presentation he did in Olympia. It was so exciting, something so close to my vision of fashion. Everything was like the first moment in fashion, everything in London was so creative. Fashion is not one thing. There’s fashion for business, fashion for women, fashion for art, fashion for the show, for glamor. We have to speak in terms of intention with fashion. John, for me, is another story. It’s fashion for fashion. I obsess a little bit over fashion…
Anders—Do you think young people understand the different cultures of brands today?
Rachele—That’s the problem with social media now. The danger and the beauty of it is that it flattens everything out so you think everything has the same worth. It erases the layers that exist, so you see a very expensive brand and a very cheap brand that look the same. You feel the same about them because they’re on the same level, but you don’t understand the differences. It makes everything look accessible.
Maria Grazia—It’s important that the people that work in fashion explain the differences, because it’s not possible to speak about the brands in the same way. There are different traditions, cultures, and knowledge. Sometimes people speak about brands as if all brands are the same.
Anders—They’re not here to serve the same purpose.
Maria Grazia—No. American brands, Italian brands, French brands are completely different, because the way they evolve is different. Italian culture is more prêt–à–porter; they don’t have perfumes and make up. America gave birth to sportswear. In Paris, brands are really old. They started out immediately with perfume and make up, so they’ve evolved in different ways. You have to know the language we are speaking.
Rachele—But that’s more relevant to a fashion audience. If you’re interested in it, you know the differences. If you’re not, it might be better not to.
Maria Grazia—I want to convince her of my point.
Rachele—I think it’s because you’re a very fashion person even though you don’t know why. And I am not that much of a fashion person… Yes, but also no.
Anders—It’s very generation-oriented.
Maria Grazia—This discussion is between traditional culture and new culture. When she and my son Nicolo were kids, I wanted them to look up words in the dictionary, but they would use the computer because it was faster. Now it’s very hard for them to find a word in the dictionary.
Rachele—But no one cares because no one uses dictionaries!
“Fashion is not one thing. There’s fashion for business, fashion for women, fashion for art, fashion for the show, for glamor. We have to speak in terms of intention with fashion.”
Anders—How’s your dissertation going, Rachele?
Rachele—I’m working on it. It’s still second-wave feminism, but in Italy. Everything’s slow there, so feminism came in, like, a lot later.
Maria Grazia—You know when she’s in time or not in time, because she becomes so nervous she’s impossible.
Anders—Are you tired of doing interviews about feminism, Maria Grazia?
Maria Grazia—No, never!
Anders—Do you think Christian Dior was a feminist?
Maria Grazia—No, I honestly don’t think so. I think he was in love with women—it’s another story. He appreciated women, but it was another time. It was impossible for him to be a feminist.
Rachele—Or for anyone else.
Anders—Do you think there are feminist elements to his work?
Maria Grazia—I think he wanted to give women the opportunity to return to a sense of femininity after the war. During [World War II], women were getting industrial, dressing themselves similarly to men, so it was the idea that women could be more feminine in a simple way. Each designer in the exhibition speaks about a different time, and he described women after the war.
Anders—What have you done to bring about this culture of feminism in your own interpretation of the archive?
Maria Grazia—I don’t think this argument relates specifically to Dior, I think it’s closer to the idea of fashion now. We have to reflect on the relationship between fashion and the body—for men, too. It’s a strange moment for fashion. I find it very strange, for instance, that we talk about things as “wearable.” Shouldn’t a dress be wearable? What is the relationship between wearability and the body? And why is fashion less creative because it’s wearable? We need to move fashion into the future, and in my opinion this is fashion’s big question right now.
Anders—What is the answer, then? Why do women your age like what Maria Grazia is doing, Rachele?
Rachele—Mainly because it’s relevant today to talk about what’s going on in terms of feminism and what young people want to wear. We’re attracted to something that talks about us, and I think what she’s doing reflects that.
Anders—How much do you talk about these things?
Maria Grazia—Because we speak about ourselves—it’s a dialogue, and fashion is a reflection of our dialogue. It started very early. I remember wanting to dress Rachele with my point of view, but she was a child and she’d say to me, “This is not my image of myself! I don’t feel how you want to dress me.” She was 12 years old.
Rachele—She wanted to put me in all these very cute, very puffy pink dresses and I was like, enough! Everything was pink: my socks were pink, my shoes were pink, my bag was pink.
Maria Grazia—But also the yellow dress…
Rachele—The yellow dress was awful.
Anders—What do you disagree on most?
Maria Grazia—I know she smokes. I think you sometimes smoke. And I don’t agree with that!
Rachele—You smoked, like, two packets of cigarettes everyday for 20 years!
Maria Grazia—I asked you not to smoke. And I think that you smoke.
Rachele—So, we disagree on that. Check.
Maria Grazia—If I discover that you’re smoking, I’ll kill you.
Anders—Did you ever try to dress Maria Grazia?
Rachele—No, I advise, but…
Maria Grazia—Nobody tries to dress me, nobody.
Rachele—Because you’re always so sure. She has very good pieces. I put earrings on you once, that was my contribution to the outfit.
Maria Grazia—Earrings, which I never use. She says, “No, you have to!” We express ourselves through fashion. My image of Rachele was that of an angel. I discovered now that she’s rock ’n’ roll, so I have to upset her vision, and that’s what I mean when I say you have to have a dialogue with women. It’s not realistic that she wants to be rock ‘n’ roll everyday—she also wants to be sexy, in a traditional way or a sensual way. Women change moods and express themselves with different dress. So as a designer, it’s not enough to offer just one point of view.
“If you are lucky to have a good story, you can express it better through fashion as women. For me, it’s about being conscious of that and helping to support other women to express themselves—to find their way.”
Anders—In your work for Dior I see such an understanding of longevity—already from your first collection.
Maria Grazia—Consistency, that’s the goal. Only this way can you maintain time. You can only be iconic if you are consistent. For prêt–à–porter you have to speak about time so there are some elements that are really fashion, but on the other hand it’s important that there’s a balance between timeless heritage and now. It’s not easy.
Anders—Did your conversations about clothes eventually lead to conversations about much heavier topics?
Maria Grazia—Oh, we are heavy feminists, aren’t we?! Not a light family…
Rachele—Us two? Definitely not light. But we make fun of each other lots. When I moved to London, we started having more of these conversations; more heavy.
Maria Grazia—The distance helped.
Rachele—I was 16 and living in Rome with her every single day, so we didn’t get along so well.
Maria Grazia—It was like a war.
Rachele—We argued, like, 24/7. Then she made me move to London and from then on it was much better. She literally dragged me there.
Maria Grazia—I went to London with Rachele on my back. I understood she had to move to another country to find the right dimension for herself. The mood in Italy was not good for women to be really free. When I was a kid, my mother—everybody—was a feminist in some way. I grew up in a cult of feminism in the 70s.
Rachele—We had this referendum to legalize divorce and abortion.
Maria Grazia—My mother completely agreed with this. You felt like everyone believed in these values, and since then I never talked about it. So you believe these values are for everybody, and everybody thinks like you—I also worked at Fendi, where opportunities were the same for everyone. One day I woke up and looked around and thought, it’s actually not true.
Anders—The mood had become reactionary?
Maria Grazia—We had returned to our past. And when your kids are 16, you want them to have the same opportunities, so it’s better that they move country.
Rachele—I went to an international school in London, which changed everything. I used to go to a Catholic school, with all the prayers and crucifixes. Then I moved and no one believed in anything and everyone was from all over the place.
Maria Grazia—Also the food…
Rachele—My friend was shocked because my mum was like, “I only eat Italian food, I don’t eat any other type of food.”
Maria Grazia—She looked at me like I was a primitive woman.
Anders—Did you notice a difference in Rachele after she moved to London?
Maria Grazia—I started going to London every two weeks, and immediately it was clear. The new generation’s vision of fashion is completely different—they don’t care so much, they are not fashion obsessives like my generation.
Rachele—I feel like fashion, to us, has kind of lost its value as a piece of clothing. We don’t care if it’s a trend or if it’s this or that, we care more about the message. We don’t put on something just because it looks nice. We want something more.
Maria Grazia—You have to add some value, you have to give a very specific point of view, fashion is not enough.
Anders—What is your favorite thing that your mother has designed?
Rachele—I’m thinking…there’s nothing I like…no, I’m joking! I really like the jeans, because that what I wear everyday. I love how they could be your dad’s jeans or your boyfriend’s jeans, or my jeans—you don’t know. It’s a neutral element.
Anders—And what does your grandmother, Maria Pia, prefer?
Rachele—My grandma! What did she want the other day? She wanted the “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt!
Maria Grazia—Everything, she wants…
Rachele—But how old is she?
Maria Grazia—Seventy-eight years old.
Maria Grazia—Absolutely. Sometimes I’ll call to ask if she wants anything. “No, no, no.” I go home with some looks for myself and suddenly there’s nothing left for me.
Rachele—My grandma will steal anything that we own.
Anders—She’s the best-dressed lady in Rome?
Maria Grazia—The problem with Rachele and my mother is maintaining my own wardrobe, because it’s impossible. Rachele arrives and changes into my dress, and leaves me with her dress that I don’t fit. If you go to my apartment in Paris right now it’s so messy, because I have all her things… her strange concert t-shirts; things I wouldn’t wear.
Rachele—I also leave luggage. Packed, though. Like… Can you send this to Rome, please?
Maria Grazia—And my mother, too. She’s the same.
Anders—So they’re quite similar, your mother and your daughter?
Maria Grazia—Absolutely. Really egocentric. And sometimes completely not egocentric. If you are lucky to have a good story, you can express it better through fashion as women. And for me, it’s about being conscious of that and helping to support other women to express themselves—to find their way.