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Backstage at Christian Dior SS18Photography Lucie Rox

Dior celebrates female artists and girls of the 60s

Maria Grazia Chiuri’s latest collection paid homage to Niki de Saint Phalle – and included a free copy of Linda Nochlin’s ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’

Another week, another fashion capital. The shows have arrived in Paris, with Dior kicking things off as usual. This season, Maria Grazia Chiuri explored the work, politics, life and style of female artists – focussing on one in particular. Here's what went down.

THE SET

The set out the back of the Musée Rodin had a giant stone facade, with a quote about tarot cards by artist Niki de Saint Phalle – the sculptor known for her shapely and colourful female figures – etched into its surface. Decorating the inside of the show space, which had walls and a ceiling made to look like smooth clay, were clusters of shattered mirror fragments. At the foot of the runway was a glittering cavern, which resembled the totally mad house de Saint Phalle lived in in Tuscany – a giant sphinx with a shiny silver reflective interior.

THERE WAS FREE READING MATERIAL

It’s not often you find feminist literature on the seats at fashion shows, but it’s something we could certainly get used to. This afternoon’s show came with free reading material: the essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists”, published by Linda Nochlin in 1971 in the journal Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness. A seminal text of feminist art history, Nochlin questions the barriers in place which have meant that there are apparently no female equivalents to Michelangelo or Picasso – and breaks down privilege and institutional power structures as she does so.

SASHA PIVOVAROVA OPENED... 

...in a classic French Breton striped top and jeans, her long sleeved t-shirt bearing the title of Nochlin’s essay. Consider this the new ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ t-shirt. A group of girls in denim and black followed, but things soon got a lot more colourful.

DE SAINT PHALLE WAS A KEY INSPIRATION

A friend and muse to designer Marc Bohan (who took over at Dior after Yves Saint Laurent was called up for military service and then fired in 1960) Niki de Saint Phalle’s influence wasn’t just in the set. The colours and prints of her art snaked across skirts and appeared on sequinned mini dresses that had a 60s, countercultural flare, and her name featured on jumpers alongside spider and dinosaur motifs. If last season’s muses had adopted a beret-wearing intellectualism, this was them moving into the artist commune and letting loose. There were also design tributes to Marc Bohan’s archive (the polka dots, men’s shirts and romantic white), continuing Maria Grazia’s efforts to incorporate the work of previous Dior designers.

60s BIKER GIRLS

Maria Grazia’s era of Dior is all about women and what they’re capable of – while in her first show she exhibited fencing uniforms, this time around there were a series of biker girl looks, including some colourful racing driver jumpsuits and one black leathery all in one that was very The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968). The famous flag in black and white check was turned into overalls, bags, and even pool sliders – and was also a reference to Bohan’s historic creations. In the show notes, Grazia Chiuri acknowledged the influence of the Swinging 60s, an era of real change when it comes to women’s freedoms. The decade could be felt in the silver gogo boots, heart decorated dresses, and one paisley-patterned woven jumper – not to mention the soundtrack.

Watch the highlights from the show below: