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Dior Couture SS17 Paris Dazed
Backstage at Dior Couture SS17Photography Lucie Rox

Maria Grazia Chiuri’s midsummer night’s Dior

For her debut couture collection, the designer leads us through the labyrinth with unapologetically feminine fantasy fashion – including ethereal dresses and feather and flora crowns by Stephen Jones

To enter the mirrored box which made up the showspace for ex-Valentino designer Maria Grazia Chiuri’s haute couture debut at Dior, guests had to trace a mossy path around the twisting corners of a maze, its walls made up of thick green shrubbery. It was this idea of a labyrinth, both real and metaphorical, which formed the collection’s key inspiration: a journey into the forest, and into the “heart of the Dior world.”

Of course, the maze is a space which has a sense of danger to it – take a wrong turn, and you could end up lost, encountering mythical minotaurs (or more terrifyingly, frozen Kubrickian father figures). Likewise, there was a little darkness in the collection, with velvet capes for under-the-cover-of-night escapes, black crinoline Stephen Jones masks in the shapes of insects, bats and birds, and necklaces of thorns and serpents which encircled throats. At the centre of Grazia Chiuri’s forest was no beast, however, but a wishing tree – hung with ribbons and trinkets, Alice in Wonderland watches and pieces of jewellery.

Reflecting this, the collection felt less like a Brothers Grimm story and more like a wander into the forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where lovers chase each other down mossy pathways and the queen of the fairies casts her spells. Stunningly beautiful gowns fell in tiered ruffles of pale fabric or else featured hand-painted tarot and astrological motifs, while silk flowers were pressed between layers of tulle like mementos preserved by a lover. Models’ eyes and cheekbones were dusted with tiny gold stars, and they wore tiaras of feathers and flora. It was fashion at its most fantastical.

“The collection felt like a wander into the forest of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where lovers chase each other down mossy pathways and the queen of fairies casts her spells.”

Here there were the iconic Dior silhouettes which didn’t quite appear in that first collection: Bar jackets with fairytale cape updates, as well as pleats and peplums which flared from the waist. Other looks were translated directly from Monsieur Dior’s original designs, like a wonderful trouser suit inspired by the uniform of the École Polytechnique, and a beaded gown which clocked in an eye-watering 1900 hours of work.

Following up from Belgian modernist (and now Calvin Klein designer) Raf Simons, Chiuri is, as we know, the first female designer to steer the iconic house, so renowned for its relationship to femininity. While her ready-to-wear debut featured fencing jackets and feminist slogans as a tribute to women’s strength, here looks were unabashedly girly and romantic, yet also carried a practical edge thanks to the trouser suits, tuxedos and kitten-heeled shoes.

“In the dark we will see clearly my brothers. In the labyrinth we will find the right way,” ran a quote from French writer Henri Michaux on the show notes. By blending her own intricate, romantic vision with the history of Dior, Grazia Chiuri is certainly finding her way through the maze.