Change is in the air… It all started a few seasons ago when Alessandro Michele took the reins at Gucci and introduced the world to his interpretation of the storied brand’s iconic woman (think more captivating ingénue than screen siren). It happened again in Fall 2016 when designer Donatella Versace redefined sexy as strength and engages the empowerment of women.

The topic of femininity, what it means to be a woman and what our roles in society are, has found itself as the topic du jour in our national conversation as well as in many a collection during the past few seasons. A sign of the changing times, where women don’t feel the need to be told what to be and what not to be by the creative geniuses that design their clothes.

And in the surest sign thus far that designers are finally starting to listen, we have Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut collection at the House of Dior, which was surprising to this author… in the most welcome of ways. Not surprising that the collection was full of beautifully crafted pieces, as Grazia Chiuri is a very talented designer. What was most surprising was that it came with a decidedly pro-feminism attitude. Perfectly summing it up was a simple white t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “We should all be feminists.”

Even before the collection debuted, it was clear a change was coming. Since the departure of Raf Simons, Dior has been without a true leader. The clothes presented in the interim were lovely, but lacked the assurance that comes with a Creative Director at the helm. When the French atelier announced that Maria Grazia Chiuri would be the new leader of the storied brand, it was a coup for two reasons. First, Grazia Chiuri is one half of the design duo responsible for the renaissance taking place at Valentino. She has worked with Pierpaolo Piccioli for years and it begged the question as to what of her design aesthetic would she bring to Dior and, as a side note, what would this change mean for Valentino? (See our other fashion feature in this issue of Aeqai for the answer to the latter.)

The second, and more important reason, for the excitement surrounding the choice of Maria Grazia Chiuri as head of Dior is that she’s a woman. Plain and simple. Dior was founded by its namesake designer in 1946 and, since then, it has had six other Creative Directors. And none of them has been a woman—truly problematic since the brand was created for and finds its greatest success with women.

As the annoucement quieted a bit during the time Grazia Chiuri was working on her Spring 2017 showing, the brand’s attitude was shifting even more. With their social media campaign #TheWomenBehindMyDress, Dior focused on the female artisans of its atelier. We as an audience got to meet them by name and hear about who their female role models were.

With anticipation at an all-time fever pitch, models walked the runway at Paris’ Musée Rodin in 65 looks that signaled the future of Dior with a new focus on daywear. The first batch of designs, all-white quilted tops and moto jackets, were inspired by fencing uniforms. The designer said that fencing “involves mind and heart at the same time, which women always need if they are to realize themselves.”

As the palette turned to all-black and eventually deep reds, the quilting continued with skirts and dresses of tulle and some corset types as well. Each look had a mixture of hard and soft elements to it, showing the different sides of the women Grazia Chiuri designs for. The courtier also took on the famed Bar jacket in a very subtle way, with a favorite being its placement over a t-shirt and tulle-netted skirt with biker boots. The piece showed her expertise at tailoring and had just a hint of the design’s notable bell shape.

Soon the collection turned to dreamy confections of tulle embroidered with tarot card designs. The word exquisite doesn’t due them justice, although they are a bit reminiscent of the pieces previously created when at Valentino. But these pieces were much fresher thanks to the tops paired with the flowing skirts below: a range corsets, t-shirts, sweaters, and even tank top silhouettes.

Looking at her designs from Raf Simons’ eye, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior is going to be very different than her predecessor. She didn’t shy away from femininity, in fact she embraced that to be feminine doesn’t just mean one thing.

Said the designer to Women’s Wear Daily, “I want to introduce into the house of Dior a natural attitude, to dress women to feel comfortable, to feel their beauty. Women want to use the dress to express themselves. In the past, fashion was more imposition — to impose a look. Now, we suggest our style and our idea, and [women translate] the pieces in different ways.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We are excited to see what more the designer has to say as she continues to curate the new face of this iconic French brand.

–       Jenny Perusek is a freelance Brand Manager, specializing in fashion and the creative arts.

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