Dior Designer Talks Cruise inspiration, Favorite L.A. Spots, and If You Can Be a Feminist and Work In Fashion

Maria Grazia Chiuri-Valentino Menswear Spring/Summer 2017 show-Getty-H 2016
Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Kiernan Shipka and more hiked to the hills of Calabasas for designer Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior Cruise show.

Luxury fashion house Dior brought the runway to the mountains of Calabasas Thursday night, when artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri presented her first cruise collection for the house, just outside of L.A. at the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve.

Following high profile runway shows by Louis Vuitton at a John Lautner-designed modern architectural gem in Palm Springs, by Burberry at the Griffith Observatory, and by Tommy Hilfiger on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, Dior chose an oft-overlooked element of the Southern California landscape for its backdrop: the wilderness.

The locale was perfectly in line with Chiuri’s more down-to-earth approach to fashion; since joining Dior last year, she has put feminist T-shirts, blue jeans and berets on the runway alongside the house's more classic Bar jackets and embroidered tulle ballet skirts.

“We normally show in the city, in Paris or Rome, but to give the experience of an open space is a good moment,” Grazia Chiuri told THR ahead of the show, noting the inspiration for the Cruise 2018 collection was “contact with nature,” the artist Georgia O’Keeffe's experience living in the desert, and the writings of feminist shaman Vicki Noble, who hails from Berkeley, California.

Set in tents among rolling hills, the event drew 800 attendees from near and far, including Rihanna, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson and Kiernan Shipka.

Chiuri joined Dior after an 17 year stint at Valentino, where she and co-designer Pierpaulo Piccioli designed arch-feminine, exquisitely romantic, fairytale looks.

At Dior, she became the first female couturier of the house Christian Dior founded in 1947 with the New Look, a revolutionary collection for its time, that brought the traditional notion of femininity (full skirts, wasp waists) back into fashion after the austerity of World War II.

Under her tenure, Chiuri has flipped the script; for her first show for the house in September 2016, she sent out a T-shirt bearing the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay "We Should All Be Feminists," kicking off a wave of feminist fashion statements that continues to reverberate on the runways. 

“Fashion in the past was sometimes imposed, but now it is a different moment for a new generation,” says Chiuri over coffee at the Chateau Marmont. “It’s my job to design, but at the same time, women have to choose a piece and use it in their personal style. That’s the difference I want to introduce.”

Certainly, fashion has been moving in a more casual direction for several decades now. “If you go to Rodeo Drive, all the women are in sneakers,” notes Chiuri, who travels to L.A. often for inspiration, citing the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the Getty Museum as favorite spots.

Like L.A., which is equal parts Hollywood red carpets and hiking trails, Dior, too, is trying to balance its haute couture past with a more laid-back present.

“I want to reflect what it means now to be feminine. It’s not possible to speak only about small waists," says Chiuri, who splits her time between the Dior maison in Paris and her home in Rome, where she returns every weekend. "Now, femininity is something more. For this reason, I included the idea of feminism."

But is it possible to be a feminist and work in fashion, an industry that by its nature imposes upon women the idea that they will be better, smarter and more attractive if they just buy something new? "I think about that," acknowledges Chiuri. "I don't know that it’s possible, but I try to do my best because I have a daughter who is 20 years old, and a son who is 23, I don't want them to feel like fashion is imposing something on them, I want them to play with fashion." 

Dior has a long history with Hollywood dating back to the days of Marlene Dietrich, who insisted when filming began on Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), that her French couturier friend Christian Dior be involved. In another interesting fashion footnote, Dior celebrated his 10th anniversary by traveling to L.A. in 1957, and launching a swimwear line here in collaboration with Cole of California.

Since then the house, under various designers, has dressed the whole Hollywood universe, including Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman, for the red carpet. Recently, stars including Olivia Palermo and Tracee Ellis Ross have worn Chiuri's feminist T-shirts, while Bella Hadid and Jaimie King have been wearing the revolutionary-style berets.  

“In the beginning, people thought Dior had to be elegant,” says the designer. "I think women also want clothing for every day. I want to dream every day.”