Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Christian Dior, takes center stage in Christian Dior’s The Female Gaze podcast series. In her latest interview, she proudly identifies herself as a «political couturier» and draws inspiration from feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, whose influence has been profound since Chiuri’s historic appointment as Dior’s first female creative director in 2016.
Despite the Covid-19 lockdown confining Chiuri to her hometown of Rome, she graciously granted an insightful interview to UK author Charlotte Jansen. In this candid conversation, she delves into her approach to Dior’s DNA while adopting an iconoclastic stance towards the brand’s campaigns and imagery.
«When I arrived at Dior, it was commonly referred to as a feminine brand, but we must question what that truly means. Fashion wields immense influence over how women are portrayed in media and photography. At Dior, my mission is to present a feminist perspective; I aim to break free from objectifying women. I actively sought out female photographers who could understand my vision. I aspired to create a fresh portrayal of women. The essence of the female gaze lies in redefining how we depict women in fashion, portraying them as subjects, not objects,» Chiuri passionately explained.
Reflecting on her early encounter with the work of a female photographer, Chiuri fondly reminisced about her collaboration with Deborah Turbeville during her tenure at Valentino. Turbeville’s distinctive portrayal of women, departing from the conventional glamorous image, left an indelible mark on Chiuri. She characterized Turbeville as revolutionary, on par with iconic photographers like Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton.
When questioned about the differences between male and female photographers, Chiuri astutely noted, «Often, male photographers introduce a sexual tension between the subject and the lens. With female photographers, it’s more of a dialogue, and this connection is palpable in the images. A female photographer can relate to the model on a personal level because she shares the same gender. It’s an entirely distinct experience depending on whether the photographer is male or female. I feel a greater sense of comfort and relaxation with a female photographer.»
Regarding the challenge of commercially collaborating with women, Chiuri observed, «Honestly, it wasn’t very challenging. Upon joining Dior, I promptly expressed my desire to collaborate with female photographers to present women differently. The company fully endorsed this initiative. We discovered that women exhibited keen interest in these collaborations, exploring femininity from diverse perspectives. Women from various backgrounds eagerly embraced these projects. While the fashion industry did raise some questions about the significance of working exclusively with female photographers, Dior’s response was one of pleasant surprise. In fashion, there is often a tendency to adhere to traditional approaches. It’s essential to remember that in the fashion world, when people discuss contemporaneity, they often harbor nostalgia.»
Beyond her collaborations with female photographers, Chiuri has forged alliances with women artists such as Judy Chicago and choreographer Sharon Eyal, reinforcing her commitment to diverse and empowering representations of women.
As the podcast revolves around the «female gaze,» Chiuri emphasized the profound impact of Laura Mulvey’s essay on her perspective. She views the female gaze as a dynamic concept that evolves through photography, film, and TV, reshaping the portrayal of women.
Chiuri’s dedication to this vision is evident in her collaboration with six African or African-origin photographers for Dior’s 2019 cruise collection in Marrakech, celebrating craftsmanship and textiles from various African countries.
Is the female gaze politically driven? In Chiuri’s view, it unquestionably is. «I believe everything is political, whether it’s in imagery, photography, or fashion. Even the choices we make as consumers. For example, the decision to exclusively employ female photographers was a political one. To be political, in my view, is to have a perspective and work in a manner that reflects it,» Chiuri added.
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fervor for collaborating with and empowering women in the realms of fashion and art underscores her commitment to reshaping perceptions and challenging conventional norms. Her appreciation for the sense of community and sisterhood that arises from such collaborations positions her as a driving force in the evolution of how fashion portrays women.