Chiuri raises banner of feminism in first Dior show

Christian Dior

She is the first woman ever to lead the legendary French fashion house of Dior.

And Maria Grazia Chiuri did not take her rendezvous with history lightly.

In her first show for the label, she went into battle in Paris on Friday under the banner: "We should all be feminists."

In the high point so far of Paris fashion week, the Italian designer -- who wore a Superman necklace for the occasion -- dressed her female models as if preparing mediaeval knights for a joust with destiny.

A short-haired waif in a white fencing suit, a "beating heart" sown on her chest, led out the procession of bare black and white pieces that looked like armoured underwear.

The line of biker jackets and leather breastplates ended in a plain white T-shirt declaring, "We should all be feminists."

Another would later carry the slogan, "Dior(e)volution" -- hinting that the "safe pair of hands" who took over the leaderless label in the summer would also be flexing her muscles.

It was the first of many surprises from a designer who at Valentino developed a line in romantically austere mediaeval-inspired dresses, somewhere between "Game of Thrones" and Italian Renaissance portraits.

As her debut show went on, the looks became more elaborate, with Chiuri layering on embroidered tarot, star sign and protective talismans onto transparent lingerie dresses.

- 'Sexual beings' -

"We teach girls they cannot be sexual beings like boys can," a voice intoned critically over the music as a model in black underwear with another red heart on her breast swept by, a silver embroidered sword running the length of her see-through skirt.

Another particularly romantic tulle dress had two golden hands reaching up to hold up the wearer's heart.

With the cheers of a standing ovation still ringing in her ears, Chiuri, 52, said the show was a cry for equality.

"I am introducing a completely different point of view because I am a woman," she told AFP.

"I have a son and a daughter. I want that they have the same opportunities in life... A lot of people believe that speaking about equality is not essential (anymore). But we have to speak about it because at the moment I am not sure everybody believes in it.

"Sometimes women use more the heart and not the head. They need to balance them."

Chiuri also defended bringing back simple T-shirts, and "J'adore Dior" slogans on straps and belts in a collection that in other ways was almost haute couture in its sumptuous detailing.

- 'Sex in the City' -

"If you think about Dior you also think about Sarah Jessica Parker and 'Sex and the City' and the T-shirt 'J'adore Dior'," she said. "I am sure [the brand's founder Christian] Dior did not do that.

"Why should we lose that part of our heritage and only speak about Mr Dior? My reference is not only Mr Dior because he worked in the house for only 10 years."

She then namechecked John Galliano -- who led the label for 12 years -- and who was dramatically sacked from Dior in 2011 after an anti-Semitic tirade, calling him "a huge reference".

With the singer Rihanna, actress Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard and former French first lady Carla Bruno in the front row, Chiuri said that "Dior believed fashion was both evolution and revolution. I started this story and I hope in the future I can tell more of it."

She has also prominently reintroduced the label's golden bee motif.

Having secured far more control over the brand than her predecessor Raf Simons, Chiuri laughed off the idea that she was now queen bee.

"The bee motif comes from Mr Dior. It is the Napoleon bee, but at the same time it comes from (ancient) Rome," which also happens to be Chiuri's home town.