Dior’s latest fashion film is beautiful, but so, so disappointingly white

Screengrab from the Dior 2020-2021 Autumn-Winter collection video

Dior, now helmed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, unveiled their 2020-2021 Autumn-Winter haute couture collection last night with an admittedly beautiful, fairytale-esque promotional video. 

Directed by Matteo Garone, the fashion film that’s taking the place of the traditional runway (because of the pandemic, the fashion house will only be releasing the film and sending out little mannequins with miniature versions of the pieces to their clients around the world) is replete with cultural and historical references, an ode to Hellenistic culture with naiads and mermaids and even a pale Narcissus, as well as to fashion history and female surrealism. There’s just one catch: As far as we can tell, there’s nary a POC in sight.

It hasn’t seemed like it since the pandemic started, but we’re a very fashion-conscious team with a lot of opinions. So we fired up our chat room to talk about Dior so white (not a hashtag, but it should be), and what that means for fashion in 2020.

Zofiya Acosta, editor: So what’s everyone’s initial thoughts on the Dior video?

Tricia Guevara, designer: I think it’s great that Dior decided to push through with coming out with a couture line at such a delicate time. This far into quarantine, we’re all trying to settle down and grasp at a sense of “normalcy,” and as materialistic as it sounds (please call me out if this is insensitive in context) looking at visually appealing things always help ease uncertainties. HOWEVER, I couldn’t help but notice that I could…. not…. relate… to…. any… of… these…. people… in this beautiful fantasy world….

Zofiya: It’s like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” but with clothes and wypipo 

Neal Alday, photographer and videographer: Here’s my 2c

As a collection, it works: 

Here, Dior reinforces the idea that couture is essentially escapism, a dream that is elusive and obviously, expensive. The clothes look delicate and precise, a stronger showing than their recent ones where, for me, they struggled to find their footing. Doll-sized versions of their couture means they’ve successfully managed the logistical nightmare of putting together a show in the middle of one of the strangest and hardest times in fashion. By sending these versions to clients, they went beyond the usual digital presentations to something more experiential and tangible, and I think there’s magic in choosing a miniature dress and then letting it become a full-size version custom for you.

However, I’m not sold on the fashion film itself especially in the context of what’s happening now in the world. Their idea of escapism which features mostly white people felt like a past no one wants to go back to. In a time where months feel like years and change is accelerated almost to a point where it’s hard to keep up, fashion houses have to not only go with the current, but they have to be at the forefront of the future. I want Dior to show me a peek into a tomorrow where there doesn’t have to be a discussion on diversity every time, where people who have not been on the spotlight can just exist without question. As one of the oldest and most luxurious fashion houses, they have all the power to do whatever they want. To lead or to get left behind, that’s their choice. There’s just no excuse anymore.

Nadine Halili, junior content creator: I agree with you, Neal. I love the way you put it. From the first scene with the women making the dresses, it felt like they were living in a world where there’s only one race, and that’s the whites. It’s like what Tricia said about living in a fantasy world of no pandemics—but also just one race. And to me, it was a little bit inappropriate during this time. Like, yes, we want to escape, but not to a world like this.

Tricia: Right! And it’s FANTASY. This is a world where people can be however shape, form or being that they want, and yet they consciously made a choice to make everyone have porcelain skin, Eurocentric features and be a sample size. Like… okay, and? We have fashion brands like Calvin KIein making moves towards diversity by hiring black, transgender models, and yet we’re given this obviously high-budget, high-production fashion film with only people who fit a certain “standard”.

Neal: In a larger context, the reviews for the film are also mixed. I think people are looking for what fashion houses will do next, if it will be sensitive enough or innovative enough for them to keep our attention. Chanel staged its own digital cruise presentation a while ago and the reaction was also lukewarm, many criticizing its persistence that fashion can exist in a bubble. These luxury brands in their pursuit of being larger than life can most of the time be too detached to their audience. As a younger generation grows up under these old houses, they are right to point out what they feel are restricting positive change. If I was steering Dior, I would do this first: listen.

Zofiya: Agreed to what Neal said earlier about the tiny little mannequins (oh, to be a Dior client and receive one in the mail) being a nice touch. I also do think that the collection as a whole, which, if anyone doesn’t know, Maria Grazia Chiuri started designing during the Paris lockdown, is very cohesive and dream-like. The organza! What a dream.

If y’all watched the video accompanying the fashion film, Chiuri said, “It was very clear from the start that my reference needed to be tied to the fantasy or dream world.” She also noted that she wanted to pay homage to female surrealist artists and fashion history in the film.

I think that’s partly why the fashion film is so disappointing. The visual language is so rich and replete with references to culture—just a very specific kind of culture that, while beautiful and some way still progressive, shuts us out. (Shout out to the bamboo trees that fill up 25 percent of the screen time, you’re the closest thing to Asian rep there.)

Tricia: Geez yeah when I saw the bamboo trees, I was waiting for an Asian heroine to show up. That turned out to be a bust

Zofiya: Oh god, that would’ve also been trashy but at least…something?

Neal: Agreed! That’s why the film falls so flat for me cause the clothes and production are otherworldly and yet it feels hollow. Imagining this film with a diverse cast, would be just soooo much more beautiful

Like Dior, read the room, we’re under the biggest civil rights movement. Sis, I promise you no one will call you opportunistic if you put more people of color in. Swear

Tricia: Isn’t it sad that we’re constantly having to settle for something? Hah! Casting directors, do something!! We literally have a black Little Mermaid already, what’s holding you back?

Heavy air quotes on “””something””” too

Zofiya: That’s it talaga, no? It would’ve been so much better if there were dark skinned models on screen. Imagine the sienna gown on someone like, frick, Duckie Thot. That would’ve been a moment

In the end, I get that they were going for Hellenic tradition, Ovid’s “Metamorphosis”, and what have you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t show…someone? Who wasn’t pale skinned? It’s not like they don’t use white models for campaigns showing other cultures, so……..

Also, this would be disappointing any year, but especially this year. People are still rioting for BLM. By not having any diversity in this film, there’s that unfortunate implication that while they’re not showing up for POC, they’re totally ready and willing to show up for fantasy white folk, bellboys in tow.

Neal: I remember this Valentino couture show where Naomi closed the show. People actually started crying.

Zofiya: Already iconic, and that was just last year!

Amrie Cruz, junior content creator: A lot of people in the comments section of the video called the art film “so feminine” and “so French” which really points out how in 2020, a lot of people’s ideas connected to the “ideal woman” remains white and petite. Until now, people of color are often forgotten in the histories of Western nations when this is simply not true. 

In mythological imagery, features of people of color are ascribed to monsters while the heroes and damsels are often fair and their noses are “delicate.” To echo these sentiments of “othering” today, even unintentionally, feeds gatekeeping and microaggression. I don’t think wanting to be truthful to their “Hellenistic” inspiration cuts it anymore when artistic industries have been subverting a lot of themes for years. 

Frankly, I’m disappointed in Maria Grazia Chiuri since she always speaks about feminism. Is her feminism not intersectional?

Zofiya: Good point! Hay, I will never understand how you can try to make fashion feminist and meaningful without being immediately intersectional and political. This had such a huge opportunity to elevate, but instead, it flattens.

Amrie: Yeah. Dior shows in the past have cast POC models so I don’t really understand how this step back happened. Is it a fluke? I would hate to think that representation in fashion is only highlighted depending on when an art director thinks it fits a certain aesthetic. Promoting visibility shouldn’t be conditional.

 

Screengrab from the Dior 2020-2021 Autumn-Winter collection video

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