There is a famous Dior linen and cotton white jersey that broke out at fashion shows in 2017. It was plain and simple, but it held an unmistakably strong message: “we should all be feminists”.
The slogan was shown on catwalks following Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk that took place the same year, which was inspired by her 2014 essay on modern feminism that specifically highlights how the different teaching women receive (most of the time informally and from educators, peers or relatives) causes lack of courage in speaking out about their truth and needs, fearing they will be perceived as angry.
It was Maria Grazia Chiuri’s very first collection as the new artistic director, and she used it as a bold and unequivocal message to ensure it was crystal clear where She and Dior would stand from that moment onwards. A renowned, influential and universally acclaimed fashion house was making fashion political, again.
Since that daring first move, Maria Grazia has been vocal about women, often taking inspiration from bold but not always renowned women from the past. She has paid tribute to the female artists and personalities who were crucial in both her professional and personal development, to turn maison Dior into a source of inspiration and a dreamy workplace not only for young girls but for everyone who wishes to make the world better.
She has worked with Judy Chicago, an audacious feminist artist, educator, and writer whose work focuses on women’s bodies, experiences, and perceptions, and who changed her last name to her birth city as a break with the patriarchal tradition of women using their father’s or husband’s name.
The peak of their fruitful and provocative collaboration was the 2020 Dior Haute Couture Spring Fashion Show. It was stunningly memorable and poignant. It was held inside a huge womb-resembling chamber that was part of an inflatable anthropomorphic sculpture that Judy had designed, and was installed in the gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris. Called “The Female Divine”, as with its round feminine forms effectively represented a goddess, it was adorned by a soft-lilac ceiling and a purple velvety carpet, and decorated with 21 embroidered banners, patiently crafted by female students of an Indian embroidery school, each one displaying a different question.
“What If Women Ruled The World?”
“Would Buildings Resemble Wombs?”
“Would There Be Violence?”
“Would God Be Female?”
“Would There Be Equal Parenting?”
With a photo book coming out to celebrate Dior’s feminist vision which will picture the house’s wide range of voices, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s commitment is out of the question. She has started a slow but inevitable wave of change that will eventually hit many other fashion firms. Instead, what is being queried is the disconnect between the work ethic she and the firm promote and display, and what really happens behind closed doors.
That simple top has been a trigger. It costs six hundred and twenty euros. Yes, It is congruent to the maison’s ordinary price list but It still leaves me quite bewildered; Its production presumably costs the fashion house not even a third of that price, and most importantly feminism is for women a necessity which comes with a high price, hence where is the sense in making It a marketing gadget? Do women have to pay to wear something that truly represents them and their painful battle?
Is that shirt actually celebrating feminism?
Let me tell you, it isn’t.
It may be pretty, but it isn’t spreading out the right message. It doesn’t even display Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s signature when it’s her iconic phrase. Safe to assume that very few among the numerous people who possess that top in their closet, truly know where that cool slogan comes from. This is some sort of capitalist takeover that selects women and their iconic works to turn them into a marketing opportunity, making It all clean and pretty regardless of the years of fight and the amount of blood It has cost them. The profits from that top initially didn’t even go to charity. When It was pointed out, the firm quickly corrected the misstep and declared that “a percentage” was going to be devolved to the Clara Lionel Foundation.
Very little is known about the working conditions of the maison’s employees. What is their salary? Where in the world are they working? Do they have insurance against accidents?
I could go on forever with those questions but I am pretty sure I got the message across.
Feminism and Capitalism cannot coexist.
As Angela Davis says, “Capitalism could not even proclaim for women this rudimentary egalitarianism, instead it transmuted a more or less naturally conditioned oppression into an oppression whose content became thoroughly socio-historical.”
Middle-class white straight women have benefited from it, but anyone who doesn’t fit into such a category has seen her life remain as obnoxious as it was before. Or in many cases, it has worsened.
Capitalism hasn’t generally upgraded work conditions, nor raised salaries, and neither abolished exploitation nor oppression, and any narrative propagating a different message is wrong. By adding that tee to their collection, Dior has had the golden chance to say “look we aren’t perfect, but at least we stand on the right side, and if you buy It then the world will know you stand on the right side too.”
I don’t think women deserve to hear that, let alone be included in a gorgeous but deceiving marketing campaign.
I would have tolerated it more if the firm had actually celebrated Chimamanda Ngozi by sharing her story along with her works. Her struggle as an African feminist needs to be acknowledged, her words must be treasured and not sold to the public as the new coolest slogan.
I would have tolerated it more if the top had been given for free and with a QR-code on the label which displayed a quick introduction to feminism, capitalism, and Its consequences, along with a brief but relevant fact-sheet.
We are alarmingly lacking a truthful narrative about the way our society functions.
Capitalism isn’t empowering, and we must stop telling ourselves that It is good for us and will increasingly be so. It is the cause for which we have the world divided into two categories, oppressors and oppressed. The oppressed, who make up most of the population, are disgustingly exploited and have been put into dreadfully repellent living conditions.
Feminism has been a fight and a battle, and It will continue to be so. Wanting to make it look effortless, creative, and stylish and earning a profit from that, does absolutely nothing to the cause.