In November 1944, an exhibition entitled “Problems of Clothing” was set to appear at MoMA. The exhibition underwent a retitle before its opening, officially named “Are Clothes Modern?” to be neither a fashion show nor a costume display, but a presentation of dress reforms. The quick title switch was an immediate thought gateway—a logical and no-fuss idea that clothing, at times, could pose questions about its difficulties or downfalls. For both men and women, the exhibition questioned the form and function of clothing and looked at its ability to be and stay modern throughout time.
Under the direction of architect and designer Bernard Rudofsky, “Are Clothes Modern?” brought to light the meaning of a modern woman. “Modern woman does not need the painter’s canvas; her own body serves as well,” then said Rudofsky in the show’s notes. “We don’t know any better way of using a fabric than cutting it to pieces. These pieces put together in the cabalistic art of the tailor become our clothes.”
Yesterday in Paris, we saw these very reflections reimagined by Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior’s Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019 collection. Presented in epitomized history at the house’s birthplace, 30 Avenue Montaigne, the show opened its doors to the very place every artistic director has worked with the ateliers since the brand’s inception. Much like an exhibition, the show shined with inspirations—aligned with “Are Clothes Modern?”
Additionally, powerful black-and-white works by feminist artist Penny Slinger served as scenography. Recounting the alchemy of elements like fire, air, and water, the works visually touch upon the mysterious femininity that embrace the female form for worldly ideas and sculptures, ancient temples, and Parisian edifices. Special for the show, Slinger brought back to life all the women who animated 30 Avenue Montaigne, including friends, muses, clients, and even Mr. Christian Dior’s beloved sister, Catherine. Caryatids (seen in director Agnès Varda’s 1984 documentary The So-Called Caryatids) and Ancient Greek women (draped in traditional peplos) were touchpoints, too, as the female figure is in charge of giving the fabric, and perhaps the world, its form.
Once the show began, women nearly floated down the grand staircase and into the intimate setting in an almost entirely black collection. Each garment’s architectural power was transformed to meet contemporary tastes. Strapless gowns and one-shoulder dresses were complemented by short veils and chokers around the neck. We savored details in pieces like: short and structured bell-sleeved coats belted at the waist, paired with a long skirt to the ankle; and razor-sharp V-neck spaghetti strap tops with ballgown-like midriffs.
The show closed where it opened—at 30 Avenue Montaigne. The hôtel particulier, literally worn as a short and sharp townhouse of a dress, was elegantly seen over close- and wide-knit fishnet as the last lady mystically drifted by. In line with the points presented in “Are You Modern?” the collection posed many questions—about attire and habit, sure, but also about space and time, nature and culture, history and the future.