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The secrets of Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director at Dior

Interview with Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of Dior, to whom we owe some of the most coveted handbags of the last two decades.

When she goes out, Maria Grazia Chiuri (56) always takes at least two handbags. The artistic director of Dior says she is “slightly obsessed” with the bags. Even when she returns to Rome to her husband Paolo and their two children, after a week in Paris, she still has two.

It is this nomadic lifestyle that inspired one of her first creations for the luxury house: the Book Tote, a bag made to carry books – reading is the designer’s favorite pastime. Or a laptop or, why not, a new pair of shoes.

“Handbags are a kind of language that expresses the style of woman you want to be.”

Maria Grazia Chiuri

Artistic Director of Dior

Observers are not surprised that today, a woman is at the helm at Dior – the first in the house’s 74 years of history – if only to emphasize that a certain pragmatism is a priority. Three years after Chiuri arrived, at a time when we could still travel, it was enough to go to an airport to spot one of her bags bearing the famous Dior logo.

We also saw it in the pages of magazines, on the arm of Rihanna or Jessica Alba (a personalized version of course). And that’s why the resale value of a Dior bag is high, sometimes more than its starting price.

The latest of Dior’s leather goods creations, the Caro, is a tribute to Christian Dior’s sister, Catherine, nicknamed “Caro”.
© Lean Lui

Maria Grazia Chiuri has a clear vision of the transformative power of fashion: “Our way of life has changed completely: we spend more time at home. Our attitude has changed, too. Sometimes we are depressed and we prefer not to look at each other. Sometimes we dress just for ourselves, to feel good, for a moment. ”

“When you can only shop online, the handbag is the most obvious purchase.”

Maria Grazia Chiuri

Artistic Director of Dior

When you can only shop online, the handbag is the most obvious purchase: you don’t have to choose the size or try it on. That’s why sales of timeless accessories have soared, with some fashion fans investing what they would have spent on vacations or outings in a handbag. The Net-A-Porter platform saw an 84% increase in bag sales in 2020 compared to the previous year. Most importantly: a shoulder bag is a statement, a symbol of hope: it declares that we will soon be able to go out again.

Magic wand

The artistic director of Dior, Italian and Mediterranean claimed, continues to find all this fascinating. But, in terms of new “it bags”, it is a contemporary version of Midas. She turns everything she touches into gold. Born and raised in Rome, the designer spent the first 27 years of her career with Fendi and Valentino.

At Fendi, she was part of the team responsible for the iconic Baguette bag, considered the first bag in pop culture. The series “Sex and the City” had made him famous. Then, during her 17 years at Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri created the Rockstud collection, another bestseller. Two successes that have generated gigantic revenues for Italian fashion houses, leather goods generally being the most profitable department of luxury brands.

After having cut her teeth at Fendi and Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri developed a real feeling for detecting the potential success of an accessory. It is to her that we owe, in particular, the Book Tote from Dior.
© Pol Baril

Of course, the fact that the designer has the flair to precisely identify the accessory that will hit the mark has not escaped Dior. In 2016, she was appointed artistic director of Dior’s women’s collections, namely ready-to-wear, haute couture and accessories. In four years, she redefined the legendary “new look” of the house, presenting slogan-striped T-shirts and designer jeans as evening dresses or red carpet wonders.

In 2019, she received the Legion of Honor for her commitment to feminism, a visible bias in her designs for Dior, and more specifically on T-shirts.

Bourgeois and punk style

Dior is often referred to as the top brand in the $ 1 billion luxury group LVMH portfolio. Despite the drop in profits seen last year following the pandemic, the group (also owner of Louis Vuitton, Celine, Loewe and Fendi) said in a statement that Dior has shown remarkable resilience, while confirming the exceptional appeal of the label, which has seen its market share increase in all regions of the world.

“Making an accessory requires the same creativity, the same knowledge and the same technique as sewing.”

Maria Grazia Chiuri

Artistic Director of Dior

So what’s Chiuri’s secret to achieving such a feat at a time when no one goes shopping or going out, and the few who do not need a handbag?

“For a handbag to be successful, you have to offer something really new, which is not yet on the market,” she explains. “Before the launch of the Baguette, we only talked about Prada black nylon bags. The Baguette was quite the opposite: embroidered and colorful, quirky and playful. When we designed the Rockstud, it was quite unusual to adorn stud handbags. And then he got very elegant, both bourgeois and punk. “

If there was a hall of fame for handbags, Chiuri’s designs would vie for the top spot. In 2018, the reissue of the Saddle benefited from an atypical launch – it only lasted 24 hours and relied on social networks – which put it in the arms of top models like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley or Kendall Jenner .

In four years, Chiuri has redefined the legendary “new look” of the house.

This bag was designed in 1999 by John Galliano, then artistic director of Dior, but the Italian brought it back to life by reinterpreting it in lambskin and embroidered with pearls and sequins. An ultra desirable object, especially for millennials!

“I arrived at Dior with my own Saddle shoulder bag. It would have been crazy not to have relaunched it!”, Declares the Italian today. “Making an accessory requires the same creativity, the same knowledge and the same technique as sewing. No, I don’t want this icon in the history of the Dior house to be forgotten.”

Lady Di

“Lady Diana has made this bag a legend. We must not forget that the accessories have also become a kind of language signifying what style of woman you want to be. The Lady Dior is part of this tradition”, specifies Chiuri .

“When I wear a Lady Dior bag, I’m a bit like Lady Di, it’s a form of imitation. The same goes for the Kelly bag (Hermès, NDLR). Becoming a princess is a dream and this dream becomes accessible when you carry this bag. It’s like a fairy tale, but for adult women. “

Is there an iconic woman behind every iconic bag? “Yes, and that’s also true for sneakers,” Chiuri replies. “If we look at the success story of sneakers, we see that there is always the presence of an iconic actor.”

Surprising choice

A long time ago, Chiuri begged her mother to lend her a Gucci or Hermes bag and each time she met with a refusal. She had also gotten into the habit of scouring flea markets in search of vintage bags. As a child, she had asked her parents if she could visit the Salzburg Handbag Museum, because she absolutely had to see it. While other children read novels, she immersed herself in a book dedicated to the famous shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo.

“At that time, there weren’t many exhibitions dedicated to shoes or bags, and this book on Ferragamo’s work fascinated me the most. This facet of fashion design interested me from the start. . Yes, I consider myself to be an accessory designer at heart. “

“At school, no one said they wanted to make props.”

Maria Grazia Chiuri

Artistic Director of Dior

When Maria Grazia Chiuri finished her studies at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Rome in the 1980s, she worked as a designer of accessories, a very surprising choice at the time. “The other designers wanted to work in ready-to-wear and haute couture; accessories were a second choice. At school, no one said they wanted to create accessories,” she recalls. “Me, I had an obsession with shoes and bags, it was my passion.”

Over the years, the designer has accumulated an impressive collection of accessories found in the four corners of the world, to the point that it is impossible for her to say how many pieces are in her. “There are really a lot of them!” She exclaims, laughing. And his daughter Rachele, 24, who inspires him and serves as a sounding board, can only rummage in it exceptionally.

“I remember when she was 16, I found her in my dressing room with some friends, just before going to a party. I still had to intervene,” Chiuri smiles. “It also sometimes surprises me, pulling out of my archives bags that I had completely forgotten about.”

The Caro bag

The Dior house has just launched the Caro bag, a tribute to Catherine, Christian Dior’s sister, nicknamed Caro in the family circle. This bag has a chain shoulder strap and a flap closure adorned with the CD clasp. This elegant bag can also be worn “cross body” to keep your hands free. How can you be sure that you are going to design and launch a successful bag? Although Chiuri has already answered the question a thousand times, that does not prevent us from putting it back to her.

“An it-bag is only a success if it is coveted by people who do not know the story behind it and who do not know what techniques are used,” she explains. “If there was a magic formula to launching an ‘it bag’ or a star career, anyone could do it. But there you go, it’s just something that happens. We don’t know why, but it happens. Like it’s some kind of fate. ” This is exactly what Chiuri and her superiors are betting on.

The successes signed by dior

The first was given to her by Bernadette Chirac, but, afterwards, Princess Diana ordered all available versions that she took with her everywhere, from the MET gala in New York to a trip to Argentina. Renamed Lady Dior in homage to Lady Di, it has become a classic of the house.

Designed by John Galliano and loved by Paris Hilton and Carrie Bradshaw, main character of “Sex and the City,” this cowboy-inspired bag defined the style of the early 90s and got a new lease of life with Maria’s arrival. Grazia Chiuri at Dior.Celebs blijven zweren bij een vintage versie.

Designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri for the spring-summer 2018 collection, this tote bag in which we tote everything is spotted in airports as during fashion weeks from Paris to Milan, via New York.

Designed by John Galliano and loved by Paris Hilton and Carrie Bradshaw, main character of “Sex and the City,” this cowboy-inspired bag defined the style of the early 90s and got a new lease of life with Maria’s arrival. Grazia Chiuri at Dior.

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