In 1947, Christian Dior unveiled his inaugural haute couture collection in Paris. It famously marked the birth of the ‘New Look’, after then Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Carmel Snow declared: “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!” Dior’s revolutionary silhouette transformed the “boxer-like” proportions that had dominated women’s wardrobes during the war years. And dresses aside, the Bar jacket – with its softened, sloping shoulders, nipped in waist and bulbous peplum, unfolding like petals – became the garment that is perhaps most synonymous with the house.
The Bar jacket from Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ has never really aged, repeatedly revisited and reinterpreted by each of the maison’s creative directors over the years – from Monsieur Dior’s protégé Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferré and John Galliano in the 1990s, and in the 2000s by Raf Simons. And for Dior’s latest grande dame, Maria Grazia Chiuri, its allure clearly remains. At the end of last month, Chiuri presented Dior’s 2020 resort collection in Morocco – a show she titled Common Ground. Here, she invited artists and artisans from across Africa to collaborate on the show, “[bending] herself practically double to integrate African artisanship into her work and give [it] the credit it deserves,” said critic Vanessa Friedman in her review of the collection in the New York Times.
As part of this, Chiuri invited British-Jamaican designer Grace Wales Bonner and African American artist Mickalene Thomas to reinterpret the Bar jacket. This was Thomas’ first major collaboration with a fashion house, having previously worked with New York-based Brother Vellies on a smaller scale. “But that wasn’t as positive or rewarding as my experience and collaboration with Maria Grazia and Dior,” she explains. “From the beginning of my collaboration with Maria there was mutual respect and faith for my creativity and plenty of room to express my talents. Then the magic happens…”
Thomas treated the Bar jacket like a canvas – and much like one of her mixed-media collage pieces, which often revisit famous images produced throughout art history, exploring them through the lens of black femininity. “I wanted to embrace the elegance that represents Dior and replicate some of the design based on one of my paintings,” she says, citing her pieces that riff on the work of French impressionist Claude Monet. Using embroidery, glittering beading and organza, Thomas paired the jacket with an organza hat created by Dior’s resident milliner Stephen Jones, and a printed lurex skirt – all worn by Angolan model Blesnya Minher.
This collaboration was also personally symbolic for Thomas. Her mother Sandra Bush – who she cites as one of her first muses – was a fashion model in the 1970s, and although she has now passed away, Bush has been immortalised in Thomas’ work time and time again. “She would have loved to walk the runway for Dior,” says the artist. “As I watched the show I couldn’t help but think about how excited and proud she would have been.” The positive experience that Thomas had while working alongside Maria Grazia Chuiri is testament to the energy that the creative director is fostering at Dior. “It’s definitely one of my goals and it’s on the top of my list,” she says, of working with Chiuri again. “I would love to create a capsule collection – really, anything is possible.”