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Dior's muse Niki de Saint Phalle ignites Spring-Summer 2018 collection with playful femininity

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Creative Director of Dior Maria Grazia Chiuri used the work of Niki de Saint Phalle for her ready-to-wear spring-summer 2018 collection.
She was not turning art directly into fashion, but using it as inspiration. Thereby she continued the dialogue between Dior and Niki de Saint Phalle, Marc Bohan’s Muse, that began in 1965.


Maria Grazia Chiuri is the first woman that lead the iconic French label since it was founded in 1946. She debuted her first collection for Christian Dior in September of 2016, and it was a big deal.
Since that time, she’s used her collections as a megaphone for social issues—her clothes literally make statements. Maria Grazia’s era of Dior is all about women and what they’re capable of.


Maria Grazia Chiuri at the end of her Dior show for spring/summer 2018. Photo: Vogue.
"Dior is about femininity! Everybody told me that."
"Okay, I said, but what does that mean today?
I try to speak about women now, and for the future.
Dior has to be about female empowerment. Only with flowers? It’s not enough."

Maria Grazia Chiuri
Niki de Saint Phalle. My Monster, 1968
Chiuri adores one theme — her love of art and artists, especially women with their own path in the male-dominated art world. And this season she was inspired by the iconic French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930−2002), whose exuberant sculptures in bright, joyful colors often belied darker, more serious creative motivations.

When Chiuri discovered that de Saint Phalle had at once been a model and muse for Yves Saint Laurent’s successor at Dior, Marc Bohan, the balance of beauty and substance was reached. She started to learn the breadth of the artist’s work. Allusions to de Saint Phalle’s art are woven into diaphanous skirts, bags, and shoes, imbuing the line with a playful femininity.
Dior’s Spring/Summer 2018 runway show. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Their long friendship began in 1965, when Niki de Saint Phalle presented her first Nanas in wool and papier mâché. That times Marc Bohan made her acquaintance through the gallerist organizing the exhibition. Being an art lover, Marc Bohan acquired four of her Nanas: a big one in a striped swimsuit, a smaller one in a dress with straps, another, naked, with a tattooed body, and, lastly, a monumental one carrying a handbag.

Niki appreciated the style of Marc Bohan’s designs for Dior. She became a client of the House, attended fashion shows, and the Creative Director even designed exclusive clothes specially for her.

Left: Niki de Saint Phalle in a tiara composed of two intertwined snakes, designed by Marc Bohan for the launch of her perfume © Droits réservés

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930−2002) was a French-American sculptor, painter and model for Dior in the 1950s. She used her work to explore the roles of women in art and society, through pieces such as Shooting Pictures, in which she fired a .22 rifle into bags of paint strapped to a canvas and the "Nanas", her bold and colourful sculptures of monstrously feminine figures. She was one of the few women artists who focused on the monumental sculptures. Colorful, patterned, and crafted in a variety of shapes and sizes, these sculpted women embody de Saint Phalle’s feminist spirit.
She went on to become a part of the Nouveau Réalisme movement that included Christo, Yves Klein, and her husband Jean Tinguely.
Niki de Saint Phalle. Could we have loved?, 1968
Designer Maria Grazia Chiuri in her spring/summer 2018 show made sense of the two opposites. The founder of Christian Dior, a romantic designer was captivated by the beauty of Niki’s flowers and the artist, who was so angry and anguished after being abused by her father, that in her own words — referring to tarot card symbols — she "met dragons, witches, magicians" before finding "the angel of temperance". Niki de Saint Phalle narrates an imagined revision of her intense early life, violence of her father in a semi-autobiographical movie Daddy (1973) and her autobiography "Traces. Remembering", 1930−1949.
A model on Dior show wears a picture from the cover of the autobiography "Traces. Remembering" (1930−1949).
Chiuri continues her debate about women’s changing roles and appearance in the world with her models walking on the catwalk in t-shirts that read "Why have there been no great women artists?". It is a title of the essay, published by Linda Nochlin in 1971 that inspired her for creation the collection as well.

Model Sasha Pivovarova, who demonstrates this T-shirt, is also known as a talented artist. Pivovarova became the face of the advertising campaign Dior "prêt-à-porter spring-summer 2018".

Left: Sasha wears a slogan tee on the Dior catwalk. Photograph: Pixelformu/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Here are several of the most striking pieces from the new Dior collection that were inspired by de Saint Phalle.
Dior’s Supple Lady Dior bag. Based on the Long Live Love (Vive l’Amour) poster
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha... Their posters are world-famous. What factors led to the emergence of such a special genre? We talk about the origins, development, features of this art form and show the works by different artists. Read more
(1991) © 2017 Niki Charitable Art Foundation. Image courtesy of Long Live Love (Vive l’Amour) (1990). Courtesy of Guggenheim Bilbao. Avenida Abandoibarra, Bilbao, Spain.
Dior’s silk scarf based on Niki de Saint Phalle’s You are my Love Forever and Ever and Ever (1968); Positive Dragon (1988); Please Give me a few Seconds of your Eternity (1970). (c)2017 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, images courtesy of Dior.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s imaginative world is populated with strange yet alluring beings—a place where even the monsters are sweetly charming.
Dior Spring/Summer 2018 runway show in Paris. Photos by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
One more source of inspiration for Chiuri became Mosaics at Saint Phalle’s Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden), located in Tuscany.
The scenery at Dior’s Spring/Summer 2018 Runway Show. Right: Models wear designs inspired by the immersive mosaics at the Tarot Garden. Images © 2018 Dior.
Title image: Collage: Mosaic at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, Dior show ss2018. Photo: vogue.co.uk.

Based on materials from Artnet, press releases Dior, Vogue.