Why Dior's Frida Kahlo Show Was So Offensive To Gender Violence Victims
Dior recently tried to fight gender violence in Mexico City, in a catwalk inspired by late artist icon Frida Kahlo. However, this took place in the form of an elitist show, with hollow slogans and no real action.
BOGOTÁ — Dior's fashion show last month in Mexico City revived a longstanding debate on whether or not fashion can be political, and even at times feminist.
The collection shown at the San Ildefonso palace was, according to Dior's first ever female head, María Grazia Chiuri, inspired by Mexico's iconic 20th century painter, Frida Kahlo. This isn't bad per se, though it is a little clichéd by now, especially if Frida is to be the only cultural reference abroad for Mexico.
Some of the dresses were near replicas of those she wore in the 1920s and 30s, of traditional huipil gowns one finds in market stalls or of the tight, charro jackets worn by Mariachi bands hired at parties, though probably more finely cut. This alone would have constituted an acceptable though not outstanding collection of designs, conveying Dior's superficial and unremarkable vision of a nation's arts and crafts.
But things became a little complicated in the last parade, when several models walked on wearing white cotton dresses and red shoes, in an allusion to works by Elina Chauvet, an artist from the northern state of Chihuahua.
In 2009, Chauvet collected shoes donated by members of the public, and painted them red for an installation exploring the distressing phenomenon of femicides in Ciudad Juárez, her state. The reference here was trivial if not meaningless, as nothing was donated, there was no collective effort or mobilization, nor any commemoration of the women and girls murdered in Juárez.
The dresses also had protest words sewn onto them taken from placards as well as examples of misogynistic words, though it all seemed too neat and tidy given the gravity of the issue and the protest music complementing this part of the show. They might have been contentious on a trendy website.
When women shout these words, they're met with violence, but when Dior says them quietly, it's applauded.
Use of slogans such as GRL PWR, suggestive of the lives of women in prosperous, Anglo-Saxon countries, were effectively unrelated to the more brutal reality of women fighting for their rights, or their lives, in a country like Mexico. Women have more than once protested in the city center and particularly the Zócalo — the vast square where the presidential palace stands — very close to the 18th-century monument picked as the venue for this show.
So very close to this elegant setting, they will have been pushed and shoved if not beaten, or at best ignored and restricted. Every time there is a women's march, on March 8 say, metal barriers are raised around public premises lest some of the words seen on the white dresses be scrawled over historic buildings or ATMs. When women shout out these words, they're met with violence; but when Dior says them quietly, it's applauded (and applauds itself) exquisitely.
Common insults used against women were embroidered onto white dresses for the Dior Cruise 2024Ángel Vázquez
Action, not words
It is not that fashion should steer clear of social causes. Prestige labels can certainly tackle issues and they have the funds to undertake research that ensures they are respectful with culture (as Disney did, with its 2017 film Coco) or to design strategies with real impact. They might pressure their wealthy clients and devotees to demand the state's firm response to gender violence.
They will not, however, since that was never their intention — quite evidently. Dior (formerly Christian Dior) says it is helping the cause by giving it visibility. But femicides in Mexico have had more than enough publicity and this still hasn't curbed increasing violence on women. Currently, 11 women are killed there every day.
What women need is not for their plight to be aired or seen, but political will and a state budget to prevent and combat gender violence, and compensate victims. It's not as if Dior approached the victims of violence to ask them how it could help. It is an ugly, harsh issue of little interest to the House of Dior, or perhaps just enough to spice up a catwalk.
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