Dior Inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle 2018

Niki de Saint Phalle was a model for Dior in the 1950’s and many years later has been incorporated into the brand’s creations once again. This time her art making the appearance.


A jacket from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection (L) You Are My Love Forever and Ever and Ever, 1968 By Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

After modeling, and a short venture into acting, de Saint Phalle began to make a name for herself in the art world. She was brave to pursue art as men dominated the space and is now known for her feminist endeavors. Her boldness paid off. Many, including Maria Grazia Chiuri, have been captivated by her.

In 2016 Chiuri became the first female to ever take on the role as creative director at Dior. She is an advocate for women’s rights and does a good job of practicing what she preaches.

The Italian designer has had great female role models starting with her mom, who ran a dressmaking atelier, and continuing with the five Fendi sisters that she designed for for nine years. Chiuri went on to work at Valentino for 17 years gaining experience as a joint creative director. When she arrived at Dior, she was prepared to be in charge of the brand’s women’s collections.

Chiuri has used her designs as a way to get messages across that she is passionate about. Namely social issues.

For Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection she was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle and the first look to make its way down the runway read “Why have there been no great women artists?”


A t-shirt from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection

Some may recognize the writing on the t-shirt from a Linda Nochlin essay having the same title. It was published in 1971, was a forward-thinking piece and a copy of it was placed on each guests seat at the runway show.

Nochlin was an acclaimed art historian and, just like de Saint Phalle and Chiuri, a feminist. In fact, “we should all be feminists” was another statement the designer made on a t-shirt. This one being part of her first collection at Dior and coming down the runway for Spring 2017 ready-to-wear. It fits in with the de Saint Phalle inspired collection and could have even been a shirt that the artist would have worn herself.


A t-shirt from Dior’s Spring 2017 ready-to-wear collection

When creating Spring 2018, Chiuri was influenced by looks that de Saint Phalle wore. This included hats she stepped out in and Stephen Jones, a renowned British milliner, helped Chiuri make hats for the collection. Veiled berets were just one style created. Jumpsuits and looks with hearts all over them were also inspired by de Saint Phalle outfits.


A veiled beret from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Niki de Saint Phalle in a veiled beret (R) 


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

Photographs from Dior’s archive not only made Chiuri want to incorporate what the French-American artist wore into the collection but made her realize that de Saint Phalle had been a muse of Marc Bohan’s. He was the creative director at Dior after Yves Saint Laurent left the fashion house in 1960.

Marc Bohan and Niki de Saint Phalle (wearing a tiara designed by Bohan)

Pictures of them together were the starting point for the collection, which soon grew to be a youthful mix of stripes, polka dots, silk, lace, embroidery, appliqués etc. There was a Dragon motif seen on sweaters, bags, dresses and other pieces.


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Dragon, 1968 By Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

The green character is from de Saint Phalle’s 1968 silk screen titled, none other than, Dragon. Another one of her dragons, from the piece Positive Dragon (1988), was also used.

Heart Tree Brooch Pendant, that De Saint Phalle made in 1990, was another work of art that inspired Chiuri.


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Heart Tree Brooch Pendant, 1990 By Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

Runway looks were complete with pieces from Dior’s Spring/Summer 2018 D-Murrine jewelry collection. Also inspired by de Saint Phalle, the handmade pieces were all costume. They were partially made in Italy and partially made at the same German atelier that Monsieur Dior himself chose to use when he first made costume jewelry in 1955. Click here to watch a quick video on how the jewelry was made.

Not all pieces incorporating de Saint Phalle’s art were seen on the runway.


A silk scarf from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection that was not seen on the runway (L) Strength, 1973 By Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

Her art is a combination of cheerful and darker tones and Chiuri incorporated both. She used the spider from De Saint Phalle’s Please Give Me a Few Seconds of Your Eternity (1970) as well as snakes, which gave the collection a bit of a darker feel.

It makes sense that not all of De Saint Phalle’s work was joyous because she turned to art as an escape from hard times. As she had written, “As in all fairy tales, before finding the treasure on my way I met dragons, witches, magicians, and the angel of temperance.” Witches and angels were seen in the collection too.

The artist’s hardships became overwhelming and she suffered a nervous breakdown, which put her in a psychiatric hospital in Nice. She was only 22 years old and said, “I started painting in the madhouse, where I learnt how to translate emotions, fear, violence, hope and joy into painting. It was through creation that I discovered the sombre depths of depression, and how to overcome it.”

A series of her art that may stand out as being influenced by trying times is Tirs, meaning “shots” in French. De Saint Phalle did things in life that were off-kilter. Creating art for her didn’t just involve canvas and a brush. For this series she would shoot bags of paint, spray paint cans and tomatoes with a rifle. The bags etc. would be attached to canvases, plasterboard or sculptures and then covered with plaster and pigment to disguise them. When bullets burst them open, colored paint made its way over the canvas. Quite an exiting way to paint compared to brush strokes.


Niki de Saint Phalle creating the Tirs painting titled Pirodactyl over New York, 1962

De Saint Phalle agreed and turned some of her sessions into performances. When she first started making this type of art, most of it was done in private but other times people watching were able to take shots. Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, both artists, shot at pieces symbolizing their own work.

There were found objects attached to Tirs paintings that symbolized different things, including other artists work, an experience of de Saint Phalle’s, or something going on in the world. These objects were disguised with plaster and pigment as well. Click here to watch a quick video of a Tirs painting being made.


Pirodactyl over New York, 1962 By Niki de Saint Phalle

Chiuri saw that de Saint Phalle did some of the shooting in a white jumpsuit and decided to bring this into the collection. Jumpsuits were made and the color blocking on them and other looks is reminiscent of the artist’s Nana sculptures.


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Nana Maison II By Niki de Saint Phalle (R)

After creating Tirs de Saint Phalle began working on, arguably her most famous series, Nanas.


Nana sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle

The series is made up of curvaceous women sculptures that explore female roles in society. Its title is a French word, that can be derogatory, meaning “girls” and the first ones that de Saint Phalle made challenge stereotypical women’s roles. They portray females as child bearers, witches, devouring mothers, and sex workers. Later ones are more joyous and many are seen with their arms raised. Whether this is out of rage or happiness depends on the sculpture. They are colorful, include motifs and in The New Yorker de Saint Phalle said, “I think I made them so large so that man would look very small next to them.” A very feminist thing to do. Like Chiuri, what she created touched on social issues.

De Saint Phalle’s Nana sculptures have been shown all over the world but in order to see her Tarot Garden you would have to go to Tuscany, Italy. It is a fourteen acre sculpture park that she based on Tarot cards. A park that Christian Dior himself may have appreciated as he was interested in Tarot cards as well. It started to be built in 1980 and includes structures that stand up to fifty feet tall. Some were able to be lived in, which de Saint Phalle took advantage of while creating the garden.


Tarot Garden By Niki de Saint Phalle

Her inspiration for creating it came from Antoni Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona. She wanted to make it a healing place for visitors and added to it for the rest of her life.

What Chiuri added to the collection, that incorporated the garden, was shimmering.


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Part of a structure at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden (R)

What covered part of the walls and floor at the show’s location mimicked these runway looks. The space, at the Rodin Museum in Paris, looked like a cave and the floor and walls were undulating. It had the feel of the The Tarot Garden and inscribed at the entrance was “If life is a game of cards, we are born without knowing the rules,” signed Niki de Saint Phalle.

Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear runway show (L) Inside of a structure at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden (R)

Regardless of not having rules, De Saint Phalle filled her life with meaning. She was asked to join the group of French artists behind the Nouveau Réalism movement, which led her to work with Salvador Dalí. She stood up for social injustices, even collaborated on a book destigmatizing AIDS and got involved in film, theater sets, perfume, jewelry and clothing. The profound artist said to the New York Herald Tribune, “I think clothes should make a statement. Mine do. They’re the way I feel.”

Chiuri’s collection made a statement and I think de Saint Phalle would be pleased with Dior pieces being inspired by her and her life’s work.


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) Part of a structure at Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden (R)


A look from Dior’s Spring 2018 ready-to-wear show (L) An autobiography by Niki de Saint Phalle titled Traces (R)

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