When Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director of Dior in 2016, she shifted the brand's design focus from “feminine” toward “feminist.” Last year, for instance, she printed the phrase “we should all be feminists” on a $710 T-shirt, promising an undefined percentage of profits would go to charity.
A few days ago, Chiuri again demonstrated her belief that fashion designers define femininity and that contemporary femininity should be feminist. In a show opening Paris Fashion Week, she papered the walls with feminist slogans including "women's rights are human rights" and offered up a sweater that seemed to demand greater regard for the importance of consent. “C’est Non, Non, Non, et Non,” the sweater reads, which means “It’s No, No, No, and No” in English.
In the age of #MeToo and Time's Up, Chiuri's bold stance has quickly captured the attention of the Western hemisphere. But were Chinese consumers equally invigorated?
As live-streams of the Dior show began, comments on Weibo suggested little interest in the feminist ideas behind the clothes. Some said their first impression of the show was that it was a mix of “Forever 21 and Zara.”
Fashion KOL and TV show anchor Linda (李静) live-streamed the Dior show on Tencent Fashion (腾讯时尚), where she also conducted interviews with Angelababy and Su Mang (苏芒). Angelababy herself took over Dior China’s Weibo handles for a time, posting a livestream show on her personal Weibo account.
In recent years, Dior has hired two controversial brand ambassadors, Angelababy and Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), both of whom are popular with young Chinese. However, they have also been criticized for not being feminist enough to represent Dior. Angelababy has been described as the Kim Kardashian of China. She is widely perceived to have used cosmetic surgery to get ahead, and even her husband admits her acting is bad.
The United States feminist movement has been reinvigorated under Trump, but some Chinese people still have little understanding of its goals.
China is a historically patriarchal society, where men were much more valued than women. Although things are considerably better in today's China, feminism is still not widely accepted. “Chinese pastoral feminism” (中华田园女权) is a popular phrase in China used to dismiss women influenced by the supposedly “Western ideology.” These women are perceived as fighting for a fictitious equality that makes no sense given the cold, hard facts about the differences between genders.
Identifying as a feminist is relatively uncommon in China, making it less likely that Dior's collection will resonate in the China market. But that may also make the message all the more important. After all, whether $710 cotton T-shirt is the best way to share it is another question altogether.