When a Dior fashion show begins amid the black ties and flashing cameras in the Musee Rodin, the last thing you’d expect to see is a tee shirt. But this is exactly what kicked off the display for Dior’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection — a plain white tee-shirt, silk-printed with the words SISTERHOOD IS GLOBAL.
Pulled directly from the cover of the 1984 book by the same name, the SISTERHOOD IS GLOBAL design features the familiar blue letters against a simple white background. At a glance, the shirts are a beautiful representation of the global sisterhood movement — but at their core, the shirts say so much more.
The statement is the brainchild of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first ever female Artistic Director at Dior. Chiuri designed the fashion line both to bring attention to the global sisterhood movement and directly support it, donating a portion of the proceeds to the SIG Institute. According to Dior’s description of the new line, “The simple fact of choosing one’s clothes becomes a political semaphore. Silkscreened t-shirts pay homage to the literary works of Robin Morgan, the American feminist poet, with elements from Sisterhood is Powerful (1970), Sisterhood is Global (1984) and Sisterhood is Forever (2003), which celebrate the concept of sorority.”
Chiuri is no stranger to putting her political ideals into her clothing designs, given that her previous show themes have helped bring Dior into a new era of feminist fashion. However, her determination to invite Morgan to Paris and open the show with a tee shirt line was so out of character for a fashion show that at first, Morgan thought Chiuri’s idea was a hoax.
“I don’t think we answered right away,” says Morgan, in a video interview posted on Dior’s Instagram. “And then she persistently wrote again, and when we actually met, we just fell into each other’s arms and we said, ‘Oh, my sister, my sister,’ and we spoke as women and as political beings and as artists.”
The message of the Dior line reaches further into the fashion industry than might immediately be obvious. Dior has always been something of a “revolutionary” brand, from fashion lines that celebrated the end of wars to stark designs that attempted to redesign the concept of femininity. Now that Chiuri is pushing so hard to establish Dior as a feminist fashion brand, the sentiment is not lost on Morgan.
“There’s a humor and an irony to being at a show with a woman who has influence and power, and is the first woman ever to head the house of Dior,” says Morgan. “You know, the influence of clothes, these days, in this world, is enormous, whether one likes it or not. It’s just enormous. It trickles out, it trickles down, so people want to wear what other people want to wear. And when [Chiuri] said she wanted to do the three anthology titles, I thought, ‘Well, OK then! A tee shirt is better than a button!'”
It may seem like a small victory, but when feminist messages like Morgan’s make it into the mainstream — and when companies like Dior and movement leaders like Morgan and Chiuri collaborate to create these messages — women around the world can take heart in the significance. A woman can look at the Dior line and say to herself, “Here is something I agree with. Here is something that represents what I believe in, what I’m fighting for.” In an industry like fashion, where the concept of femininity has been fought over for years, something as simple as a tee shirt can be a huge rallying cry.
“So often I think that a mistake gets made that feminism is a ‘static’ thing, like a still picture as opposed to a movie,” says Morgan. “Or that feminism is a label. Feminism is really a process… I mean, there are boundaries between women, of course, of class and age and race and privilege, but I have never know a movement so obsessively dedicated to bridging those differences — to naming them, to struggling over them, to dealing with them.”
Combining feminism and the fashion industry is just one example of the efforts to bridge the boundaries between women, and feminist philanthropy can help bridge the gap. In designing the line — and in the statement that comes with donating part of the proceeds to the SIG Institute — Chiuri found a way to meld classic feminist themes with corporate interests, while still maintaining the integrity of her own beliefs — and Morgan’s.
“I’m honored to honor her here this week,” said Robin’s son, Blake, in his statement about the Dior show. “And I’m honored to watch as so many honor her work. Sisterhood is Powerful. Sisterhood is Global. Sisterhood is Forever. And so are you, Robin. I love you.”
Since the 1980s, the global sisterhood movement has continued to grow, and Morgan remains confident that moments like the Dior fashion show are stitches in the fabric of a better future.
“For me, you know, it’s always been about saving the world,” says Morgan. “Just that.”
Other examples of donor activists combining art/design and gender equality work to reach new audiences include Lara Schnitger’s feminist art procession and Ruth Ann Harnisch’s executive producing of the The Hunting Ground.