Dior’s “The Women Behind the Lens” Project Raises Questions About Feminism and Advertising

The house's latest project continues to promote women—but something is missing

What does it mean for women to advertise to women? That’s the question this writer is left asking after finally seeing Dior’s first few entries in its “Women Behind the Lens” series.

Announced by the house back in December, the project introduces the audience to the female photographers creating Dior’s campaigns, with nine women explaining their experience working for the house and artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Last week, four photographers were showcased: Maripol (who took Polaroids backstage at the show), Brigitte Lacombe (who shot the Spring 2017 campaign), Brigitte Niedermair (who shot key pieces from the collection), and Janette Beckman (who shot behind the scenes at the atelier). Each entry showcases a slightly different view of the same collection, and also features a video clip of the photographers explaining their approach.

While the images are pretty—and in some cases informative—we must again ask, is this series (and Dior’s newfound pro-woman approach) nothing more than a hollow gesture?

The videos in the series do shed some light upon the working relationship between model and photographer, and how that might change when a woman is behind the lens. It is an interesting subject, one that in recent years has been increasingly explored through reporting on a perceived rise in female photographers. It’s being called a “new” female gaze, but arguably the only thing that is new is the promotion of it. Female photographers have always existed, and there is still a disproportionate ratio of male photographers in fashion. But a conversation has begun surrounding female photographers who are exploring the idea of womanhood through images. As a new wave of feminism sweeps through the international consciousness, of course brands are looking on ways to capitalize on it in some way.

But it’s a conversation that leaves one wanting more—isn’t there something bigger to explore than aesthetic interpretation? Would a female photographer inherently know how to capture an image that appeals to a female consumer? These are questions that would be fascinating for the photographers—or even Dior—to explore out in the open. The house is more than happy to tout how a women designing clothes better understands what the female customer wants. It should not be too much of a stretch to assume that those in charge of the campaign know how to reach women as well. Why should this be something left unspoken?

Ultimately, it’s advertising. As consumers, we’re not stupid to that. Some members of the FU team brought up the fact that it’s at least nice to see a brand say something positive, rather than staying neutral or otherwise, even if this means commodifying feminism. But again—it’s advertising. No matter what message Dior put it out there, a commercial aspect would be attached. In fact, the only way to perhaps truly avoid the accusation of co-opting a political movement for financial gain would be to forgo a fancy campaign, donate that budget to a worthy cause, and never speak a word about it. But considering the brand was only willing to part with a portion of the profits from its $750 “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt to Rihanna’s charity, that seems unlikely.

But as we have brought up in other articles, some slack should be cut to Chiuri and Dior. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist, she really does seem to have the best intentions to begin with, and it appears both she and the brand are committed to the campaign. Perhaps in the future we may also see photographers of different aesthetics, backgrounds, age, and races given free reign to explore what Dior and femininity mean to them. One can only hope that Chiuri will be able to continue to evolve this idea of women selling to women, and negotiating the fine line between empowering and exploitation.

Keep track of the series for yourself, here. As press releases have announced nine women, and only four have been shown so far, there are a few more interpretations yet to be revealed.

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