Since her arrival at Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been baffling Dior addicts with unfailing regularity. Let’s rewind to her Spring 2017 ready-to-wear debut, which featured silhouettes inspired by gender-agnostic fencing costumes and ‘We Should All Be Feminist’ tees, that got fashion observers to sit up and take note. Empowering and enchanting in equal measure, her body of work makes for an intriguing study. Helming a global juggernaut like Dior is surely a daunting task. However, much like the poets, painters, and philosophers, who came into their own upon arriving in Paris, the inspired Italian has embraced the city’s multicultural bohemia with great gusto, as she redefines Dior’s inimitable savoir-faire, lacing it with the lyricism of individuality. Chiuri’s Dior isn’t merely a cornucopia of cuts, fabrics, silhouettes and embellishments, but a cathartic force that initiates a deeper dialogue between fashion, craftsmanship, poetry, activism and contemporary art.
With couture, she takes this aptitude to the next level, dipping into Dior’s larger-than-life archives and reimagining its key insignias, while respecting the house codes and honouring their deep symbolism. Fantastical ideas flirt with feminine forces, dramatic silhouettes evoke a sense of freewheeling weightlessness, and pleats conjure up poetry. Her signature floaty transparency induces instant epiphany and her how-does-even-one-do-that embroidery evokes the magic of les petites main. Over a Zoom call from Paris, Chiuri speaks with a child-like enthusiasm about Dior’s Cruise ‘22 outing, her drive to support women’s narratives, and her ongoing association with varied Indian crafts. Amalgamating different cultures and crafts in a respectful, responsible manner is central to Chiuri’s process.
“When I come to India, I don’t feel I’m in any other country as there are so many elements it has in common with Italy. Chiuri, who visited several villages in India before the pandemic, says that the experience brought back her childhood memories when she would see her grandmother hand-embroidering textiles, seated outside the house. “The idea of a group of women working on creating embroideries together; it’s this sense of community, which is fantastic. Sadly, there are parts of our tradition we lost in Italy and at times, I’m worried and hope that India doesn’t lose what Italy lost,” she says.
Run The World
Chiuri talks passionately about women’s role in shaping societies and the planet at large. It is this verily unstoppable spirit of tough femininity that echoes from her knickerbockers, sneakers, fencing jackets, and knee-length boots. And who can forget her fluttery, romantic dresses embroidered with tarot card imagery? Time and again, she has imparted a sense of freedom and movement to women’s clothing, complete with its transformative yet subversive codes. “I think that we are working a lot to centre women in the narrative, especially, in this moment with the pandemic crisis. It’s an even more difficult time for women as some of them don’t have the opportunities to work. Around the world, they are battling several problems. They have to work at home and also think about their children. At times, I see that in my studio. So, for me, especially during the crisis, it’s imperative to support women,” she says.
Ready, Jet, Set
The last year-and-a-half of forced confinement got Chiuri interested in the idea of sporty allure expressed as a craving for freedom, which became the focal point of her Dior Cruise ‘22 show, staged at the deeply symbolic Panathenaic Stadium (also known as Kallimármaro) in Athens, Greece. But this wasn’t Dior’s first fling with Greece—way back in 1951, Christian Dior himself posed models against the Acropolis for a special shoot that appeared in the Paris Match magazine. It attempted to spur conversations between the constructed forms of his clothing and the ancient architecture. Cut to the present, Chiuri’s nimble ensembles were teamed with of-the-moment sneakers as models strutted to the vibrant tunes courtesy of the Athens Symphony Orchestra, while the haunting voice of Greek-American singer, Ioanna Gika elevated the show’s theatrical triumph to the next level. 72 large-scale flags by Roman artist Pietro Ruffo fluttered atop the crown of the stadium depicting caryatids, sculpted female figures most commonly associated with the Erechtheion (an ancient Greek temple).
Drawing from the works of Greece-born Italian artist Giorgio De Chirico to Alexandre Iolas’ enviable collection of vases decorated with depictions of wrestling matches, Chiuri offered an avant-garde collage. “I visited Greece often. During the first trip, we discovered the artisans and started working together. It’s really a dialogue,” Chiuri says. She also referenced the history of Greek goddesses and found a strong link with the idea of women in domestic work. “I tried to create a dialogue between the references of Greek culture and what’s important for me. I found that inspiring,” she adds. Against the backdrop of a mammoth stadium and a theatrical setting (a 500-meter-long runway, 400 lights, 200 fireworks, and 55 musicians), the pieces may have appeared stunted seemed diluted by the sheer enormity of it all. However, Chiuri met the challenge with the skill of an experienced conductor. “There’s a risk of showing in Roma or Greece as these places are so well known,” she reflects.
Retelling Of A Classic
The highpoint of this Cruise caravan for Maria was her visit to Aris, a Greek embroidery and tailoring atelier. “To find all the significant elements specific to Greek culture in this company was unbelievable. They had sound knowledge of savoir faire, and I was fascinated to observe the connection between the theme of the embroidery and theme of the atelier,” she says while explaining its application on the reinvented era-defining Bar jacket. One could draw an interesting parallel between recent pandemic-struck times and Monsieur Dior’s post World War II spirit of undying optimism. His seminal New Look unveiled in 1947 nourished the beauty-starved Paris. And maybe the same enterprising and unshakeable spirit of Dior inspired Maria to stage this show in Athens.
To assign a fresh new meaning and modernity to the New Look isn’t an easy task, but she throws you off-kilter at how relevant is the look today as it was back in the day when Paris was ravaged by the war. “The Bar jacket is a beautiful piece and it was Mr. Dior’s idea for the future for women. He approached it differently making something that reminded him of times when he was happy, drawing from the Belle Époque era and referencing his mother. We are not to forget these historical moments,” she emphasises. Collection after collection, Chiuri has deftly resurrected the Bar jacket— recontextualising it, tweaking its proportions, making it lighter, supple and impossibly contemporary. For the Greece showcase, she proposed it in silk, to be worn like a shirt, thus proportions, making it lighter, supple and impossibly contemporary. For the Greece showcase, she proposed it in silk, to be worn like a shirt, thus superimposing the element of the heritage of the house with the key insignia of Greek history, the Toga dress. The new avatar is unisex and drapes around the body in a way that exudes modernity. “We are not to forget Gandhi—your textiles and how you drape your material around you,” she says emphatically.
Meriting a special mention is a series of white trouser suits that were showcased, evoking visions of those worn by the timeless beauty Marlene Dietrich. “Marlene was a very special client of Mr. Dior. She was dressed in Dior all the time. There was an image of her on my mood board. She’s an inspiring woman and a powerful revolutionary of her time,” she says. From time to time, Chiuri may reference cultural icons or mythical figures, but she never loses sight of the grim reality surrounding and confronting us. In this cruise offering too, she wanted us to reflect on the importance of striking an elusive equilibrium between one’s physical and mental health, through sports. The stadium was a sprawling metaphor for freedom we’ve all craved during the crises, as she explored the relationship between body and mind. At Dior, Chiuri has thrived season after season, show after show, by bringing her unique, and often brave perspectives to the table. “You keep your point of view and give the brand a vision for the future. A balance between past, present, and future,” she concludes.