Night falls over Seville. The scent of carnations wafts among the coffered ceilings of the Plaza de España, the venue where (incidentally) ELLE celebrated its 75th anniversary just one year ago. The Andalusian air is punctuated with classical notes from maestro Alberto Iglesias’ score and the rhythmic foot tapping of two Flamenco dancers, El Yiyo and Belén López. The soft steps of 60 dancers, led by the brilliant Blanca Li, gently caress the two bridges. And only after five minutes, during which these elements to delight the senses of guests, does the first Dior look—men’s trousers, braces, and a lavish black and white shawl—join this homage to beauty, piquing our curiosity.
The Parisian firm’s 2023 cruise collection—which, under the baton of Maria Grazia Chiuri (Rome, 1964), aspires to enfold the entire world in its embrace (just like the two wings of the Plaza in the imagination of architect Aníbal González)—is an ode to the craftsmanship of the south and a celebration of its culture. Or cultures. Because what interests the Roman designer most is precisely how disparate populations have converged here: from Arabs to Filipinos, with influences from the Americas and India. It is only natural that she be the one to show us that, far from Paris and Milan, in the shadow of the Giralda bell tower, fashion without borders becomes possible, building bridges against nationalism. Because the only thing that is truly ours is that which belongs to everyone.
We join Chiuri and her daughter, Rachele Regini (1986), the maison’s cultural advisor, in the Andalusian capital after attending—awestruck—a show dominated by men’s apparel (a tribute to the great Carmen Amaya), Cordovan hats, embroidery, trim, without a hint of cliché. Her ever so subtle nod to flamenco dresses, Holy Week, and the equestrian world serve as a substrate that nourishes the entire collection. Maria Grazia immediately confesses that she tried to escape the costume effect, and in her attempt to do so became immersed in Seville’s artistic society for months, collaborating with artisans from across the province, like embroiderer Jesús Rosado, leather worker Javier Menacho, hat makers Fernández and Roche, and the silversmiths from Orfebrería Ramos. To say nothing of the breath-taking shawls created by María José Sánchez Espinar. It is a true declaration of love for the trades, so deeply rooted in the local as to become universal.
ELLE: Lecce, Athens, and now Seville. Why did you choose to unveil this new collection in southern Spain?
MARIA GRAZIA (MG): I am very interested in the Mediterranean region. It’s in my background. And Spain in particular (Seville, Córdoba, Granada, etc.) is an incredibly multicultural country. Spanish dress is a touchstone that has always been much-loved by designers like John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, and others. Beyond Balenciaga, who, along with Dior, was the greatest couturier in history, the tradition that exists here is extremely important. And the young keep it alive. It is also fascinating to reflect on why something is considered from a certain place… it’s a difficult thing to define because objects, like people, move. For example, the shawl is a fixture of Spanish identity, yet it originated in the Philippines, passed through China, arrived in South America, and finally landed here. Same with the fan. For me, there is infinite territory to explore and I’ve only just begun.
ELLE: It’s fashion that goes beyond clothing, adding a sociocultural element, and sending a message of peace.
MG: And it’s able to create new beauty, especially now when some outlets want to weigh in on what’s authentic and what’s not. What they never ask is: authentic in what sense and for whom? But anyway… in reality it’s the dialogue between cultures that generates beauty. It happens with dance. Flamenco actually comes from India. It has a beautiful story. And it serves to create the Spanish identity, which is a mixture of elements from Arab, Hebrew, and Christian heritage. It was such fun to visit a laboratory that works with all the guilds here, with the design of the traditional dresses, the gold and silver brocades. The haute couture workshop of an embroiderer…
ELLE: Belonging to Jesús Rosado. It’s pure luxury, like all the work of the many artisans here in southern Spain.
MG: It has unparalleled historical and cultural value. I’ve never seen such a place, not in France, Italy, or India. It’s one of a kind! That expertise does not exist elsewhere. Bobbin lace with silver thread. It’s fascinating. The first thing he said when I met him was, “I’m from the Borgia family”. I replied, “Oh, so we know each other well!” Let’s not forget that the Spanish were in Italy for many years. This is a journey to discover who we are.
ELLE: Tell us about your inspirations.
MG: Without a doubt, Carmen Amaya. Her photos deeply affected me. And her story: how she introduced the male Flamenco steps and how she became famous even in Paris. An extraordinarily emancipated woman for her time. She reminded us of Blanca Li, who we asked to collaborate with us. Blanca has also spearheaded a revolution in traditional dance. And then, both Rachele and I adore Pedro Almodóvar. For me, he is the director who knows how to portray female characters best.
ELLE: True, he is a wonderful connoisseur of the female soul.
MG: Before embarking on this adventure, I had the pleasure of meeting him in Madrid, which was a dream come true. I would have loved for him to join us at the show, if only as a guest, but he was filming.
RACHELE: His characters are always multigenerational. We recognise the grandmother, the mother, ourselves. We have grown up with their stories and we see ourselves in them.
MG: And seeing them, we say, “Ok, I’m from here; I belong to this world.” This trip has allowed me to get to know Spain better and to enjoy a sense of familiarity with the Spanish spirit and the type of education received…. reflecting on the influence of Catholicism, for example, under which I was educated, and the figure of the Virgin. I was excited to see that here. Every neighbourhood has its own virgin to care for.
ELLE: Here there is a special cult of the virgin. She is dressed in shawls, lace, trim, gold threading…
MG: Yes, she has her favourite wardrobe, her ladies… She’s almost the queen of the neighbourhood. That helps explain why here, in the south, the role of women in the family is that of queen. Though it may not seem so, they are the centre, the matriarchs, as was the case with my grandmother and my mother in the Apulia region.
ELLE: Rachele, can fashion help us understand society?
RACHELE: Yes. It’s important to encourage dialogue between the land and the people who inhabit it. For us, it was important not to simply arrive and impose our vision. We travelled here several times before we began to understand not only the spirit but the tradition of the clothing, the society, and then to mix it with the history of the brand.
MG: We call it social sustainability. The main thing is to produce in situ, not to import. Few companies can afford to do that; the costs are extremely high.
ELLE: One of the missions of fashion is to safeguard craftsmanship.
MG: I have to say that in this respect, France is unbeatable. It hurts me that it’s not the same in Italy. Other countries can learn a lot from how France supports small ateliers, their métiers d’art. There is a will, both politically and from big business, to keep the trades alive, to promote savoir-faire. It seems to me that Spain has not yet lost those often family-based traditions.
ELLE: Rachele, speaking of working with family, I understand that it was difficult to accept working with your mother. Is it a challenge? Do children also teach their parents?
RACHELE: I don’t know! We’ve tried to create a dialogue where we communicate on equal footing. I don’t like to call her a friend; she’ll always be my mother. But this is something we’ve built together. It’s not easy at all. It’s the product of several years of discussions, debates, etc.
MG: I wanted her to come work with me, but she didn’t want to. And rightly so. She wanted to open her own space. Then, thanks to the pandemic, I convinced her, though in reality, we had already collaborated before.
RACHELE: I think that in order to establish a good working relationship, you have to be confident in your own individuality, your own independence.
MG: I learn a lot from my kids. They’re very different from me and my husband. And in this world, where people are often reticent to say what they think, I have the external eyes of Rachele and my husband to give me their honest opinion.
RACHELE: We have perspective. I’m a scientist, logical.
MG: She got that from her father, not me. They are both tremendously analytical. I’m not at all; I’m instinctual.
ELLE: The other day I read a phrase from Maria Grazia that I loved: “to change things you have to get your hands dirty”.
RACHELE: She repeats it a lot. It’s the Maria Grazia Chiuri philosophy: take the bull by the horns and go out on a limb. She started saying it to me when I was at university because I was getting too anchored in what they taught there in London. If I critiqued her, she would tell me to come work for her and apply what I had learned, to get my hands dirty.
MG: Sometimes people are critical, which is fine, but you can’t only be critical or nothing blossoms. You have to find a way to change things. Risk being wrong.
ELLE: You are a great champion of bringing female talent to the forefront…
MG: Yes, I think that women often feel inadequate, don’t they?
ELLE: They call it impostor syndrome.
MG: But I’ve never met a man who feels like that. I think as women we sometimes have a hard time recognising our own talent, believing in it, and celebrating ourselves, as if it’s in bad taste. But if you’re good and you say it, you’re not taking away from anyone else.
Photos: Sylvie Lancrenon, Direction: Bárbara Garralda
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