Dior Goes To India
Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri is one of the most unorthodox designers working today. She is one of the few women leading a major fashion brand, first of all, but she has also, season by season, redefined the concept of collaboration, as I wrote in a profile of her this past fall. If other brand honchos think of collaborations as splashy team-ups, she sees them as a process of relationship-building and a way to share the stage.
Her long-term partnership with the Chanayka atelier in Mumbai, India is perhaps the best example of how that plays out. She has known the atelier’s director, Karishma Swali, for decades, having first met her when working as a designer at Fendi and Valentino, where she called upon Swali’s firm for its exquisite embroidery. For several years, Dior has supported the Chanakya School of Crafts, which teaches women the skills of hand embroidery, granting them the ability to earn their own income and support their families or themselves independently. And in Spring 2020, she foregrounded the school as collaborators on her couture collection—granting the institution and its students an unprecedented spotlight in fashion, which frequently uses Indian ateliers but rarely discusses doing so, preferring instead to prop up a myth of European craftsmanship.
On Thursday, Chiuri made her boldest step yet in the friendship, staging her Fall 2023 show in Mumbai, as a “creative dialogue” between Dior and Chanakya. Amid an art installation created by Chanakya and its School of Crafts, Chiuri showed one of her most embroidery-dense collections to date, rich with silks and jewel tones and shown in an achingly pretty progression of color and texture.
Chiuri also underscored that Dior’s relationship with India predates her 2016 arrival at the brand. Marc Bohan, who was Dior’s artistic director from 1960 to 1989, traveled to Mumbai and Delhi in the early 1960s and created a number of pieces for Indian customers. Many of the looks in the collection Chiuri showed yesterday were updates of those original Bohan designs.
Chiuri’s insistence that fashion is a global undertaking, not only in its consumer reach but in its very creation, is one of the most interesting movements in the industry. (Especially, as I wrote back in October, at Dior, which is synonymous with France and French-ness.) Other brands are undertaking similar efforts; Chanel staged a show in Dakar in December, for example, and a number of houses are using the travel-heavy resort season to put on shows in Asia. It’s a tender and complicated task, and the way brands approach these cultural exchanges, especially in an era as sensitive as ours, will be one of the great intrigues of the next decade. But seeing the impact that another culture’s sense of beauty can have on European design sensibilities is arguably just as significant as the possible political or social implications. The narrative of colors in this collection alone, flowing from black to beige into green, then to pink and purple and greyish brown, is one of the most breathtaking sequences I’ve seen in recent fashion memory.
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