Following nearly two years of shows behind closed doors, Monday afternoon was just about as Parisian as it gets: a Dior haute couture show amid the gardens of the Musée Rodin. Maria Grazia Chiuri highlighted the skill of the couturier with a pared-back collection amongst a celebration of Indian art.
The clothing was mostly understated and simple, with a gentle palette of white, black, cream, and grey. Glistening gowns trickled down the catwalk like a dream. The abundance of delicate beading and stunning diaphanous designs made it clear that Chiuri sought to blur the barriers between art, craft, and Haute Couture. Chiuri’s vision was to champion atelier techniques, which meant an emphasis on garment structure, rather than the dramatic and outlandish fairytale wonder that is normally associated with couture week.
If the clothes were purposely kept simple, it was the unexpected elements that were more flamboyant and playful. One of Chiuri’s greatest talents is designing accessories that every woman can wear. The Fendi Baguette, the little It-bag that starred in its own episode of Sex and the City was dreamt up by the Italian designer. This year though, it’s all about the tights. They were encrusted with chandelier-like crystals for her SS22 collection – a collaboration between the embroidery and knitwear studios. ‘You think it’s just a sock,’ Maria Grazia explained, ‘but embroidery is very tricky.’ The heels of the shoes were also totally embroidered, which she said nearly broke the machines in the ateliers.
Given the emphasis on craft, Grazia Chiuri wanted to highlight her creative collaboration with India, so she kept her collection intentionally simple to draw attention to the vast embroidered artworks that lined the runway walls. The giant works were by prominent Indian artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh, which were recreated in embroidery by the Chanakya ateliers and the Chanakya School of Craft, a Mumbai-based embroidery export house with whom Chiuri has worked for two decades.
The 340-square-metre tapestry that served as the show’s backdrop required 380 artists and 280,000 hours to embroider. ‘There is an idea that Indian embroidery is something cheap,’ said Chiuri before the show. ‘We talk a lot about the incredible ateliers we have here in the Avenue Montaigne, but Indian artisans make embroidery with just the same knowledge and expertise and depth of tradition as embroidery in France and Italy. This excellence is not just ours.’
The vibrant, abstract tapestries serve as a reminder of the incredible amount of effort that goes into creating not just a 3m-high work of art, but also a pair of crystal-encrusted tights. ‘To be a couture brand today comes with a responsibility to support the fashion community all over the world,’ Maria Grazia remarked, noting that this obligation has grown in importance as a result of Covid’s destruction of many livelihoods. ‘We share a connection, because in Italy, where I come from, and in India, there is a generational problem with savoir-faire disappearing. Families push their kids towards studying, or to jobs like becoming a doctor or a lawyer, because in fashion we talk too much about the designer who makes the sketch and not enough about all the other important jobs.’
For those keen to experience the tapestries, the show set will be installed at the Musée Rodin until January 30.