A Dior haute couture show in the gardens of the Musée Rodin is as Parisian as fashion gets. But this season, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri’s heart was in India.
“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 clothes on the catwalk were kept deliberately simple. The high-buttoning double-breasted Bar jackets which Chiuri has placed at the centre of her Dior aesthetic were made in unbleached ecru wool. In matt black Moroccan silk crepe for day or fine silver lamé for evening, dresses were clean-lined and fluid as nightgowns.
This directed the spotlight away from the clothes and towards the vast tapestries which decorated the show venue, which comprise a retrospective of the work of two Indian artists, Madhvi and Manu Parekh, rendered in embroidery by the Chanakya School of Craft in Mumbai.
Karishma Swali, director of the school, described the installation, which will be open to the public until 30 January, as “both an art gallery and a celebration of the connection between artists and artisans”.
Madhvi Parekh’s work draws on folk art, village craft and symbols of female energy, while that of her husband, Manu, leans toward modernism and abstraction. The show marks a first collaboration with a male artist for Chiuri, who has partnered with female artists across different media for many past Dior collections.
Chiuri has worked with Swali and her workshops since 1995, when she was designing for Fendi.
“To be a couture brand today comes with a responsibility to support the fashion community all over the world,” she said, adding that this responsibility has intensified with the damage done to many livelihoods by Covid.
“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, because in fashion we talk too much about the designer who makes the sketch and not enough about all the other important jobs.”
While Mumbai artisans spent 200,000 hours creating the giant tapestries in organic plant-based threads, Chiuri was preoccupied with crystal-embroidered socks, and shoes in which the heels were entirely embroidered. “You think it’s just a sock, but embroidery is very tricky,” she said.