MUMBAI, India — It was clear that Maria Grazia Chiuri, Christian Dior’s artistic director of women’s collections, has kicked off a new dialogue with the brand’s historic pre-fall 2023 show at the Gateway of India on Thursday night.
This dialogue resonated immediately in Mumbai with the familiarity of what was shown on the runway, in terms of color, technique, styles and silhouettes, all of which showed Chiuri’s affection and appreciation for India.
This also was apparent in the collaboration between Dior and Karishma Swali, who directs the Chanakya ateliers and the Chanakya School of Craft in MumbaI, which brought to life Chiuri’s love for embroidery and the craft of India.
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The show — massive in featuring 99 styles — was unique in that many of the styles were created in collaboration concerning the choice of color palette, motifs, mirror work, sequins and crafts.
The models also had been chosen carefully, with 23 Indian models, 33 Indian models with international backgrounds and 43 international ones.
The choice of India for the show was the latest in Dior’s string of major undertakings, from the takeover of the facade of Harrods in London last holiday season to the men’s pre-fall show that illuminated the Pyramids of Giza last December.
“The choice of this destination is deeply linked to our shared history and passions,” said Delphine Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture. “Our unwavering affinity with India, woven from the very beginnings of the house in 1947, and through the shows of Monsieur Dior’s various successors — from Marc Bohan to Maria Grazia Chiuri — has constantly been deployed in numerous creative dialogues combining innovation and ancestral heritage.”
That the dialogue opening up new spaces was also apparent in the symbolic location: The Gateway of India, which overlooks the Arabian Sea, is one of the city’s best-loved landmarks; the beautifully lit, iconic Taj Mahal hotel is across the road.
The symbolism of a new doorway was creatively taken a step further with the 46-foot “Toran,” a site-specific artwork just below the Gateway itself that was realized via a collaboration between the Chanakya Ateliers and Chanakya School of Craft. Women in India have crafted torans for centuries, decorating local fabric by using embroidery and patchwork as a way to welcome guests into their homes.
Chiuri lit up as she spoke about the Toran.
“It has been a dream of mine to create a toran for the show installation since I saw the one hanging at Nehal’s home in Mumbai,” she said of Nehal Shah, who is the director of Chanakya, and is Karishma’s brother. “The female artisans of the Chanakya School of Craft and the master artisans from the Chanakya Atelier handcrafted the toran as a communal activity, drawing on their own design vocabulary and each choosing which symbols of good fortune to integrate into the piece. They have worked together over several months, required 35,000 hours of handwork to complete this piece and employed 25 craft techniques including phulkari, mirror work, french knotting, and kantha.
“Elephants, mandalas, lotus, the kamadhenu, tigers, and peacocks adorn the beautiful Toran, welcoming guests and inviting them to discover India’s rich cultural heritage,” she said.
While the craft and embroidery enriched the easy, relaxed silhouettes that Chiuri favored in the collection, the Mumbai show gave the city and the Indian market a recognition that has long been coming.
It is also 60 years after Dior models traveled to Mumbai for the brand’s spring-summer 1962 couture show in collaboration with Air-India. It was sponsored by the Time and Talents Club, Femina and the Alliance Française in Mumbai in April 1962 when Dior was being designed by Marc Bohan.
While Chiuri took inspiration from those files, this show brought in different elements from her own life — the love for peplum, and the drape of the fabric around the body, knotting at the waist. Madras check and block printing made it to the runway, as did tigers, elephants and peacocks.
“We have to recognize what is high level quality,” Chiuri explained. “Couture is not only what is done in Milan or in Paris. In other countries you can find specific companies that are couture level background, like Chanakya — they are a couture brand. We have to recognize this, and change.”
Chiuri told WWD on Thursday that colors like the rani pink — a shade of pink that is particular to India, and popular — and jamuni (a shade of purple), as well as silhouettes that carried a splash of color that she said were inspired from the festival of Holi, were part of the palette that emerged from the collaboration with Karishma Swali.
Among the pieces that stood out was the mirror-studded opera jacket, taken to the next level with its fine fabric, keeping it light despite the mirrors, and the use of jali work with small mirrors, embedded pearls, the more ceremonial zardozi embroidery, and aari work (aari is both the name of the hook-shaped needle and a type of stitch created by looping the thread through stretched fabric using the hooked needle).
She also paid tribute to the past in other ways.
“Each collection I wanted to make an important reference, the love of the flower that Christian Dior and his sister Catherine Dior had, and this flower was made with different techniques. This season this is magnificent, because the school made a 3D flower. It is magnificent, it is a piece of art, made with organza,” she said.
The location for the show in Mumbai was opportune at a time when the luxury market in India is growing fast. But Chiuri’s excitement was clearly focused simply on the art, its creation, and perpetuation.
“Honestly, for me, this show is very personal, it’s not about markets,” she said. “Karishma and I met more than 25 years ago and wanted to explore and we have been doing that over the years, but really did that with this collection. Fashion sometimes is more concentrated on other elements, the shape, the color — less about textile, embroidery, thinking that is not so central. But it can be the driving force as well.”
Celebrities from across the world attended the show — Hollywood actors Yara Shahidi, Cara Delevingne, Freida Pinto, Maisie Williams, and Simone Ashley; Thai actors Mile Phakphum and Apo Nnattawin, and Bollywood stars including Sonam Ahuja Kapoor and Anushka Sharma with her husband, well known cricketeer Virat Kohli, as well as sitarist Anushka Shankar.
“In this moment we celebrated a great partnership,” said Chiuri, “and also incredible work that we did together. It is so important to celebrate the culture, the creativity that is in this country and the way we can try to move in the future. This is our goal.”