Oh, how times have changed. Back in 1968, a pop music show on French TV might feature Françoise Hardy performing in a dress custom-made by Christian Dior from an original sketch by Sonia Delaunay. As a bonus, the segment in question began with Delaunay and Dior couturier Marc Bohan discussing the collaboration.
Cut to 2018, when a designer outfit might merit at best a cursory glance and “like” on Instagram, before the eye skips to the next quick-fix gratification. Maria Grazia Chiuri knows today’s audience has little patience for the complexities of technique and design, yet she’s also convinced they are the essence of luxury.
Her pre-fall collection reveled in the kind of intricate detail that gets lost in pictures, but forges a powerful emotional connection in real life. That gripping archival footage of an 83-year-old Delaunay got her thinking about how the artist used embroidery and color in her work in the early 20th century.
“I think it was really something revolutionary for the time,” Chiuri mused.
In intellectual terms, the collection was all about craft as a vehicle for women’s artistic expression — as explored in feminist art historian Rozsika Parker’s seminal book “The Subversive Stitch.” On an emotional level, it connected with Chiuri’s Southern Italian roots. “My grandmother spent hours making these wonderful embroideries,” she recalled.
Her passion for technique was evident as she showed off a lace dress covered in tiny colored beads; a sheer V-neck tulle gown with a zig-zag pattern of velvet and satin strips; a chiffon tunic with a needlepoint bib; a skirt with a pattern of French knots, or a cardigan that seemed to be made from stray balls of yarn.
While there was a strong Seventies slant to the daywear — crochet dresses, folkloric-print blouses and ribbed turtlenecks in an autumnal palette — the more elaborate pieces had an heirloom quality, like prize exhibits in a museum of clothing and textiles.
Even Chiuri’s signature masculine tailoring had textural depth. Wool felt cocoon coats, hourglass jackets and culottes were woven in blurred geometric motifs designed to resemble brushstrokes, while a pink monogrammed shirt turned out to be made from an exquisite striped silk jacquard.
“It’s not something that you show off, it’s something that you have to know,” Chiuri remarked. “I want to really make pieces that you want to keep for a long time.”
In that spirit, she introduced 30 Montaigne, a capsule line of wardrobe essentials, named after the brand’s Paris headquarters, which can be customized with metallic initials on bags and belts. The easy pieces — think trench coats, jeans and tuxedos — are designed to grab and go. After all, every work of art starts with a blank canvas.