Fireworks filled the night sky over Athens as Dior heralded the return of destination resort shows with a spectacular display in front of more than 700 guests, marking the first major runway show with an audience since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Anya Taylor-Joy, Catherine Deneuve and Suki Waterhouse were among the VIPs who joined local dignitaries led by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou at nightfall on the soaring marble stands of the Panathenaic Stadium, a venue for sporting events since Antiquity that now serves as the finishing line for the Athens Marathon.
“It feels good to be able to share an experience again,” said Marisa Berenson. “It’s incredible. I mean, you feel the energies of the past here, with all these gladiators.”
Taylor-Joy straightened the fringes of Cara Delevingne’s dress before they posed for photos. “It feels so, so magical, and it’s so wonderful being here with a family like Dior because they make you feel so welcome and they’re so generous, so this feels particularly special,” she said.
The actress wore Dior on two of her biggest nights this year, taking home the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards for her role in the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit.”
“I feel incredibly lucky to be able to collaborate with somebody, and a house, that understands how special those moments are, and really helps to make them as special as they can be for you. Because the right dress just makes you feel so much better,” she said.
She will certainly have her pick of red-carpet stunners after Thursday’s show, which featured a parade of goddess gowns and closed with a couture version of the swan dress that Björk famously wore to the Oscars — though Maria Grazia Chiuri’s version was inspired by a photo of Marlene Dietrich disguised as the Greek mythological figure Leda.
Models made their way down a 1,650-foot-long catwalk lit by 20 braziers and rows of searchlights, to the ethereal sound of Greek singer Ioanna Gika backed by a 55-strong orchestra.
Chiuri combined updated versions of the peplos, the robe traditionally worn by women in ancient Greece, with athleisure staples and futuristic sneakers, capturing the mood of elation that is sweeping many countries as lockdowns lift and athletes gear up for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“I was aware of how tricky it can be to stage a show in Athens. It’s like Rome: it can quickly become something too theatrical, from my point of view, less a real ready-to-wear show, and more a reference to the surroundings, a costume or something that you might find in a museum, a play or an opera. I didn’t want that,” she told WWD during a preview in Paris.
“We are doing fashion for now, not for the past and not for the future, but about now. After the pandemic — though we’re not completely out of it yet — we want to move,” Chiuri added.
The brand is launching a line called Dior Vibe, including transparent sneakers with gold or silver accents, and gym bags with rubberized bases, which it hopes will become a pillar collection. Footwear alternatives included sock sneakers with sculpted heels, and chunky boots with thick rubber soles.
The previous night, the house took over the picturesque Plaka Stairs in central Athens for a welcome dinner, where guests feasted on local delicacies like stuffed courgette flowers and salt baked sea bass, to the sounds of traditional Greek music.
As Eugenie Niarchos snapped pictures of Bianca Brandolini swishing the skirt of her evening gown, it felt almost like old times — barring the multiple COVID-19 tests or vaccine certificates required to travel to Greece and to access the show venue.
“We have to be exemplary,” Pietro Beccari, chairman and chief executive officer of Dior said in an interview on the terrace of the penthouse suite at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, which has a striking view of the Acropolis. “We will have the maximum safety at the stadium. On top of it, it’s windy and we are in an open space.”
He noted that Dior was the first to stage a physical fashion show in Lecce, Italy, at the same time last year, albeit without guests — a bold decision that helped it to outpace its peers and start 2021 in “pole position.” A former professional footballer, Beccari is a highly competitive executive who does not shirk from taking risks.
“Instead of just changing gear and shifting gear toward the bottom, and hitting the brakes, we accelerated. And we kept on the track, and we came out of this track very fast. I’m very proud of my team, and I’m so happy that we had the courage collectively to do what we did,” he recalled.
“We’re just continuing to do what Mr. Dior did, opening his own business,” he continued, noting that Dior launched his brand in 1947, right after World War II. “Our optimism, our courage, is part of the DNA of the brand, and tonight, we do that again.”
Beccari praised Greece’s Central Archeological Council for green-lighting the project, which included a series of photo shoots at protected locations, including the Acropolis.
“It was a big deal. But in the end, I think that our authenticity and our sincere intentions convinced them to give us the permission, which we are very proud of. It wasn’t easy and many, many people were denied in the process,” he said, in an indirect reference to Chanel, which was reportedly refused a similar request in 2017.
When protests broke out across town on the eve of the show, Beccari feared the worst. “I was scared that it was against us when I saw them in front of our hotel. It was just because they have to pass a labor reform bill,” he said.
Beccari was briefed on the situation at dinner with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who gifted him a blue and white limited-edition Swatch watch commemorating the 200th anniversary of Greece’s struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Dior show comes at a crucial time for the country, as it seeks to rev up tourism after a lost year.
“I was told that there was a very emotional press conference today with Maria Grazia and the Greek press. People were crying,” Beccari said. “I’m very happy if we can contribute modestly to the image of Greece with this event, which will be seen by millions of people.”
In preparation for the show, Chiuri toured archeological sites, including the ruins of the palace of Knossos in Crete and the Oracle of Delphi, to find out more about the worship of female divinities in ancient times.
Also on her mood board were black-and-white photographs by Edward Steichen and George Hoyningen-Huene; a poster for a recent exhibition about the Greek gallerist Alexander Iolas, curated by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, and a photo of Dietrich in a white suit.
The latter inspired a relaxed version of the hourglass Bar jacket with tone-on-tone embroidery, with a razor-pleated white skirt in lieu of pants. Known for her love of black, Chiuri embraced her Greek goddess theme with an abundance of white and stone colors, set off by splashes of Aegean blue on workout gear including leggings, windbreakers and running bras.
In line with recent tradition, the brand also used the event to showcase the creativity of local artists and artisans. Dior tapped Silk Line, a factory based in the ancestral silk hub of Soufli, to produce the house’s signature stripe and houndstooth motifs using a traditional weaving technique. Family-run Atelier Tsalavoutas made the fishermen’s caps worn with striped tops and shorts.
The scale of the venue drowned out some of the craftsmanship details, but what came through loud and clear was the attitude of the models: poised, erect and purposeful. As the fireworks exploded above, the crowd rose in a standing ovation. If there were an Olympic contest for fashion, Dior just won a gold medal.