At the retrospective in Paris marking the 70th anniversary of the house of Dior, visitors were greeted by a room dedicated to the origins of founder Christian Dior, where a frame displayed a rusty metal star.
The designer had stepped on it one evening in 1946, and read it as a sign that he should launch his own couture house. Dior, who was highly superstitious and consulted his clairvoyant on all major decisions, hung on to the lucky charm for the rest of his life.
The future is as foggy for Maria Grazia Chiuri as it is for the rest of us, but she thinks that tarot cards may hold some of the answers. Her spring haute couture collection was inspired by the divinatory arts, in particular a 15th-century tarot deck designed for the Duke of Milan, which informed the palette of dusty jewel tones and old gold.
“I think it’s a way also to be introspective. When you read the cards, it’s something that reflects your personality. It’s closer to autoanalysis than superstition,” she explained.
Chiuri reunited with Italian director Matteo Garrone on a sumptuous short film, “Le Château du Tarot,” the tale of a young woman who goes on a journey of self-discovery and encounters a series of symbolic figures in a mysterious castle.
It looked like an Old Masters painting come to life, with the outfits to match.
A coppery velvet dévoré dress was hand-painted with zodiac signs, while the bodice on a gilded open-work dress represented the World card, which signifies an ending to a cycle of life. Illustrations by Pietro Ruffo were worked into several designs, while celestial motifs appeared in delicate gold thread on a faded pink and blue jacquard sack-back gown.
There was a fairy-tale quality to some outfits, such as a diaphanous blue gown scattered with sequins that came with a matching translucent veil. But this was no Disney heroine: several looks had skulls painted or embroidered on the chest, and there was an androgynous streak running through the lineup, best summed up in the black velvet trouser suit with Bar jacket.
Still, the abundance of Empire necklines will do nothing to dampen “Bridgerton”-mania. And the wealth of exquisite detail — such as the circular tarot card motifs embroidered on a high-priestess robe — were a tonic for the eyes in these morose times.
If some of the sweeping dresses — and even more dramatic capes — would not look out of place in the wardrobe department of a costume drama, Chiuri insisted that wasn’t the intention.
“We worked with so many different techniques, that are so luxurious, that it can come across as really cinematic,” she acknowledged. Chiuri said she wanted to display the full breadth of couture techniques — including a showstopping feather-embroidered cape — in order to guarantee the survival of the specialized Paris workshops whose skills go into the one-of-a-kind outfits.
“I know that everybody’s obsessed with this crisis to be simple, to be more basic and functional. But couture is about uniqueness, craftsmanship and tradition, and if we don’t do that in couture, I think it’s really sad for the future of these traditions, because the risk is that we lose them,” she warned.
The designer considers Garrone an ideal partner, since they both share an artisanal approach to their craft. While their initial collaboration last July was criticized for not featuring a diverse cast, Chiuri insisted that despite the responsibility of working at a leading French luxury house, artistic freedom must prevail.
“We have to be careful about what we do, but at the same time, we have to believe in creativity,” she argued. “The risk is that we are politically correct because nobody wants to take the risk of being criticized, and that means the creativity dies.”
At the end of this season’s film, the main character undergoes a form of rebirth, as she reconciles her feminine and masculine halves. If reaching self-awareness seems like a tall order as we struggle through seemingly endless lockdowns, then surely looking the part of an enchanted princess will have to do.