Guests arriving at the Dior show venue in Paris on Monday were greeted by a tent filled with colorful, oversized art works. The brand commissioned an embroidery workshop and school in India to produce renditions of the work of Madhvi and Manu Parekh, two of the country’s leading contemporary artists.
Celebrities including young royals Pierre Casiraghi and Beatrice Borromeo posed for photographs in front of the panels, but these were no mere decorative backdrops. The subjects of the vivid and surreal drawings were drawn from Indian spirituality and folktales, and the emotional charge of the work, rendered stitch by stitch by 380 artisans over the course of a year, was unmistakable.
That was precisely the effect desired by Maria Grazia Chiuri, who conceived the collection as a celebration of craftsmanship, and in particular, of Dior’s network of suppliers, stretching from Paris halfway across the world.
“The central point is the space, the atelier, where all the people work together. I think that we are very conscious today of the importance of this connection,” she said in a preview. “The reality is that we are a big community.”
Considering that embroidery was one of the central themes of the collection, it was surprising that so many of the looks were unadorned. There was an almost monastic simplicity to items like a black velvet opera cape, or a flowing ecru evening gown with a scooped Empire neckline.
Decoration was used sparsely, with the exception of the spangled acrobat’s bodysuits and tights that dotted the lineup, and embroidered shoes that were fit for a latter-day Marie-Antoinette. But it took no fewer than seven specialized workshops to produce the collection.
Chiuri was interested in how embroidery can exalt so-called “humble” materials, like cotton, and be used not only as a decorative accent but become the very fabric of a dress. A case in point: a floor-length ivory guipure-like dress embroidered in dense coils of silk cord thread.
It was one of several looks made in collaboration with the Chanakya workshop in Mumbai. Chiuri has known its creative director, Karishma Swali, since her days at Fendi, and has been a key supporter of the Chanakya School of Craft.
“We were talking about this importance of being able to preserve the artists and the know-how, and be able to innovate, to be able to transfer it to the next generations. And we thought about having a school that is rooted in craft excellence. And it was Maria Grazia’s idea actually to say that, why don’t we dedicate it to women, because they really haven’t had this opportunity of expression,” Swali recalled.
Chiuri said it was important to highlight that designers don’t work alone and to erase the distinction between artist and artisan. Don’t expect her to jump on the metaverse bandwagon anytime soon.
“We are speaking about the human touch. It’s so important today, when everything apparently could be virtual. I am just a little bit critical of this obsession for everybody to go to create a virtual world. I really love to live and work in this one. We can create a beautiful world that is real,” she argued. Surrounded by the artworks, a stunning end product of human-to-human collaboration, it was hard to disagree.