Maria Grazia Chiuri takes us to the heart of Mumbai to honour and celebrate Indian artisans and their breathtaking craftsmanship in her vibrant pre-autumn showcase for Dior.
Text: Abdul Aziz Draim. Images: Dior.
The stage is set. As twilight leads to dusk, the Apollo Bunder in Mumbai comes alive as guests navigate their way to their seats within the compound of the Gateway of India. This cool Thursday evening, the historic site is to host Maria Grazia Chiuri’s runway presentation for Dior’s pre-autumn collection, Dior Fall ’23. Thus tonight, the architectural marvel—completed in 1923 to commemorate King-Emperor George V’s first visit to India—overlooks a runway flanked on either side by rows of pooja brass oil lamps and a vibrant floral mural depicting the scene of an elephant prancing through native flowers.
The lights then dim and the night falls silent but only briefly. Soon, English singer Sheila Chandra’s vocal percussions punctuate the air with “Speaking In Tongues I”, signalling the start of the show. Models then appear through a central archway, the structure adorned with an elaborate 8-meter-high toran depicting Indian iconography, that required 35,000 hours to complete.
The Artisan’s Touch
The toran—a traditional decorative hanging—along with the seats in the stands and the clothes on the runway, are all the works of skilled artisans from Chanakya International and its Chanakya School of Craft. For this is not just another runway collection. This presentation is a collaboration, a showcase of mutual respect and admiration, and a love for the beauty and potential of Indian craftsmanship, shared between Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri and Chanakya managing director Karishma Swali.
Chiuri’s friendship with Chanakya began 30 years ago, even before she helmed the womenswear division at Dior. Chanakya International is a Mumbai-based export atelier specialising in the preservation and production of fine Indian textile crafts, and its Chanakya School of Craft (founded in 2017, and supported by Dior) provides training for over 300 traditional and ancestral hand embroidery techniques and cultural knowledge to women from all over India—all for free. Members of the media were given the opportunity to visit Chanakya prior to the Dior Fall ’23 show, to view firsthand the awe-inspiring needlework and meticulous savoir-faire required to produce the breathtaking swaths of quality textiles and embellishments befitting the demands of a French couturier the likes of Dior.
Colours Of India
Dior Fall ’23 presents 99 looks in a show where more than 50 of the models recruited are of Indian descent—one of whom is Malaysia’s very own Shikin Gomez. For the collection, Chiuri works on timeless clothing forms that have stayed intact through the ages, while also paying homage to the dress codes of India. Styled with layering and comfort in mind, garments are especially light and roomy, as we see tunics, loose shirts, pyjama bottoms, and draped skirts across the runway. Colours run from classic black, navy blue and beige to gloriously saturated shades of Indian rose, Rani pink, emerald and jamuni violet, some of which were developed especially for the collection.
Where East Meets West
Chiuri’s dive into Dior’s very own archives on the other hand explores the works of Marc Bohan, who was the first Dior artistic director to form a relationship with India following a visit to Mumbai and Delhi in April 1962. One key example, an archival Marc Bohan motif, Coromandel, named after an Indian coastal region, is now manifested as eye-catching prints and sequined embroideries.
Eveningwear references Monsieur Dior himself, whose 1954 corseted couture gown featured a sari-style flourish, now interpreted as draping and shoulder ties. Elsewhere, Dior’s iconic Bar jacket has been refashioned with a Nehru collar. Additional prints include Madras checks and wild motifs the likes of peacocks and lotus flowers abound, while the tiger is represented as both abstract stripes and full figurative depictions, immortalised in embellished appliqué and patchwork.
From block printing, couching and mirror-embroidery, to quilting, tie-dyeing, zari and zardozi, these rich, minute details and embroideries borne from age-old techniques as revived by Chanakya collectively form the beating heart of this celebratory collection. This is Maria Grazia Chiuri’s love letter to India and its artisans. Opening up a wondrous public spectacle to shine the spotlight on their talents and passions. For they deserve to be acknowleged and celebrated. And we in return, are left awestruck and inspired.
The Dior Fall ’23 showcase in Mumbai attracted media and celebs from all over the globe, including Thai heartthrobs of popular drama series KinnPorsche, Nattawin Wattanagitiphat (Apo) and Phakphum Romsaithong (Mile), and Hollywood stars the likes of Maisie Williams, Freida Pinto, cara Delevingne, Yara Shahidi and more.
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