As soon as you step out of the Mumbai international airport, a huge billboard greets you, with just one word: “Dior”. The four letters are flanked by a woman in an all-black attire on the right. On the left, a grey elephant sculpture that reminds of the Khajuraho monuments. The message seems clear. The luxury French brand has two things on its mind: India and the female form.
And it was visible throughout the grand Dior Fall 2023 showcase presented at the historic Gateway of India in Mumbai on 30 March to an audience full of celebrities, clients, journalists and patrons from across the world.
From the moment an Indian model opened the show, walking the cobbled path in a black silk lungi dress and chappals, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s clothes spoke of quiet luxury and comfortable fits, and expressed appreciation for Indian textiles, crafts and embroideries. The music in the background, from flute, sitar, tabla and violin, reiterated Chiuri’s focus on India.
The creative director of Dior women's collections wants the wearer to feel like a royal in easy, accessible ready-to-wear clothes that are no-nonsense, and fit as much for a day meeting as for a pool party. The 99 looks, presented by models wearing either chappals or flat shoes, illustrated stealth wealth, commanding attention for their fabric and embroidery, all done at the Chanakya School of Craft in Mumbai.
Most of the silhouettes, whether it was a plain long cotton shirt, short silk jacket with zardozi details and aari work, lungi sarong with Madras checks, coats in pink (refreshingly not Valentino pink) or a printed muted neon coord, however, seemed familiar, especially to the Indian audience. Perhaps Chiuri was trying to utilise the “historic moment”—this was the first time a major Western brand was including India in one of its seasonal calendars—to celebrate India?
For over two decades, Chiuri has worked closely with Karishma Swali, artistic director of Chanakya International and Chanakya School of Craft, understanding and showcasing the work of Indian karigars on the international stage. The scenography of the Dior Couture spring-summer 2022 runway show in Paris, for instance, had the Tree Of Life, hand-embroidered with jute threads and satin stitches at the Chanakya atelier. At the Mumbai show this Friday, a huge traditional toran, made by the artisans at the Chanakya school and atelier employing over 20 craft techniques including phulkari, mirrorwork, French knotting, and kantha, framed the Gateway of India.
“It’s time to go beyond styles and silhouettes,” Chiuri said at a press conference at Taj Mahal Colaba in Mumbai before the show. “This is not my collection. This is an exchange between us and the artisans.”
Swali added: “We need to find more ways to contemporise the creativity of India…a different way to express our craftsmanship.”
A version of such an expression was opened to public on 30 March in the shape of an exhibition at the city’s Snowball Studios. Titled Mūḷ Māthī; From The Roots, the show, on till 22 April, is a collaboration between the Asia Society India Centre, Dior and the Chanakya School, showcasing 22 large-scale textile artworks that interpret paintings by artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh. They include works curated as a postscript to an original commission by Chiuri for the scenography of the Dior couture 2022 show. They were created by 320 artisans from the Chanakya Ateliers as well as female artisans from the Chanakya School of Craft.
“It’s time we talked more openly about the hands behind the creations, the hands behind fashion,” Chiuri said at the conference. “People need to know who are the hands behind the creations.”
Dior’s elaborate shout-out to India reflects how strong the sub-continent market is becoming for global luxury brands. It also reconfirms Dior's intentions to give credit where it's due.
Even though Chiuri’s clothes didn't push the envelope in terms of shapes and style, they did bring global attention and recognition to the Indian artisan. Will other brands, international and national, follow suit? Let's hope so. Will this “historic moment” prove to be a turning point for the karigar? It remains to be seen. Hopefully, going forward, we will get to see the faces, and not just the hands, behind fashion.