With Bollywood stars and Indian aristocracy sitting front row, Dior staged its latest show before the famed Gateway of India, a collection that celebrated Mumbai’s great métier d’art – intensely unique embroidery.
Though this was officially the fall 2023 season, the collection shone with some remarkable embroidery of golden peacocks or tigers courtesy of Chanakya, a brilliant atelier and school of skilled artisans with whom Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has worked for three decades.
“It’s the celebration of an art form. In France, we speak a lot about métiers d’art, and here in Bombay they do too, about their own unique métier d’art,” explained Chiuri in a pre-show briefing.
Though several maharajas showed up for the fashion fete, curiously the biggest cheer of the night from thousands of fans outside the event was for Thai pop stars – Mile Phakphum Romsaithong and Nattawin Wattanagitiphat. Welcome to the new social media nomenklatura.
A crowd of some 1,500 sat down on upholstered benches before the yellow basalt triumphal arch of the Gateway – built to celebrate King George V’s visit of 1911. But, covered for the night by Dior, with an almost psychedelic Indian tapestry of colorful lions, elephants and fruit trees.
It being India, there was a great deal of last-minute arrivals and melodramas – grand dames in saris demanding front-row seats before the 18-piece India orchestra – led by a blistering percussionist and a sitar duet – began the opening sounds. An astounding soundtrack made in a collab’ with Michelle Gaubert and Scottish cellist Oliver Coates, sadly undermined by being positioned in a dark corner. The one flaw in an otherwise historic occasion.
Scores of guests crossed the road to the show from the Taj Mahal Palace, the beautiful colonial hotel and the epicenter of the November 2008 terrorist attacks which took the lives 166 people. Security was understandably very tight for the show, which attracted local actresses and socialites like Diana Penty, Natasha Poonawalla, Khushi Kapoor and Ananya Panday. International thespians like Freida Pinto, Maisie Williams, Simone Ashley and Cara Delevingne. While from Paris, Dior invited Laetitia Casta, Mathilde Warner, Beatrice Borromeo Casiraghi, Jeanne Damas, Emily in Paris star Camille Cottin and Lucie de la Falaise with daughter, Ella Richards.
If pink was Diana Vreeland’s navy blue of India, then Maria Grazia’s navy blue is bitter lemon. The Italian couturier featuring that hue in a long series of gowns, toile de jouy skirts, cocktails and trenches.
Her opening was all in black: fine Italian wool trenches finished with filigrees of golden thread showing wild jungle scenes; classy gilets; romantically dark cutaway evening coats; and buttoned sheathes. While several models wore dramatic animal print dresses made in the oldest method of block printing possible.
Most of the cast – largely local beauties – had Art Deco, waxed hairstyles. Great Gatsby on the Ganges. A truly exceptional display by the artiest of hair stylists, Guido Palau. There was a particular moment, backstage and pre-show, when all the local models look at each other with an enormous sense of pride. Palau polished power at its most empowering.
Chanakya has also worked on Dior’s monumental projects, ballooning up the ideas of fine Western artists like Mickalene Thomas and Eva Jospin and Claire Fontaine, all of whom attended this show
Chiuri mingled wet weather Paris with monsoon Mumbai, to produce a great series of arty trenches, paired with cannage totes and funky chunky hippie sandals.
This felt like Dior’s week in the Indian financial capital. Guests arriving at Mumbai airport were greeted with a giant billboard featuring Dior’s latest ad campaign. Shot this January in Rajasthan, in and around Udaipur. The creative team was present on the shoot, including Chiuri and the house’s make-up maestro, Peter Phillips. The brand evening took out a four-page glossy gatefold that covered Thursday’s Times of India featuring its latest campaign.
Dior does not have a huge footprint in India, but the brand’s commitment to the country is notable.
“This event is spread over several days, with a very stimulating program, from visits to the Chanakya workshops to the retrospective dedicated to Madhvi and Manu Parekh, to whom Dior has entrusted the creation of monumental works for its défilés. Our Indian clients are very attached to the values and history of Dior. This friendship has always transcended borders and continues to grow through exhibitions, store openings, and unique encounters, such as this Dior show, which is more meaningful than ever,” explained Delphine Arnault, the recently appointed CEO of Dior.
The Paris house has only two boutiques in India; a store in New Delhi within DLF Emporio Mall, and a Dior shop in the Taj Mahal Palace. But the brand is clearly committed to India.
Asked about Dior’s online business, Delphine replied: “Our Indian clients are very attached to the values and history of Dior. This friendship has always transcended borders and continues to grow through exhibitions, store openings, and unique encounters, such as this Dior show, which is more meaningful than ever.”
Overall, this show and soirée was about sharing stimulus, seen on the mood board, which referenced Dior’s third designer Marc Bohan, who took Dior to India in 1962 – seen in black-and-white photos of that voyage.
Chiuri also played on a famed local fashion icon, Gayatri Devi, the Maharani of Jaipur, whom Karishma Swali, the creative director of Chanakya noted was “the first Rajasthan princess to wear a sari of chiffon, not a royal fabric. And was known for her values and heart.”
India clearly also influenced Bohan, who incorporated the shape of the sari into subsequent collections.
Summing up the whole three days in Mumbai, Chiuri concluded: “My idea of India is its spirituality and the warm welcome. Being greeted by flowers when you arrive is a very strong sensation. So, I want to recognize the richness of this civilizations, which really helped me as a designer.”
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