Dior’s pre-fall show in Mumbai may seem like just another fashion-world spectacle, but in reality, the elaborate presentation was 25 years in the making and kicked off a season-long showcase of India’s unsung prowess in global fashion.
Even in the race to stage the most dramatic post-pandemic destination fashion show, Dior’s recent 99-look pre-fall extravaganza in Mumbai stands out. Gucci has taken to Seoul, Chanel to Dakar, and Dior Men to Giza, but there’s more than meets the eye with the French maison’s Indian debut. The runway show forms only one part of the label’s larger cultural celebration of Indian craft, fostered by a 25-year working relationship between Karishma Swali, artistic director of the country’s revered Chanakya textile ateliers, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who has highlighted the crucial role artisans have played throughout her stewardship of the brand’s womenswear.
Since taking the reins in 2016, Chiuri has collaborated closely with both the atelier and its affiliated textile arts school for women. Their embroidery adorned much of the new collection. Take the intricate beading on a champagne-hued lace skirt, peeking out from below an oversized shirtdress and daycoat. A closer look at the meticulously tailored coat reveals golden brocade embroidery, depicting a lush, botanic scene. A coordinated skirt and handbag pairing shows an intricate nature scene featuring an elephant, tiger, and tree snake interacting with the beaded world around them.
Their work also adorned a 46-foot-tall toran hanging above the runway at Mumbai’s Gateway of India monument. The giant piece that so captivated show-goers was in fact public art commissioned from the Chanakya atelier and school; more than 300 master artisans dedicated 35,000 hours of handiwork to its depictions of folk iconography including elephants, lotus flowers, and peacocks. Its unveiling marked the beginning of a season-long showcase of textile craft organized by Dior and Chanakya.
Over the weekend, the atelier and school threw open its doors to the public for the first time for a three-part exhibition of 300 archival textiles, antiquities, and live demonstrations of skilled disciplines at the hands of master artisans. The show’s cornerstone, however, is an exclusive retrospective of Chanakya artisanry as seen through 50 collections of Dior couture and ready-to-wear. The display of garments created by the artisans are accompanied by miniature prototypes from the concepting process, 19th- and 20th-century garments that inspired the craft techniques seen on each Dior creation, and antiquities such as deity statues and silver relics that reveal the symbolism behind the craftsmanship.
The two companies also worked with the Asia Society India Center to organize “Mūḷ Māthī; From The Roots,” a month-long showcase of large-scale paintings and textile art inspired by the set of Dior’s Spring/Summer 2022 haute couture runway show at the Musée Rodin. First created as paintings by contemporary artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh and reinterpreted by Chanakya artisans as textile art, the exhibition exemplifies the extent to which Chiuri has inextricably bound Dior’s identity and the country’s standout creatives.
“Fashion is much more than 10 minutes on the runway. It’s all the people that work together at this incredible project,” Chiuri told Business of Fashion. “I am doing this show for love of this country, and how much they support my creativity. It is really very personal.”