The journey to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s triumphant Mumbai collection
By Harriet Quick
“Creativity is the way people realise it – they put their own creativity into it and it is community work,” says Maria Grazia Chiuri visiting the Chanakya atelier and school which has been working with Dior for decades on the exquisite embroideries and beadwork that define the Maison’s code of luxury.
On Thursday 30th March, Chiuri made history presenting a collection at the Gateway of India against a backdrop of a vast mirror work textile and with a runway flanked by blossom beds arranged with rangoli emblems. This was the first time a European house has shown a standalone show in Mumbai, and Chiuri, who has helmed the house for over six years, conceived it as a salute to the incredible artisanship, imagination and ancestral know how of India. Chanakya is one in a hub of specialists the house partners with and it is led by Karishma Swali who oversees the Chanakya ateliers and the non-profit Chanakya School of Craft.
“Creativity is the way people realise it – they put their own creativity into it and it is a community work.”
Maria Grazia Chiuri
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While many brands keep their artistry and sources secret, here was an open celebration of global craftsmanship (often pioneered by women) that Chiuri has made her rallying call in many of her travelling global shows. Chiuri is a woman in her 50s designing for women and recalibrating a lexicon of wardrobe building pieces for the multibillion-pound brand empire that is Dior. It is now helmed by another female leader, CEO Delphine Arnault
The collection (available from April 27) drew on Marc Bohan’s era at Dior. He was smitten with the continent after visiting in 1967. It was both humble in its simplicity (breezy jewel coloured collarless silk shirts and saree inspired wrap skirts with pearl chokers); and opulent. Luminescent pearl and bead embellishments; signature scenic toile du jouy prints, gold metal thread embroidered tailoring and rangoli motif beaded shift dresses featured in a spectrum that ranged from black and biscuit through to turquoise, citrine and off course, Indian pink. It made for a scintillating presentation after the sun had set on Mumbai’s port. This is where the last British ships departed from in 1947. India is now the fifth largest world economy and a rising middle class and a generation of UHNWs makes it a fertile arena for luxury brands. Guests including Bollywood actors, the legendary Rekha, fashion icon Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Anushka Sharma, accompanied by her husband, Indian cricketer Virat Kohli, Freida Pinto, and Simone Ashley of Bridgerton.
There are a myriad of ways that fashion addresses the issues of female empowerment. It might be through highly tailored armour with a cinched waist and motif buttons which Daniel Roseberry at Schiaparelli excels in or it could be in barely there sheath dresses by Pieter Mulier at Alaia that enhance the female physique. However diverse the proposals, the uniting force is providing ease of movement, a ‘not try too hard’ look and a sense of softness wrapped up in all that strength. Chiuri’s proposition – supporting global craft and dressing women with elegant ease – is equally compelling.
Whether in Mumbai or Paris, Chiuri and her close-knit studio and outside cultural advisors research their heroes and techniques like curators preparing for a radical new monograph exhibition. Catherine de Medici the most powerful women in 16th century Europe (sparking infinite trends: for lace, for black, for platform shoes) was the imaginative force behind the SS collection while the fearless Josephine Baker hovered in the flapper dresses, tap pants and velvet robes in her recent couture outing. But that time travel through culture and the history of great women, always ends up in the present with designs that happily glide into daily life. That might be a loose fit corset over a billowing white shirt or a fit and flare hammered satin dress with a toggle lace neckline or a relaxed Bar jacket and those platforms. The Mumbai Dior collection offers up a new set of potential heirlooms to carry women into the future.