The first time a fashion show had taken place at the Gateway of India monument in Mumbai, Dior’s Fall 2023 show was a historic moment.
Maria Grazia Chiuri uses her travelling shows as an opportunity to collaborate deeply with local craftspeople. From North Africa, to Southern Italy or Southern Spain, her Dior is in dialogue with the places it visits, along with its people and unique crafts. A location like The Gateway to India is never simply a picturesque backdrop for fashion. It’s part of a richer story.
That’s not to say the backdrop wasn’t spectacular. On a jetty overlooking the Arabian sea, with the lights of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel glinting in the background, the stage was set. The famous stone arch was mirrored by a fabric arch, lavishly dressed in panels of traditional Indian embroidery, whilst a carpet of flowers, intricately laid to mimic the swirling prints and embroideries in the collection, flanked the catwalk.
This collection was an ode to the craft of India, and specifically Dior’s special relationship with the world renowned Chanakya embroidery ateliers and its adjoining Chanakya School of Craft, in Mumbai.
It’s a place close to Chiuri’s heart. The designer first met Karishma Swali, who directs the Chanakya ateliers, 25 years ago, when Chiuri was at Fendi and wanted hand embroideries for accessories (back then it was an unusual request). The two became friends, bonding over a love of craft and savoir faire and Chiuri has continued to work with the Chanakya ateliers thorough her time at Valentino and now Dior.
Swali, (whose father founded the ateliers in the 1980s) said, “India is so blessed to have the deepest, widest artisanal base for craftsmanship in the world.” The Chanakya School of Craft is unusual because it focuses on training women. Traditionally the craft was handed down from father to son in India. Women were denied this form of creative expression and the economic independence that came with it. So far, the school has trained over 1000 female craftspeople, many of whom contributed to the Fall 23 collection. Shifts, pyjamas, tunics: Chirui kept the shapes easy, desirable, and wearable. The complexity was all in the decoration. Intense, gilded braiding on a classic tailored jacket; a wild tiger stitched to the back of one look or little mini dresses encrusted with vivid floral pattens. From complex crochet and lace to zardozi embroidery (which is sewing with gold strings), the breadth of skill was mind-blowing. Moments of contemplative calm (when mosaics of geometric sequins coated a simple shift dress) contrasted with bursts of vivid, glorious colour with head-to-toe looks in marigold yellow, bright pink (described by Diana Vreeland as the navy blue of India) and life-giving, chlorophyll green. Joyful and full of energy, these were clothes to savour.
Photography courtesy of Dior.