Even as I write this column, I have switched off my cell phone, placed it in my handbag (Dior) and locked it up in my cupboard. This is not usually a routine I follow when I write. This is only because the Dior Fall 2023 Collection taking place in Mumbai this year is three days away. I get a text/ call every minute or so asking, “Can you swing me passes?” Click. Shut. Lock. Bye.
This is not the first time a major luxury label has presented a fashion show in India. Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino (who I had the good fortune of interviewing) have shown in Mumbai. But Dior’s showcase is a special one indeed. The label is not here seeking profit from India’s growing middle class. No ma’am, it is here during the worst economic crisis faced by the world and by our country, just to say thank you.
Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri is a singular tour de force in the fashion industry. To start with, she is the first woman to head a storied fashion house with a legacy like Dior’s. Very few major couture houses have been founded by women, with the exception of Chanel, or then helmed by them.
Chiuri is bringing the world’s press to India to highlight the country’s exceptional crafts. Otherwise known as textiles and embroideries, they have been the secret sauce in European couture. While almost every luxury label has treated India as its supply chain or a sweatshop, Chiuri’s Dior acknowledges India as its creative collaborator and consistently highlights its crafts in every single runway show in Paris.
Its chief partner in India is the wonderful Chanakya house, a huge embroidery atelier that works with several fashion houses. It also runs the outstanding Chanakya School of Craft that pays women in the neighbouring slums a monthly stipend to come and train with them. It is a huge hit with the underprivileged girls who get formal training, a small fee, and the opportunity to work and upskill in an organised setting. The school is Chiuri’s brainchild, and speaks of her commitment to uplifting women in the bottom-most rungs of fashion. In an earlier interview, Chanakya’s Karishma Swali told me what an amazing torchbearer for crafts and cultures Chiuri has been. Chiuri wanted to open a school for women after learning that embroidery skills usually passed from father to son.
Chiuri’s bold feminist stance was evident when she sent a model down her runway in 2016 in a slogan T-shirt that read, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s controversial essay. Feminism and fashion have always battled. Corsets, stilettos, mini skirts and cleavages were designed by a male designers’ club for other men to gaze at. Chiuri, who had previously helped Fendi develop the Baguette and oversaw Valentino with Pierpaolo Piccioli, hardly needed the debatable debut. But she was finally in full creative control of a very big brand. “It was important for me to speak with my own voice, and to reflect about what’s missing in women’s fashion,” she has said in an interview to W magazine.
Dior under Chiuri is an intelligent new woman’s wardrobe. It is practical, thoughtful and still elegant, using the founder’s ‘house codes’. Its collections today are a roll call for international feminist icons like Isabel Allende, Agnes Varda and Judy Chicago. Its press releases also reference patriarchy, consent and clitoral orgasms.
Never mind the socialite scramble for invites, Dior really is for everywoman.