For many, one of the main reasons for haute couture’s continuing existence in the 21st century is as a pure celebration of craft – its direct translation, after all, means high sewing or needlework, the pinnacle of creation tied to technical prowess. It is an arena for creating clothes using crafts otherwise impossible, methods that could have died out without the couture to support, nurture and pass down to new generations. For Maria Grazia Chiuri, that craft is a dialogue – “the idea of the atelier, a conversation between artisan and designer” is how she described the root of her clothes for Spring/Summer 2022. That extends to both their physical creation, and their conception. “It’s about the craft, the artistic value of the people who collaborate to create.”
The collection was unveiled in a space hung with gargantuan embroidered panels, and literally wallpapered in stitches. It was the result of a collaboration between Dior, the artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh, and the embroiders of the Mumbai Chanakya School of Craft, whose work Chiuri has loved for years, and with whom she began her collaboration while designing for Fendi in the mid-90s. Today, millions of stitches recreated Parekh’s paintings, in an installation open to the public until Sunday in the gardens of the Musée Rodin. And alongside those millions of stitches came millions more: the Dior collection itself was smothered in embroidery, but embroidery often used not just to embellish but to physically create. Embroidery techniques crafted the cloth, invented surfaces, and in some cases replaced conventional stitching as means to actually construct garments, as opposed to just decorate them. They became integral, inextricable.
The collection itself was pared back to an essence: the white and black of the Tailleur Bar defined the colour scheme, refined and subdued, especially in contrast with the vibrant multicoloured wall hangings of the Chanakya School. Subdued doesn’t mean simple: embroidery animating surfaces so a black dress glistened as if wet with beads, other replicated jacquards but through painstaking handwork. Even tights, socks and shoes were dripping with beadwork; the everyday made precious. God is often in the details: here, curvaceous Dior jackets were executed in double-face fabrics, featherweight and apparently invisibly constructed, a technical challenge only truly appreciated by the clients who get to wear jackets as supple and easy as a T-shirt.
“Knowledge, expertise, tradition,” Chiuri exclaimed backstage. They are the mantra of Dior, and the heartbeat of haute couture as a whole.