Anyone seeking a “return to normalcy” need only look as far as Paris this week — amid postcard-perfect summer weather, the lines to get into the Louvre are pre-COVID lengthy, outdoor cafes are packed and the haute-couture presentations are once again putting a decided emphasis on Hollywood stars, and not only in the front row. Exhibit A: the blockbuster runway that Balenciaga presented on Wednesday morning, with Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa and Kim Kardashian joining Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell and other supers for Demna Gvasalia’s latest collection.
Amid such high-wattage examples of couture fantasy, however, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri wanted to keep the real world top of mind. That was evident from the moment guests stepped into the tent on the grounds of the Musée Rodin, with richly embroidered panels lining the side and back walls, on their surface an instant statement of the care and intricate detail that go into the Parisian craft of custom clothes. “Look at these tapestries,” remarked Naomi Watts. “They must have taken months to make, and you can feel the love; it’s extraordinary.”
Indeed, the oversized panels represented more than the beauty of handcraft. For the inspiration for her Fall/Winter 2022 haute-couture collection, Grazia Chiuri looked to Ukrainian artist Olesia Trofymenko and not only employed a key symbol of her work — the tree of life — into her designs, she also invited the artist to conceptualize the set for the show. Trofymenko, in turn, reached across another border, to Mumbai’s Chanakya School of Craft, to create the intricately detailed backdrops.
Marisa Berenson was among the guests unsurprised that Grazia Chiuri would choose to focus Dior’s spotlight on the war in Ukraine roughly five months into its invasion by Russia. “What Maria does incredibly beautifully is she takes what’s happening in the world and creates a world in fashion that reflects what’s happening out there,” she said. “So it’s not only about fashion; it’s also about what’s happening on many levels, socially and artistically, and that’s what makes it rich, interesting and thought-provoking.”
Trofymenko’s artful aesthetic is one that lends itself beautifully, of course, to the floral and vine embroideries that adorned many of Grazia Chiuri’s pieces — and there’s a heritage to be found in that idea as well, if one considers how deeply Christian Dior loved his garden and sought to include it in many collections. But the label’s current artistic director also found ways to elevate both those embroideries and the idea of folkloric themes overall, creating looks that not only felt of the moment, but also paid homage in a respectful way to a section of the world in true crisis.
Indeed, through such a statement, Grazia Chiuri is seeking to highlight the deeply felt tradition that several elements of these fashions have enjoyed for literal centuries in one specific region of the global landscape. Anyone who has planted sunflowers in support of Ukraine or worn blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukraine flag, has done the same in solidarity; Grazia Chiuri is merely elevating that idea to the ne-plus-ultra of fashion.
Some of the resulting pieces were simply beautiful interpretations of this idea. Apart from the lush embroideries, Grazia Chiuri also employed silk chiffon to create diaphanous dresses that, upon closer inspection, reinterpreted the house’s iconic Bar jacket via smocking and structure aided by the use of ribbons. Embroidered details that danced around a hemline only enhanced the movement of many of these gowns, which should find their way onto imminent red carpets.
“Maria Grazia is a woman who’s extremely considered, cultivated and intelligent, and particularly what she’s done today with this celebration of Ukraine, especially during haute couture, is pretty remarkable,” said Elle Macpherson. “What I love about Dior is just the way that they’re maneuvering through this time and offering such a well-rounded perspective — on culture, on creative, and on fashion, obviously, yet it’s so much more.”
For anyone who ever contemplates whether fashion is art, or whether fashion should position itself amid current global or political conversations, Watts pointed to the work created by Grazia Chiuri and had a ready answer. “Fashion is an art form, and these are stories that need to be told,” she said. “If you’ve got a big voice and a following, then all the more reason. And Maria Grazia Chiuri is great at that.”