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India meets Dior

Last week, around 850 local and international celebrities, fashion gurus, editors, and influencers gathered in front of the historic Gateway of India in Mumbai for the first official Dior launch in the country.

With the lifting of COVID restrictions, fashion companies are increasingly choosing new exotic destinations for their latest shows: not so long ago, Gucci in Seoul; Chanel in Dakar and Senegal; Dior Men in Giza and Egypt. Even with all this, the Dior show last week was still a huge event because of the hype and expense. And not just because of the clothes, which reinterpreted the familiar Indian aesthetic tropes into the much-seen ‘Diorisms’. Never before has a local show of a global brand received so much attention in India.

Maria Grazia Chiuri, Artistic Director of Dior womenswear, has been associated with India, especially its embroiderers, since 1992, when Vinod Maganlal Shah, head of the Chanakya workshops, first came to Italy to explore collaborations with luxury brands. At the time, Chiuri was accessories designer for Fendi and, according to him, embroidery was “not very fashionable”, as for many years it was more minimalism and deconstruction. The two have a deep-rooted professional friendship that has lasted almost 30 years. Since Chiuri started at Christian Dior, she and Swali have together pushed for both the visibly spectacular and the feminist and ethical – from creating the huge textile murals commissioned from female artists that adorn the walls of Dior’s Paris couture shows to setting up the Chanakya Foundation School in 2015, which trains women in craftsmanship and opportunity in a largely male-dominated field. The number of different embroidery techniques and crafts reaches three hundred. From kantha to zardozi, pachisi, madras weaving and block printing, we encounter an extremely complex and diverse culture.

“India is a continent. Each part is like a state, with its own traditional techniques and culture. But I think ultimately there is a very strong connection with elements of nature everywhere.”

Beyond the eye-catching outfits, paying tribute to the independence of India’s diverse communities of women and girls is clearly one of the greatest satisfactions for Chiuri and Swali. This relationship goes much deeper than the typical transactional contact between client and supplier. In the eight years since Swali’s founding in 2015, 1,000 women have been trained, the youngest at 16 and the oldest at 60. The programme is based on 950 hours of training.

Delphine Arnault, recently appointed CEO, the first big power move for Bernard Arnault, the child of the LVMH luxury empire, suggests that the luxury giant is also embarking on a new arms race to conquer fashion lovers for experiences and attention… on newer and newer platforms.