For Maria Grazia Chiuri, clothes are not just clothes.
Passionate about craftsmanship, the Dior designer has long seen the outfits we wear — and the materials that go into them — as a form of storytelling, handed down from generation to generation. So when she was given Clare Hunter’s book “Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of the Needle,” she felt she’d found a kindred spirit.
For her first physical haute couture show in 18 months, Chiuri wanted a tactile experience that spoke to the power of the thread. She commissioned French artist Eva Jospin to create monumental embroidered panels as the backdrop for the show, and decided to take a deep dive into tweed.
Christian Dior Couture Fall 2021
The inspiration was a 1963 Dior couture collection by Marc Bohan featuring tweed jackets and skirts with coordinating scarves and helmet hats. Chiuri went for a similarly allover look, pairing tweed separates with matching hats designed by Stephen Jones, tweed boots and tweed-effect knits for maximum textural effect.
It was a lot of tweed. After two seasons of showcasing her creations via fantasy-tinged films directed by Matteo Garrone, she was itching to return to daywear, which doesn’t really sing on-screen. But will couture clients want to swathe themselves in blanket-like layers, or will they crave her gossamer-light evening gowns?
In a preview at the Dior showroom, Chiuri said many of the fabrics were woven by hand by young women, who are picking up the textile traditions their feminist mothers were keen to shed.
“There is a new consciousness among the new generation that want to learn. They want to renovate this tradition with their language, because it says something about our identity,” she said. “People buy couture because it is timeless, and you pass it on from mother to daughter, so the clothes themselves have a life and a memory.”
A swing coat, embroidered with feathers, and full high-waisted skirts were the sort of items that will have a hard time translating from the runway to real life. Other options felt more wearable, especially the ‘60s-inspired belted peacoats and short skirts, and the lightweight intarsia tweed coats in a medley of mineral hues.
Chiuri wisely decided not to compete with the artwork: 3,765 square feet of mesmerizing embroidery carried out by 320 artisans at the Chanakya workshop in Mumbai, India, based on Jospin’s drawing of a dream-like landscape incorporating waterfalls, rocks and imaginary monuments.
As a result, eveningwear focused on her signature pleated gowns in barely there chiffon, dyed in gradient colors, and braided into basket-weave bustiers. Monochrome gazar gowns with graphic shoulder straps concealed geometric patterns in their knife-pleated folds.
With the exception of the final look — a spectacular bride under a foliage-embroidered green veil — decorative effects were limited to a handful of colorful patchwork motifs inspired by quilting bees. It’s back to that idea of transmission, which also inspired Jospin’s Silk Room.
“In embroidery, women work together around the table to stitch together and speak together. It’s community work, the same as in the atelier for haute couture. Especially now, that can give us a sense of solidarity,” Chiuri said, noting that it was the duty of brands like Dior to keep the global supply chain afloat post-COVID-19.
“Couture is not only Avenue Montaigne, couture is around the world where there is knowledge to realize beautiful craft,” she argued.
To be sure, there was a spirit of communion in the room, where editors rejoiced at sharing the same bench again after more than a year apart. The presence of celebrities including Florence Pugh, Monica Bellucci and Jessica Chastain added a sizzle of glamor to the occasion.
A loud cheer greeted Chiuri as she emerged to take her bow, but whether these outfits will have a lasting imprint over time remains to be seen.
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