May 21, 2023
The Dior show has been the talk of the town this week in Mexico City. The game was guessing where the 20 May event would actually be staged. While some were sure about the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a majestic building in the centre of the city, Dior picked the Colegio de San Ildefonso, a quieter venue steeped in history located right at the heart of the historic part of Mexico City, only a few streets away from the hustle and bustle of various neighbourhood markets and their street vendors.
A highly symbolic place, since it was in this ancient 16th century Jesuit college that Frida Kahlo met Diego Rivera when she was only 18 years old, and was a student there. It was the birthplace of Mexican Realism, an art movement much admired by Dior’s Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri, if only through books.
Chiuri has long been fascinated by Mexico, which she regards as a spiritual destination, and the idea of staging a runway show in the country first came to her last autumn, after the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Palais Galliera Museum in Paris. It was then that Chiuri discovered the Mexican artist’s own wardrobe, which had been kept sealed for 50 years, and was spellbound. “It’s incredible how she was a forerunner of all the conversations we’re having today. She’s a symbolic artist. The world’s most important female artist,” said Chiuri.
More than simply drawing inspiration from Kahlo though, Dior has staged an immersive quest in the artist’s footsteps in Mexico City over the last few days. The dinner at the Anahuacalli Diego Rivera Museum, “where Frida and Diego would have liked to rest,” as the museum’s documentation revealed, was proof of this.
A memorable show
Not even torrential rain could spoil such a hotly anticipated event. The evening may well have taken a catastrophic turn, since the plan was to hold the show outdoors, in the middle of the ancient colonial-style building’s courtyard. But the Bureau Betak agency’s staff on-site, with a stroke of last-minute genius, managed to shift the seating area to the building’s upper floors, while the guests gradually arrived and were corralled into a reserved area. Since the audience was split up among various floors, it was hard to spot all the guests, among them stars like Naomi Watts, Alicia Keys, Laetitia Casta and Amira Casar. Local celebrities like Karla Souza, Yalitza Aparicio and Belinda also attended.
The show got under way to the sound of a love song by Vivir Quintana, entitled Te Mereces un amor, as the multi-ethnic group of models stepped onto the runway. With their braided hair and statement eyebrows, they looked fleetingly like modern-day Frida Kahlos, a butterfly-shaped piece of jewellery delicately poised between each braid, at the back of their heads.
The butterfly motif was ubiquitous in all the looks. A powerful symbol, cropping up on a striking necklace worn over a monochrome blouse, or delicately embroidered on a garment, or featured on large metallic belts and in lavish printed patterns. Nocturnal butterflies came alive in the collection’s looks, inspired by a design by Andrée Brossin de Méré unearthed in the Dior archives. “Butterflies are also featured on the toile de Jouy patterns depicting Mexico’s flora and fauna, alongside the parrots, monkeys and strelitzias that also light up Frida Kahlo’s paintings,” Dior noted in the collection’s presentation.
For this cruise collection, Chiuri has created a series of feminine silhouettes that nevertheless blur the boundaries between menswear and womenswear, as shown by a number of impeccably cut outfits in black or white featuring bow ties. “Frida used to wear three-piece suits like these since she was 19, flouting her femininity to claim an independence that was above all intellectual,” stated Dior.
Gossamer, delicately embroidered dresses were followed by looks big on lace and velvet. Majestic pleated skirts seemed to unfurl like corollas, worn with stunning black leather boots. Gradually, the black and white hues that set the tone early in the show were replaced by bright colours, notably an intense pink dress, like one of Kahlo’s favourites, often featured in her self-portraits. Followed by looks in the colours of the Mexican flag, combining red, green and traditional embroidery in a strikingly modern interpretation.
To lend authenticity to her looks, Chiuri chose to work with the best Mexican artisans, embroiderers, weavers and jewellery designers, who all contributed their expertise to the collection. Chiuri was keen to put the accent on and perpetuate the craftsmanship tradition. “We don’t simply need to preserve craftsmanship but also have a vision for its future, because we’re running the risk that the new generation will not be interested. This is what we’ve been doing at Dior since 2016: we support artisans through education and vocational training, making people realise the value of having such skills,” she said before the show.
A performance by Elina Chauvet
Feminism is a cause dear to Chiuri, and it was by no means overlooked in this cruise collection show. She invited Mexican feminist artist Elina Chauvet to create an installation especially for the event. Chauvet is a multidisciplinary artist whose signature aesthetic is forged by an unwavering driving principle: the urgency of revealing the absences and silences that surround the countless disappearances of women in her native state of Chihuahua, one of Mexico’s regions most plagued by the horror of femicides. For her work entitled Zapatos Rojos (red shoes, 2009), Chauvet began to set down on the ground, on the streets and town squares of various cities in Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, pairs of red shoes that act as reminders of the absent bodies of their vanished owners. An installation that had a profound effect on Chiuri herself in Europe.
In 2012, Chauvet turned to embroidering words in red thread on a white dress, to evoke the work of Italian feminist artist Pippa Bacca, who died prematurely and violently. Using as a backdrop 20 white canvases taken from the Dior archives and woven in the label’s Parisian ateliers, Chauvet and a group of 16 embroiderers, for their A corazón abierto project, stitched their words on some of the models shown before the event came to a close.
Chauvet’s striking performance was accompanied by Vivir Quintana’s Canción sin miedo, a song paying tribute to murdered women, calling on all women to fight for justice. A poignant track that was deeply felt by the guests, ushering in the finale of a show that was truly memorable, both for the messages conveyed by Dior and for the collection, at once highly attractive and resolutely contemporary. Chiuri is indeed unique for her ability to showcase so much ancestral expertise, while continuing to innovate and hatching a great fashion occasion.
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