Different Country, Same Story

Dior may take their collections outside France to show, but the design narrative barely shifts

Mumbai’s Gateway of India monument could easily be Paris’s Arch du Triomphe, but it has one up on the French capital now: a Dior fashion show staged in its presence. Synonymous with the city formerly known as Bombay, the Gateway was built in 1911 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary to the city, but, apparently, the royals did not get to walk through the 26-metre arched entrance—it was not built in time for their arrival. In place of the yellow basalt structure for that occasion was a “cardboard” version. The royal visitors had to content with that. But the models of the Dior pre-fall 2023 show were more fortunate; the attendees too, reportedly 850 of them. All saw the very gateway itself. But rather than that alone as the backdrop, the monument was partially blocked by another shorter archway (possibly, cardboard-backed!), placed before it. The fabric surface—a toran, which is also a frieze hanging—was an ardent expression of Indian textile craft, comprising appliqués, embroideries, beading, inlays of mirrors, and other surface embellishments. It was an impressive structure, flanked in the front by two ramps festooned with flowers, screaming with colours that were evocative of the land of holi.

This was a glorious moment for India. The fashion world has long looked to the country for not just inspiration, but for fabrics, for trims, for dyes, for patterns, and for the decorative handwork that Dior has been so enchanted with and was now celebrating. A fashion show of a French brand in a bustling Indian city could be the ceremonial affirmation of Indian’s poly-cultural influence on what has been acknowledged as the fashion capital of the world—Paris. That Dior would openly and enthusiastically call Indian artisans their allies was far more homage-paying than anything non-luxury brands have declared, even when Indian factories have been producing considerable quantities of clothes for much of the fashion-consuming world. The Times of India proudly enthused, “Maria Grazia Chiuri mixed her garments and patterns with Indian traditions for her Fall ’23 show. She blended her ingenious proficiency by incorporating Indian rituals in the most austere and genteel manners.” But if you took away the fine handwork, was this really any different in spirit from Uniqlo paying homage to Disney?

The use of colours in the Dior collection was a joyous celebration of Indian chromatic brilliance—such as those that were identified as peela (a yellow, even a green) jamuni (a purple), and neela (a blue). But it was the use of rani, a rather bright, assertive pink that prompted quite a few commentators and reporters to quote Diana Vreeland: “pink is the navy blue of India.” Ms Vreeland had made that proclamation more than a few times (when she first said it, it isn’t quite clear). In a 1980 Washington Post profile of the editor, the paper considered that quip “her most frequently quoted statement” (it appeared in Ms Vreeland’s memoir DV, too). And she had said that of pink to many figures of the fashion world while she was alive. One of them was the late Gianfranco Ferré, a former Dior designer (1989—1996) and an Indophile who had spent the early years of his fashion career in India. His reply to that Vreelandism was purportedly, “Naturally, pink is the navy blue of India because it is the cheapest dye.”

While Dior’s Gateway to India presentation trained the spotlight on Indian artisanship, specifically those of Chanakya International (a vocational school in Mumbai that describes itself as a “global export house”), as well as an affordable pigment, it offered little on the designs of Dior. Ms Chiuri chose to play it safe for her celebratory sense of Indomania, sticking to stock shapes of Indian dress for the 99 looks, authenticated by (a majority of) local models similarly made up to illustrate an indolent take on smokey-eye bridal make-up. This excluded the curious multi-strand pearl chokers that appeared on many of them, like misguided maharanis, just returned from a holiday in the decadent West. Perhaps ground-shifting design was not the objective. The Business Times, running a Bloomberg article, ran the headline, “World’s richest man eyes India’s luxury market with landmark Dior show”. In the end, to regale in Mumbai was likely a business decision than an artistic one.

Screen shot (top) Dior/YouTube. Photos: Dior

One thought on “Different Country, Same Story

  1. Pingback: Dior Drenched | Style On The Dot

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