The cruise fashion shows follow each other but are not alike. If the biggest luxury brands have all understood the interest of staging their collection cruise – the most important commercially, present for nearly eight months in the store – the operating methods differ. Chanel took advantage of her Hollywood cruise to reaffirm her close connection to cinema on May 9; Gucci highlighted the importance of the Korean market in Seoul on May 16; Vuitton will recall its love for architecture at Isola Bella, Italy on May 24. For its part, Dior traces a particular furrow by setting itself up as a defender of endangered craftsmanship. On Saturday May 20, the house organized a parade in Mexico City in the form of a celebration of local know-how.
The project had been on the mind of Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of the women’s collections for a long time: already, in 2018, her cruise show presented in Chantilly, in the Oise, featured skirmishes, the traditional Mexican horsewomen. Since then, she has returned several times to Mexico, to meet indigenous communities specializing in textiles. “I would have liked to show traditional clothes of each of them through the parade. But there are too many of them, and it has proven too difficult to achieve. »
Moreover, the subject is delicate: in recent years, many “fast fashion” and luxury brands have sought inspiration from Mesoamerican cultures and have been strongly criticized. In 2019, Mexico’s culture ministry accused U.S.-based Venezuelan fashion designer Carolina Herrera of reproducing colorful embroideries from the community of Tenango, north of the capital. In 2020, Mexico filed a complaint against Isabel Marant for her use of Purépecha motifs, originally from the state of Michoacan (west of Mexico City), and she then apologized to the government and the community. In 2021, the complaints targeted brands Shein, Inditex, Anthropologie and Patowl, all accused of using Mexican designs in their clothing. Again, in October 2022, the wife of the Mexican president, Beatriz Gutierrez, had accused on Instagram Ralph Lauren of having plagiarized indigenous patterns for the making of a cardigan.
Since January 2022, Mexican copyright law says that all works considered popular or artisanal must be respected, and it requires clear acknowledgment of the indigenous community from which they originate in the event of commercial use. “It is not a problem in itself to want to use the work of indigenous communities: but they must be remunerated”, defends Circe Henestrosa. This fashion historian and professor, specializing in Mexican crafts, helped Maria Grazia Chiuri identify artisans to work with. “I chose people from different regions, Puebla, Chiapas, Oaxaca, who innovate in their interpretation of iconography and their textile research. And whose level of quality corresponds to what Dior does. »
“I see Dior as an ally in restoring dignity to the textiles of indigenous peoples”, says Remigio Mestas, a weaver born in the Oaxaca region, who supervised the creation of four huipils for the parade, these traditional embroidered chasubles whose symbolic ornaments vary according to the regions and communities. Now at the head of several shops throughout the country, he has devoted his life to learning and transmitting the textiles of Oaxaca. “In the 1980s, huipils were good for natives and hippies. They were called “potato bags”. I have spent my whole life trying to recognize the beauty of these clothes which have a mystical significance, like a second skin. » According to him, the challenge of the collaboration with Dior is twofold: on the one hand, to restore the image of traditional indigenous textiles through the glamor of a fashion show and, on the other hand, to show that it is possible to work with a major brand without being robbed.
This is also the opinion of Hilan Cruz Cruz, who, for Dior, took part in the creation of shirts and dresses where the embroidery illustrates the flora and fauna of the cosmogony of his Nahua community. “Here in Mexico, there isn’t necessarily a lot of interest in our work, which is perceived as not very technical and insignificant, details this young weaver from the Puebla region who is also studying anthropology. My biggest fear is that the young people in my village are not interested in our textile know-how. My grandmother could neither read nor write, but she knew everything about our culture and our roots which are transcribed in our clothes, where the representation of a snake or a jaguar embroidered on a blouse has meaning. Our craftsmanship is a way of understanding the world. »
Brilliantly colored huipils
To incorporate Mexican know-how into this strategic collection, which greatly contributes to Dior’s annual turnover and must therefore appeal to a large clientele, Maria Grazia Chiuri chose two options: certain folkloric pieces made by craftsmen were integrated into modern silhouettes; these same artisans have had the task of reinterpreting the brand’s emblematic silhouettes, such as the Bar suit or the Lady Dior bag. In the background, to link all these elements, the artistic director was inspired by a popular Mexican figure of international renown: Frida Kahlo. Historian Circe Henestrosa, who helped her identify Mexican artisans, also guided her through the wardrobe of the painter, whom she knows well for having organized several exhibitions on this theme, notably at the Palais Galliera, in Paris, in 2022.
It is precisely at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, a school where Frida Kahlo studied and met her husband, Diego Rivera, now converted into a museum, that the parade took place. In one of the square courtyards where the gigantic murals evoke the tormented and violent history of the country, a hundred models – half Mexican – defied the pouring rain which gave the event an unexpected dramatic tension. The allusion to Frida Kahlo is obvious, through the hairstyle, the make-up, but also the wardrobe which oscillates between feminine and masculine, huipils in bright colors and incandescent embroidery worn with full skirts on one side, a suit three anthracite pieces on the other.
The wealth of references does not prevent the collection from being very wearable, with this subtle variation of black dresses and ensembles, discreetly embroidered with butterflies. The animal is omnipresent: in the form of a silver clasp on a belt; in cotton, hemp and silk laces; populating the toile de Jouy illustrating Mexican flora and fauna alongside parrots, monkeys and birds of paradise that also illuminate Frida Kahlo’s paintings. The whole skilfully mixes cultures, without falling into caricature.
“I find it essential that craftsmen bring their traditions into dialogue with current fashion, otherwise they will end up disappearing, argues Maria Grazia Chiuri. In Italy, we have lost a lot of know-how because it is of little interest to the younger generations. » The Roman designer is convinced that fashion can create a bridge between cultures, citing the example of the Chanakya embroidery workshops, in Bombay, India, with which she has worked for more than thirty years.
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“It seems crazy to me that, with all this textile expertise, the fashion industry is not more developed in Mexico”, continues the artistic director, who met the Mexican Minister of Culture and who will return to Mexico City in November to discuss with her and the various indigenous communities the transmission of know-how. She plans to come with Karishma Swali, who runs the Chanakya workshops and has opened an embroidery school in Bombay, to share her experience.
“People are obsessed with issues of cultural appropriation today, emphasizes Maria Grazia Chiuri. Rather than fear criticism, it seems more important to me to have an ambitious vision for these exceptional skills: create a school, save patronage and develop new ones, improve techniques. » “This is the first time that an international brand is sincerely interested in the work of communities and establishes a healthy collaboration”, believes for his part Circe Henestrosa. Mexican law provides that the name of the artisans be credited on the garments (Dior), and that a portion of the profits be returned to them. “We have to see now how the marketing will unfold, continues the historian. It’s new for Dior, it’s new for artisans. And if it works well, it could in the future become an example of how to work with these communities. »