“Believe in yourself in difficult times and believe in the future,” Maria Grazia Chiuri told 600 members of the world media via a virtual press conference last week. They were hopeful words, filled with an optimism that good things were to come. A reminder that the world won’t always look like this. A reminder to dream a little harder.
Continuing this sentiment, all while under the restrictions that the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon us all, Chiuri crystallized Dior’s Fall 20/21 Haute Couture collection into miniature doll-sized garments and a surreal short film. “We started working on this collection during the lockdown,” says Chiuri in a video. “Therefore we knew we couldn’t do a real show. So it was very clear from the start that it needed to be tied to the dream and fantasy world.”
Chiuri’s reference point was the Théâtre de la Mode (Theatre of Fashion), an exhibition of 237 fashion mannequins that toured Europe and the United States in the wake of World War II. Their role was to revive an industry ravaged by wartime shortages. “During this very difficult moment in time, [artists and designers] joined forces to create some dolls for whom couturiers created wonderful clothes, and the artists designed the decor of where these little dolls lived,” explains Chiuri. “These dolls were then shipped around the world and the idea was to promote the idea that French Haute Couture was still very much alive.”
At 10.30pm on Monday evening in Australia (2.30pm Paris time), Dior’s Fall Haute Couture collection was revealed via the aforementioned short film and directed by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. Opening with scenes from inside the French atelier, tidy, spectacle-clad women with their hair pulled back are seen hand-pleating an ivory linen bar jacket bodice and adding meticulous touches to teeny-tiny tiered fringe skirts. The creations are packed into a trunk shaped like the historic Dior headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris and transported to an Avatar-crossed-with-Narnia dreamscape by two bellhops.
“We created mannequins that were 40cm tall; in reality, we can call them miniatures which required an attention to detail which was almost obsessive and where everything from the skirts, jackets and linings were all like real haute couture garments,” says Chiuri.
The idyllic, lush green land is filled with very beautiful mythical creatures with great hair – mermaids, sentient statues, snail ladies and tree nymphs – all curious for a peek inside the Dior dollhouse. Like the door-to-door salesmen of the German yesteryear, the bellhops scour rocky and mossy terrain as they entice the timid creatures to purchase pieces, while the music of a ballerina box loops its score.
Woven into this fantasy is references to Chiuri’s favourite surrealist artists; Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Leonora Carrington, Jacqueline Lamba and Dorothea Tanning.
Dior has produced just two sets of the 37 couture pieces. They have then reproduced the collection at 40 percent of its size, the latter being sent to contacts across the globe. “During the lockdown, I saw many articles about the digital world, but honestly, fashion is not only digital. It’s not something you can only see. You have to touch it, you have to see the craftsmanship, especially in couture,” Chiuri told WWD. “In this way we can send the collection around the world to our clients.”
In all the sadness that has been this year, the Chiuri and Garrone collab is a wonderful and charming piece of art and escapism – or as Garrone puts it, “the tonic that the world needs to cheer us up.”
Yes, if the pandemic is our lifetime’s war, then this Dior collection represents the spirit of a modern day Théâtre de la Mode; freedom, resilience, reinvention – and a firm clutch of all of that hope for the future.