On the global whirligig that is the 2024 resort season, next stop: Mexico City. We are here to see Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior’s ode to Mexico, which is full of airy shirting casually tucked into long pleated or tiered skirts swishing the floor, traditional huipil tops unexpectedly and youthfully worn with denim cut with a healthy amount of slouchy attitude, and the nipped-waist, house-classic Bar jacket, only NOW faced with velvet, or scrolled with embroideries. All of this was given a little glint and gleam courtesy of gold strand necklaces or hefty silver belt buckles with butterfly motifs (the butterfly was a constant visual refrain here) and with plenty of substantial leather cowboy boots in the local vernacular, swirled with stitching and, in some cases, flecked with tiny coral beads.
Mexico is a country that Chiuri has loved for many years, and one she has wanted to show in for only marginally less time. Though as is her wont with her cruise excursions, she goes into exhaustive detail researching each and every destination; this one was no exception, with her discovering that the house of Dior first visited way back in 1954. You only need to know a little about Chiuri to understand why she is so drawn to the place. There’s the country’s centuries-old belief in the power of nature. Its impressive group of uncompromising female artists who have often centered women’s voices and experiences at the heart of what they do. (Standing over this collection like guardian angels: Leonora Carrington, Tina Modotti, and of course, Frida Kahlo, whose alma mater, the Colegio de San Ildefonso, provided the show venue.) The finely wrought handwork and textiles which can be found across the country, bringing craft, heritage, and community together. And last but certainly not least, magical realism, with its potent symbolism and inexplicable otherworldliness.
All of this is prime Chiuri territory, for sure, and tonight’s show—a terrific and thoughtful outing—also served as a reminder that the further she goes out into the world, the closer she comes back to herself. These cruise collections of hers—and this one was no exception—always seem to yield what feels like her most personal work. A case in point: the way she found the connection between Mexico and her native Italy (in fact, many Mediterranean countries) through the shape of the clothes that were traditionally worn. “The shapes are very simple, they use the square, the circle, and the rectangle,” she said at a preview. “That really interested me.”
Of course, this is Dior, so there’s nothing reductive going on. Instead, she drew on that straightforward geometry for tunic-y blouses and billowing skirts rendered in the most exquisite of laces, or in cottons exuberantly splashed with Mexican flora and fauna, all vivid pink, green, and terracotta shades. In particular, Chiuri looked at the Tehuana clothing of the Zapotec women, with their huipils and petticoat-like skirts. Thinking about that was just one of the ways she was led to a heroine of hers, Frida Kahlo, who made that indigenous dress not only an essential part of her identity as a woman and as an artist, but part of her fierce critique of patriarchy, class, and gender.
For Chiuri, Kahlo is “an icon.” She said: “I’ve always felt close to her and to what she did. She was an artist who was the first to use her work to express her thinking about her body and her wardrobe; her clothes were part of her project. But also,” she went on to say, “she was very connected to the natural world, to mother earth, to the idea of metamorphosis.” (The latter is as much responsible for the butterfly leitmotif as the print that Chiuri found in the archive that was used by Marc Bohan when he led Dior back in the day.) The recent exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris devoted to Kahlo, “Beyond Appearances,” gave further impetus, and Chiuri turned to the show’s curator, Circe Henestrosa, to help make the connections in Mexico that could tell the story of her collection. (Henestrosa’s brilliant show is now at the Kahlo museum Casa Azul, which was formerly the artist’s family home. I defy anyone not to be moved by the sight of Kahlo’s corrective corsetry, intended to deal with the aftermath of a horrific accident when she was young, and presented in a way that borders on the forensic.)
Decentering her resort from Paris has also meant Chiuri lets others take center stage, driven by a desire to highlight the work of artists she admires, or to carefully highlight the beauty of craftsmanship elsewhere, and how crucial it is to preserve it, and those working to support communities where that craft is intrinsic to it. This time round, that meant working with the likes of Hilan Cruz Cruz, a young man who’s a Nahua weaver, and a co-founder of the Yolcentle textile workshop. (Chatting before the show, he’d praised Chiuri for her respect, coming to live and learn with him and his co-workers for several days.) There are artisanal textiles from Pedro Meza Meza, the founder of Sna Jolobil, Remigio Mestas, and Narcy Areli Morales, who established Rocinante, a company committed to revitalizing craftsmanship in Oaxaca.
It was Morales and Rocinante who was responsible for reworking the Dior New Look suit from 1947 with vivid red, indigo, and green embroideries. It looked gorgeous, yet the cross cultural dialog is pure Chiuri: Offer up the most iconic and revered of Dior’s oeuvre, and let others interpret it to make it their own as an act of collective creative ownership. Elsewhere, Chiuri worked with the Moreno family, who are traditional hat makers, and Rafael Villa Rojas, who has jewelry workshops in Mexico City. Meanwhile, it was the Mexican Elina Chauvet, an artist and activist, who joined forces with a collective of female artisans to create the red embroideries on the absolutely exquisite group of white cotton dresses that closed the show, a sight made all the more charged by the rain that gently (though persistently) fell during the entire course of the proceedings.
What results with all this is quite breathtaking: that a designer, and by extension, fashion, can and should be about the support of making space for everyone. At that preview the day before the show, Chiuri was emphatic about that. “It’s not about my creativity,” she said. “The creativity is in the process of working together. This is about community.” And as for going on the road with her resort collections, she’s equally clear. “It’s important not only for Dior but for the whole fashion system. We’re living in a moment when we have to transform. I really believe in fashion, but we have to work in a different way.” As of now, she remains unparalleled in leading the way forward.
This article was originally published on Vogue Runway.