If fashion has a diplomatic mission, then couture is surely its senior envoy.
With its emphasis on craftsmanship and freedom from commercial imperatives, the production of made-to-measure clothes has the power to unite artists and artisans across continents, and nowhere more so than at Dior, where Maria Grazia Chiuri routinely uses her collections as platforms for empowering other women.
This season she trained the spotlight on Ukrainian artist Olesia Trofymenko, whose work, combining photography and embroidery, provided the backdrop for the show. Chiuri was especially taken with Trofymenko’s use of folkloric motifs such as the tree of life, a symbol of rebirth that felt particularly relevant as the artist’s country remains at war with Russia.
In line with recent seasons, the designer’s use of embroidery was subtle, the rich textures of her sweeping gowns almost swallowed by a neutral palette of black, beige and gray, with the odd pop of chartreuse or lipstick red.
Take a buttonless coat, the color of organic linen, that provided the canvas for an intricate silk needlepoint rendering of the tree of life motif, or a long guipure dress in a floral motif rendered in cord. By her own admission, these looks are unlikely to pop on Instagram.
“Something that is invisible is more work than something that is more visible. Couture is really about culture, less spectacular, less show-off,” Chiuri said during a preview, fingering the skirt of a black guipure dress inset with velvet appliqués to demonstrate the absence of seams.
“When you see something very simple, there is a lot of work inside, but this is possible because the couture clients know what couture means,” she added.
With its portrait neckline and fluted sleeves, a dress made from a patchwork of laces in muted metallic tones had a Renaissance feel. Smocking was used on fabrics ranging from lightweight gray wool crepe to rich black velvet. Embroideries, some as dense as tapestries, were executed by specialized workshops scattered across France, Italy and India.
Chiuri is fascinated with the way clothing travels between cultures, and how so-called traditional outfits can be relatively recent. Such is the case of tartan, which she used either plain, in the case of a dirndl dress with twisted pleats, or embroidered with white flowers for a boxy top and matching skirt.
That shared sartorial heritage lies at the heart of what she thinks fashion has the power to achieve, by connecting different disciplines and nations. “It’s really a way to create beauty together,” she said.
Her restrained approach to fashion’s most rarefied discipline may disappoint those hoping for a viral moment, but it gives her couture a timeless quality that allows it to cross borders, and makes it the definition of a long-term investment.