Empowering artisans: Maria Grazia Chiuri's commitment to supporting craftsmanship through education
FashionNetwork.com recently had the opportunity to interview Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Dior, during the Cruise 2024 fashion show held in Mexico City. The interview provides a fascinating dive into Chiuri's creative process, as well as the perspectives of the artisans who collaborated with her.
The artisans interviewed just before the Dior fashion show unanimously described their collaboration with the brand as "respectful, enriching, and rewarding." This is a stark contrast to recent cases where other brands have faced criticism from the Mexican government for unauthorised "copying" of Mexican textile art.
For Chiuri, craftsmanship plays a pivotal role in her creative endeavours. With every cruise collection, she delves into the ancestral and local know-how of the selected region. "Every time we visit a country, we have the opportunity to work with local artists and initiate a dialogue with them. We even ask some of them to reinterpret iconic Dior pieces like the Bar Jacket or the Lady Dior," said Chiuri in a press conference. "Today, we have lost this incredible craftsmanship of artisans. I have a personal connection to this issue, as part of my family comes from the south of Italy, where valuable techniques and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge from mother to daughter have been lost over time." This experience fuels her passion to address this issue and reclaim these traditional practices.
"Craftsmanship techniques are traditionally passed down between women, except in India, where men also contribute to these techniques. Craftsmanship is ultimately considered domestic and not celebrated as a true art form. In Italy, it used to be the same, but we have now lost those traditions. Celebrating these artisanal traditions is also a way to engage younger generations in discovering these techniques and this mode of expression," she added.
Attracting and, most importantly, educating young generations is deemed necessary and even essential for the industry, according to Chiuri. "What we have been doing with Dior since 2016 is supporting artisans through educational initiatives and schools, where people can understand the value of having such skills. In the past, for many people, in Italy for example, craftsmanship was seen as a secondary career path. My mother was a seamstress, and she didn't view her abilities as her personal choice," she explained.
Dior's creative director shared a poignant story about a young Mexican artisan who left a lasting impression on her. So much so that she invited him to spend two weeks in Dior's workshops in Paris to immerse himself in a different approach to craftsmanship. "It was an incredible, unexpected, and truly mesmerising experience. I was fascinated by the way Dior worked," he confessed, still moved during the interview. According to him and the other artisans interviewed, Chiuri and her studio fostered a collaborative and co-creative environment, where knowledge was exchanged and both parties learned from each other.
With tears in her eyes, the creative director confessed, "These women (the Mexican artisans) and their work have touched my heart so deeply that just thinking about it makes me cry." The women, on the other hand, have gained confidence through this collaboration, "which has planted a seed in them, the seed of confidence that now only seeks to grow and strengthen," shared one of the weavers, visibly moved during the interview.
"When we met, Maria Grazia Chiuri wanted to incorporate Mexican craftsmanship into her work, and she was so passionate about this project! She truly puts creation and craftsmanship on the same level," enthused Circe Henestrosa, designer and curator of the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Musée Galliera in Paris.
Frida Kahlo's wardrobe
In a way, it was Henestrosa who made the collaboration with the artisans possible, as following her meeting with Maria Grazia Chiuri and at the request of the Italian designer, she conducted extensive research to find artisans in different regions of Mexico such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Puebla region. These regions were chosen to match Frida Kahlo's wardrobe, which often featured a blend of traditional Mexican garments, Chinese embroidery and contemporary pieces from Europe and other parts of the world.
The story of the discovery of Frida Kahlo's wardrobe is indeed fascinating. Following the death of the young Mexican artist in 1954, her partner Diego Rivera took measures to ensure the protection of Kahlo's estate. He appointed an executor of her will who was instructed to keep some of the artist's research and Kahlo's wardrobe sealed for a period of 15 years. However the items were kept hidden until the executor's death and it wasn't until 2004, exactly 50 years after Kahlo's death, that her wardrobe was finally revealed to the public.
Walking the runway in Mexico: a long-awaited dream
"When Dior gave me the opportunity to showcase our collections abroad, the first thing I said was, 'I want to have a fashion show in Mexico.' It has always been my dream because I adore this country. It is a part of my visual culture. Mexico is inspiring and magical. We have been waiting for a long time to make this happen. Last September, we decided that this year we had to do Mexico. I had been envisioning this project for a very long time," commented Chiuri.
It is not the first time that Dior has presented its collections in Mexico, as Mr. Dior himself embarked on a grand tour of Central and South American cities in 1954. At that time, he showcased his collections in the Mexican capital, which were later sold at the prestigious department store El Palacio del Hierro. It was only in 2019 that the Parisian fashion house opened its own boutiques in the capital.
Is hosting a fashion show in Mexico City a way for the brand to appeal to patriotic Mexicans and boost sales? "The decision to have a fashion show in Mexico City is not a business choice, it is a choice driven by my creative process because I have a great appreciation for Mexican artists and photographers. There are very talented photographers in Mexico. I love their way of capturing images. It is a genuinely artistic statement," confided Chiuri in an exclusive interview with FashionNetwork.com.
"I am fascinated by Mexican culture. When I was young, I saw an exhibition on Frida Kahlo in Rome. She wasn't as well-known as she is today, but it was the first time I saw an exhibition by a female artist with such artistic talent. She is very symbolic to me because she embodies all the values that resonate with me, whether it's her relationship with her body or the way she wanted to define herself. I believe she is a universal reference for all women, a pioneer," said the designer.
Chiuri undoubtedly delivered a powerful fashion moment on May 20 during the cruise runway show, portraying a modern-day Frida Kahlo. Butterflies were omnipresent in the collection. "Butterflies represent the symbol of metamorphosis, change, and rebirth. The butterfly is a universal reference in all cultures and has a connection to the soul. In Mexico, butterflies are also widely celebrated, particularly during the Day of the Dead. They symbolize rebirth and transformation. I believe that Frida, through her work, wanted to transform herself. Even Elina Chauvet, through her work, aims to transform a society that is too patriarchal. It felt very connected to what I wanted to convey," said Chiuri.
The parallel between Frida Kahlo and Elina Chauvet, the artist who was invited to dream up an installation for the show, lies in their feminist activism and their refusal to be deterred by adversity, as well as their creative expression. Chiuri emphasised that both of them are feminist artists. "Elina Chauvet is widely known in Italy. I have been familiar with her work for years. She was the first to create an impactful installation featuring red shoes to condemn femicides, a problem unfortunately present in Italy as well. It has always been one of my life-long dreams to work with her," said the Italian designer.
Plans for the future
The fashion show come to an end and editors left still in awe of the incredible experience. However, Chiuri's time in Mexico is not over yet. "I met with the Ministry of Culture in Mexico and we will be returning in November because they are going to establish a significant cultural centre here in Mexico City, and they invited me for a few days. They are inviting several communities to showcase their work within this space and directly sell their creations. When I met them, I explained the project we have implemented in India because I believe it would be interesting to establish a school within this centre," revealed Chiuri. "From my perspective, it is important to introduce craftsmanship, especially in schools," she said, praising the excellent work done by young students in Paris.
It seems that Maria Grazia Chiuri has fulfilled many of her dreams by creating this very special collection, which is imbued with emotions. "I vividly remember when I decided to study fashion; my mother was desperate because she thought it wouldn't be good for me and my future. She didn't understand at the time that the system could change. She would have preferred me to be a doctor or pursue a more 'established' career since fashion was considered domestic. It wasn't seen as a means to express art and creativity," Chiuri reflected. On behalf of the entire fashion industry, thank you Maria Grazia Chiuri for not listening to your mother.
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