In an exciting announcement last week, luxury fashion brand Dior revealed that Mumbai will be the location for its highly anticipated Pre-Fall 2023 show. The decision is part of the brand’s ongoing collaboration with the Chanakya school of embroidery, led by the talented Karishma Swali.
With the show set to take place at the iconic Gateway of India, just across from Dior’s own retail store within the Taj Mahal Hotel, fashion insiders and craft circles have been buzzing with anticipation since November 2022. Local modelling agencies have been subtly encouraging submissions for an “international brand show”, while wedding and space designers have been asked to submit their best marigold-inspired designs for consideration as part of the show’s set.
For the unversed, Dior and India share a rich and colourful history that spans over several decades. From collections inspired by Indian textiles and embroidery to runway shows set against the backdrop of historic palaces, Dior has repeatedly drawn inspiration from India’s vibrant culture. Ahead, we explore the unique relationship between Dior and India, from its earliest beginnings to its latest collection launches.
Dior’s fascination with India dates back to the 1950s when the designer first encountered Indian textiles and embroidery. He was drawn to the vivid colours and intricate designs of traditional Indian clothing, which inspired him to create his own line of clothing. Since then, Dior has incorporated Indian elements into several of its collections, drawing inspiration from everything from the country’s architecture to its ancient myths and legends.
Dior’s first collection inspired by India
Christian Dior himself created ‘Soirée de Lahore’, a masterpiece inspired by Indian heritage, for his AW 1955 collection—a panelled dress, featuring a pallu-inspired shoulder drape with gold embroidery and peacock motifs. Fast forward to the reign of Gianfranco Ferré, who left his mark on the French house with his extensive travels to India, which inspired his breathtaking maharaja-chic embroidery and spice-hued ensembles in shades of turmeric yellow and saffron orange.
Dior X The Chanakya School of Embroidery
Maria Grazia Chiuri has been very vocal about her admiration and support for Indian artisans. She differs from other European luxury brands in that she openly acknowledges that India is where her brand’s embroidery headquarters are located. Chiuri, who has been a practicing feminist for over two decades, has been quietly mentoring the artisans in Swali’s atelier. The Chanakya School of Embroidery was born from their shared feminist vision; it provides a creative space for women seeking to enter the embroidery workforce, which has traditionally been dominated by male karigars. Since 2020, the Dior show sets have incorporated tapestries embroidered by the school’s students. This partnership is not just about business, but rather a reflection of their shared values and beliefs.
“What is most meaningful for us with this forthcoming collaboration is the spotlight it will shine on India’s artisanal legacy, and our collective vision for craft preservation through innovation and education.” Swali shared about the maison’s upcoming Mumbai show.
Dior Exhibition In London
In 2018, an exhibition on Christian Dior at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London included a section on how the iconic French designer and his successors at the House of Dior have been inspired by India. Several hundred journalists were invited to the V&A to hear details of its major exhibition, ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,’ from its curator, Oriole Cullen, who later shared, “We are looking at India in one of our sections. So many of the creative designers at the House of Dior—Christian Dior himself included—were inspired by India and there are some beautiful photographs by Norman Parkinson for editorial taken in India.”
Parkinson, who was one of Britain’s best-known photographers, had visited India in 1956 with a team of models to shoot for a leading publication. One image was of the model Anne Gunning in Dior in front of the Nandi Bull on Chamundi Hill in Mysore. Dior opened a boutique in Delhi in 2006 and in Mumbai in 2010.
“I remember being in Mumbai some years ago when the Dior boutique opened and there was a lot of press around that,” recalled Cullen. “So it is nice to see it is a two-way thing. Women in India wear Dior but the House of Dior is also inspired by India.”
British fashion writers agreed that the actress Priyanka Chopra, for example, “looked ravishing” when she wore a gold Christian Dior gown for the post-wedding evening party hosted by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Dior 2022 Collab
For its spring/summer 2022 runway show at Paris Haute Couture Week, the House of Dior collaborated with Madhvi and Manu Parekh, an Indian fine-artist couple. Together, they created a series of 22 artworks that served as the backdrop for the show, running from floor to ceiling. Skilled artisans from India’s Chanakya School of Craft were also involved in the project. As models dressed in pristine white garments took to the stage, the colourful and contemplative lines of the couple’s paintings in the background opened up a world of potential.
“Madhvi and Manu Parekh are two emblematic figures of the Indian art scene who offer a reflection on the meaning of the traditions and spirituality of their country,” explained Grazia Chiuri of her tryst with the artist couple.
“But it is probably the creative dialogue between the man and the woman—and the contrast between the two—that interested me the most about their work,” she continued.
Chiuri, who has often looked to India for inspiration, worked closely with the Chanakya School of Craft to meticulously embroider the artist couple’s abstract spiritual paintings. These were reimagined in the form of needle-work embroidery using materials like raw linen, jute, silk and cotton by the artisans at the school. Through them, Chiuri sparked a dialogue between the different languages of embroidery and craft spoken all over the world, creating a conversation between French haute couture and Indian artisans.
Resort 2008 Collection
The collection was designed by the then creative director of the fashion house, John Galliano and featured an electric-bright palette. It showcased a beautiful fusion of Indian colours and motifs with intricate embroidery work on silk and chiffon that were gold embellished, with borders and paisleys and temple motifs in bright hues of blues and greens. Galliano shifted forward a couple of decades and channelled Barbara Hutton’s sixties—a glittery, lamé, paisley, and leopard-print world of muumuus, bikinis, capri pants, trapeze dresses, cat-eye sunglasses, and scarf-wrapped hats.
Fall Ready to Wear 2009 Collection
The Fall Ready to Wear Collection, again, designed by John Galliano, was an ode to oriental and Indian influences and the rich brocades, sheer chiffons, intricate embroidery and ikat fabrics were a nod to the East. Galliano moved on to paisley-print day dresses and then to drapey harems (best in cream satin with a pale beige astrakhan gilet) which opened a neat portal through which Galliano’s romantic, silver filigree Indian-embroidered chiffon cocktail and evening dresses could pass, looking effortlessly pretty.
India Inspired Collection by Gianfranco Ferré
The key outfits designed by Gianfranco Ferré for the Autumn Winter Haute Couture Show, 1996, were India-inspired. For example, the Dior Koh-I-Noor dress by Gianfranco Ferré from the haute couture Autumn/Winter 1996 collection was made from silk (tulle), lace, beads, sequins and Swarovski crystals. Another dress from the collection featured India-inspired rich embroidery and fabrics. A noticeable theme was the draping which resembled the Indian sari, with the use of textiles that had significant flow, fall and were sheer to add whimsy while still being luxe.
Partnerships with Indian Artists
Dior has had two significant collaborations with Indian artisans and artists that recognise and amplify the value of our craft. One of which being Dior’s collaboration with the Chanakya School of Craft for Dior’s Haute Couture SS2020 fashion show. The second instance is the fourth edition of Dior Lady Art where 11 artists from around the world were brought together to create their own construct of the iconic Lady Dior bag.
For the Spring 2020 Couture collection, Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri raised rhetorical questions about an utopian future, “What if women ruled the world?” The collaboration with the Mumbai based Chanakya School of Craft was a result of this reasoning. Chiuri has had a long term association with Chanakya International, a legacy embroidery and production house, which is the parent company behind couture label Jade for several years.
Shaped like a womb, the venue itself made a powerful statement and saw models walk out in Greco-Romanesque drapes. Inspired by Botticelli and Roman sculpture, Chiuri modelled the looks on goddesses, going back to her Italian roots. The set was designed by the feminist artist Judy Chicago, and was brought to life by the skilled artisans at Chanakya.
Dior X Lady Dior Art Bags
Ragib Shaw and Rina Baneriee were two artists of Indian origin out of the eleven brought together by Dior for its fourth edition of the Dior Art Bag collection—where artists revamped the iconic 25 year old bag with their own creativity. The Indian-American sculptor used her oeuvre to create a dialogue that connects human culture with nature.
Pristine embroidery represented the rivers of the world while a carved wood handle completed the piece. Its message? One of universal peace and respect for nature’s raw materials. Rina Banerjee is a New York based artist and sculptor, with roots in Kolkata.
It’s all in the details
Dior’s long tete-a-tete with Indian handicrafts and artisanship has resulted in a melange of accessories that are born out of India’s rich heritage and iconic traditional handiwork, using minute embroidery and technically nuanced fusion.
Pictured above, a Christian Dior scarf that’s made of premium Indian silk. Luxury brands like Dior have often chosen Indian silk to weave opulent scarves for their collections.
The Dior Saddle Bag from the Autumn Winter Collection, 2018 featuring an Indian patchwork technique as well as intricate embroidery. Lady Dior bag with Rajasthani mirror work embroidery.
This India Saddle Bag was an iconic limited edition bag (only a 100 pieces available worldwide) created by John Galliano during his 10th year anniversary at Dior which saw him creating a collection of 12 bags, each inspired by a different country. This one in particular was inspired by the sari—it was constructed in neon pink satin with gold-tone hardware, sequin and embroidered embellishments throughout.
Considering the long-standing history the maison has with India, we can’t wait to see what the upcoming show has to offer. What about you?