Many fashion collections have used Africa as an inspiration; from Monsieur Dior himself to his immediate successor Yves Saint Laurent. However, never in high-fashion history has a major European house so celebrated the creativity of this great continent.
The collection’s key material was wax-printed cotton, created by the famed Uniwax factory in the Ivory Coast. Though, instead of traditional African prints, this meeting led to Dior’s iconic Toile de Jouy and tarot cards being re-mixed with tropical plants and flowers and a safari worth of great African animals. So, on the remarkable prints, lions strut; giant butterflies flutter; cranes flirt, orangutans look nonplussed and giant tigers haunt their prey – all in among giant banana leaves, palm trees and tropical hardwoods.
One stunning, soft-shouldered opera coat featured a print showing a naked modern-day Venus being undressed by an eagle tearing the coat away with his talons.
“Marrakech has always been a magnet for artists and beauty; from Lisa Fonssagrives and Talitha Getty, to Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn. I wanted to capture that magic working with African artists, designers and crafts people,” explained Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s creative director.
Chiuri also collaborated with Sumano – an association dedicated to maintaining the savoir-faire of the Anti-Atlas region – on a coat for the collection: an exclusive piece woven and painted by hand by artisans who pass down this tradition from mother to daughter. The seating for show was even Henna-dyed by Sumano.
“In deliberately multiplying artistic collaborations and inspirations both geographic and historic, from Marrakech to Abidjan, this collection follows a single path: that of plurality, in the name of freedom and respect for all cultures,” Dior’s hard-driving CEO Pietro Beccari, told FashionNetwork.com.
This Cruise 2020 collection also included work by several celebrated designers born in Africa, like PathéO of Nelson Mandela shirt-fame, to others whose work is highly influenced by African imagery, like Grace Wales Bonner. And both of them were asked to interpret Dior’s greatest iconic image – the ‘New Look’. Bonner showing a bar jacket with a colorful lattice skirt; the same fabric used as trim on the cuffs of the jacket.
In another collegial gesture, Dior highlighted the work of Yves Saint Laurent, who joined Dior in 1955, rose to become Monsieur’s direct assistant, and was then famously named his successor after Dior’s sudden death. Saint Laurent went on to design six collections for Dior, and ten of them were on display at a welcoming dinner inside the labyrinthine Bahia Palace.
Chiuri will surely ignite a major trend with her heroic and exotic wax prints.
With wax printing, each producer puts the name of the product and registration number on the design, printed on the selvage. An example Dior followed with many looks.
In the morning pre-show, Chiuri even found time to visit Villa Oasis, the beautiful home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in Marrakech, joining editors and clients in a tour of the remarkable garden with its elegiac lily ponds; innumerable giant cacti; and Yves Klein or cornflower blue flowerpots; avenues of giant palms dotted with bougainvillea; and the sound of birds singing.
Inside, where photography was forbidden, the Moorish doorways; oil painting of local artists; and eclectic choice of interior fabrics and painted ceilings – made one realize how much of Yves’ color palette emerged from his time in Morocco sketching many of his collections. Just as Morocco seeped into so many looks of Chiuri, who strolled around the garden with a bandana worn like a pirate.
For evening, Chiuri showed sensational white columns, their lattice patterns echoing Moorish architecture, while her day wear referenced the original indigo blue of wax printing with great tunics, ponchos and trenches.
In short, this was a major fashion triumph for Dior and Chiuri. And post-show, Maria Grazia Chiuri had an extra “present” for the audience of 800 in El Badi Palace: Dior performed a seven-song set: ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!’
At a moment when the most powerful man in the world is obsessed with building a gigantic border wall, it was a timely statement about openness to other cultures.
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