A Really Radical Fashion Idea

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fashion review

When is a cruise show not just a cruise show? Ask Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior.

Credit…Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters

Vanessa Friedman

I am beginning to think that Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Dior women’s wear, may be the most subversively political, even radical, designer in charge of a big French fashion brand.

Not because of her clothes, which are perfectly pretty, if limited to a handful of familiar forms: full ballet skirts with nipped-in waists and crisp shirting; boy trousers and bar jackets; princess dresses. Or because of her sincere, if sometimes forced, feminism, which occasionally involves a message tee (or banner). But because of her approach.

At least her approach to her cruise shows, which has transformed a destination boondoggle for clients and critics (not this one: The New York Times does not accept free trips) into a destination boondoggle with purpose. Namely to argue, in the most gilded and glamorous terms, that the artisanal heritage of any number of cultures is the equivalent, in skill and value, to that of the Paris couture.

That the French don’t have a monopoly on embroidery and material creativity. That the somewhat derogatory, and often racist, dismissal of “craft” as not up to being considered a decorative art, is outdated and wrong. And that, you know, it’s time to build some bridges, take down the walls.

Zowie. In an industry long predicated on a hierarchy of taste handed down through the decades, that’s a pretty revolutionary idea.

In Ms. Chiuri’s hands, it’s also pretty convincing. Not to mention a much more resonant take on the current craze for collaboration that’s sweeping fashion than the usual you-market-my-back-I’ll-market-yours.

She has been hammering home this thesis consistently and insistently, through shows in Marrakesh, Athens and Puglia, all of which incorporated the work of a host of independent local artisans, whose contributions were listed not just in lengthy pamphlets that accompany each show, but also on the labels inside the garments. (Chanel also showcases the work of “specialist ateliers” in its Métiers d’Art shows, but the ateliers are majority French, and owned by Chanel.)

Credit…Photographs via Dior

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Credit…Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters

This season the case was made in Seville, Spain, with the work of seven local ateliers — specialists in hat-making, leatherwork, embroidery, fans and metalwork — as well as prints from the artist María Ángeles Vila Tortosa featured against the lavish backdrop of the Plaza de España, now filled with 250,000 crimson roses.

Also an orchestra led by the composer Alberto Iglesias, known for his work with Pedro Almodóvar, and a flamenco troupe with 40 dancers and two soloists under the direction of the choreographer Blanca Li. Plus, of course, some models wearing Ms. Chiuri’s signature Diorisms, filtered through a reference book of matadors and madonnas with the lingering sound of castanets echoing through the seams.

See, for example, pleated black trousers worn with suspenders over a white tank, and draped in a grandly fringed white lace shawl. Peg-leg pants piped in lace with a matching vest worn under a flat-brimmed hat. Skirts richly embroidered in the gold thread used to make vestments for religious ceremonies. Leather gloves, riding crops, belts and chaps.

And a host of jewel-tone, off-the-shoulder taffeta gowns that were a little less obvious than the finale of corseted infanta looks with silhouettes of La Capitana (Carmen Amaya, the first female flamenco dancer to wear a male uniform onstage) by Ms. Tortosa incorporated into the design.

You don’t have to get all the back stories to appreciate the clothes, even the ones that were a little too olé-tastic, but they are additive.

In a Zoom call before the show, I asked Ms. Chiuri why she had taken on this project. (Each cruise show takes six to eight months to prepare, which is significantly more time intensive than a regular ready-to-wear collection.)

“First, it is just a pleasure,” she said. “Second, it’s a responsibility.” Then she said, “If I don’t do it, who can?”

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