It was only a matter of time before feminist-minded Maria Grazia Chiuri designed a Dior collection inspired by Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who resisted being a victim of a debilitating accident; painted the raw experiences of women, including abortion, miscarriage and birth, and embraced her masculine and feminine sides.
Cut to the Baroque courtyard of the Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City — where Kahlo met Diego Rivera when she was a high school student — and Dior’s gorgeous 2024 cruise collection on Saturday night.
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Just like the last time Dior presented a Mexican-inspired cruise show, in 2018 in Chantilly, France, with a performance by a group of escaramuzas (Mexican female rodeo riders), there was a downpour that just wouldn’t quit — not even for Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz to make their last-minute entrance.
But once the show began, everyone was so caught up in the romance of sweeping maxiskirts over cowboy boots, charro-style embroidered vests and pants, delicate white lace tunic and skirt sets; floral-stitched taffeta Puebla dresses, and black-and-white tiered fiesta dresses, the rain was forgotten.
Like she did in Mumbai, Chiuri collaborated with local artisans, having them embellish traditional Dior pieces, and styling their traditional work in a new context, tucking a red-and-white chain stitch huipil into a pair of high waist red jeans, for example, to show the younger generation how it can be modern.
The ease with which the Mexican embroidery and weaving melded into the collection was a testament to Chiuri and her team, who avoided tokenizing the work, or veering into costume territory.
Suiting with Spanish flair, in boxy silhouettes with high-waist pleated trousers, vests, shirts and ties, nodded to Kahlo’s gender role play, while offering a new take on fashion’s tailoring craze.
And a butterfly-shaped black leather corset (worn over a billowy white shirt and pleated skirt) was a beautiful tribute to the corsets Kahlo had to wear for most of her life, after she was in a bus accident that broke her spine in three places.
With loads of covetable cowboy boots on the runway, clearly that trend is not going anywhere, and if anything is just going to get more luxe. Also on the accessories front, handmade silver work, in collaboration with Rafael Villa Rojas of Mexico City, lent itself to chic butterfly-shaped rings, necklaces, carved wide belts and barrettes, clipped to the back of the models’ beautiful looped hair braids. The Book Tote, bucket bags and minaudières were also decorated with colorful embroidery and thread work.
Christian Dior has had a connection to Mexico since his first collection, in 1947, when one of the dresses was called Mexico. Other styles followed, named Acapulco, Soirée à Mexico and Mexique, a tulle dress embroidered with golden scales.
In 1950, Dior signed a contract to allow El Palacio de Hierro, the Mexico City department store, to reproduce his collection with local customers in mind. It was such a success he signed Mexican actress María Félix to be a brand ambassador.
Chiuri has had a love affair with Mexico and with Frida Kahlo for as long as she can remember.
“It was the first exhibition I saw in Italy of a woman artist,” said the designer. “It was really something that affected me…because she used clothes to define herself.…She mixed Mexican and European, but at the same time she maintained her personality. She was a genius.”
Many years later, Chiuri was first in line to see “Frida Kahlo Beyond Appearances,” the museum show about the trailblazing artist’s style featuring 200 of her garments, which began at her home and birthplace Casa Azul in Mexico City in 2012, then traveled to London and Paris (Chiuri saw it multiple times).
When she started thinking about designing a collection inspired by Kahlo, she contacted the exhibition’s curator, Circe Henestrosa, for guidance on artisan collaborators, a tall order considering Mexico has 68 Indigenous groups.
“I took Frida’s Mexican pieces and identified the regions she had things from, some came from Oaxaca, some from Puebla and some from Chiapas.…And then within those, there is a lot of diversity. But I looked for artisans who had the quality, who were innovative, who were serious about the research of the material culture of textiles,” Henestrosa said.
One of them, Hilan Cruz Cruz, is a 26-year-old Nahua weaver from Puebla and a social anthropology student. He’s the cofounder of Yolcentle Textile Workshop, which produced an embroidered poncho and Puebla dresses based on the local flora and fauna for the collection.
“The way we embroider is the heritage of grandfathers and grandmothers, generation through generation,” said Cruz, who didn’t even know it was Dior when he was first contacted.
“When they arrived in our town, it surprised us. What made us realize it was Dior is we saw several bags with the name,” he told WWD. “As the communication before their arrival was really transparent, that made us trust them, so much so that we prepared mole for them.”
About 10 artisans from his workshop worked directly on the Dior pieces. “As we’ve seen in different moments, there are huge brands who have copied Mexican textiles without knowing the origins, how it’s done, the context. This has been a great collaboration, hand by hand, really transparent,” he said.
Mexico passed a law to protect Indigenous communities and their textile material culture in January 2022 after a long history of plagiarism from international brands, said Henestrosa.
“The law was established to make sure communities get remunerated for their work. You have to produce within the community…and if you use the iconography and credit the community, you can work with them,” she explained.
“In this huge collaboration, I’ve been very involved with communicating what we were doing, and they jumped on board with us and Maria Grazia and they trusted us. And the real work will come when Dior issues the orders, because then they will generate more income and this will be an example for us to follow in the future for other brands.” (Also on the topic of representation, 45 out of 112 models in Saturday’s show were of Mexican origin.)
Another artisan collaborator, Pedro Meza, is a 30-year veteran of craft preservation, perpetuating the living heritage of Mayan culture with his Sna Jolobil workshop in Chiapas. His group produced a gaban square tunic and Book Tote.
Overseeing the production of four huipils, Remigio Mestas is a second generation textile researcher who has worked with numerous communities in Oaxaca. His approach has been to look for the best materials around the world (silks from Thailand, cottons from Egypt) for artisans to work with, and sell in his luxe Remigio stores, including the one in Mexico City.
And Narcy Areli Morales established Rocinante in Oaxaca in 2012 to oversee production of distinctive geometric patterned embroidery, which appeared on a Dior Bar jacket and skirt.
“This is couture, it really is couture,” Chiuri said of the work and its parallels with French fashion’s handcraft tradition.
Much of Mexico’s artisan work is done by women, who are under siege as victims of the pandemic of femicide. It was appropriate to acknowledge them in the context of a women’s fashion show in Mexico City, which just weeks ago held a Women’s March where thousands took to the streets demanding an end to gender-based killings.
So Chiuri asked Mexican feminist artist Elina Chauvet to create the finale. Chauvet’s work brings awareness to women lost to violence, most notably her “Red Shoes” installations featuring dozens of pairs of red shoes set up in public squares around the world in memory of those who have disappeared.
For Dior, she created “A Corozan Abierto” (which translates to open heart), working on 1950s archival white cotton muslin dresses, with red thread forming words and symbols conveying the idea of loss.
It was a sobering reminder of why Kahlo still matters, and how much work is still to be done.
Chauvet said, “Through those canvases, I’m sending a message — give women a voice.”
Launch Gallery: Dior Cruise 2024
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