It is a defining moment for luxury and fashion in India. In Mumbai, Dior held its Fall 2023 show at the landmark Gateway of India, celebrating Indian artisans’ contribution to luxury fashion and the relationship of the LVMH fashion house’s creative director of women’s collections, Maria Grazia Chiuri, with India for over two decades.
The finale of the Dior Fall 2023 show held at the Gateway of India in Mumbai © Dior
For one of the pieces specially produced for Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior Fall 23 show in Mumbai, artisans from the Chanakya atelier used a technique that traces its roots in India back millennia - block printing © Mevin Murden
It is unsurprising, as many who have experienced it will agree that the relationships you forge with India are lifelong, thanks to the people, the kindness and contagious positivity. I like to say India is a country for old souls. A visit to India awakens all the senses and stimulates the souls.
Some pieces specially produced for Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior Fall 23 fashion show in Mumbai © Dior
Chanakya is a Mumbai-based organisation preserving the ancient hand embroidery heritage since 1984 and ensuring the Indian artisan magic lives forever. Chanakya established a foundation and a non-profit school of craft in 2016 dedicated to art, culture and women’s empowerment. Collaborations and experimentation with global fashion houses, artists and designers have helped preserve and train new generations in the craft. They set an important example for the country as many regional crafts are disappearing in India due to the lack of demand and low wages. The new generations do not wish to continue the tradition due to low demand and salaries. Many families have the same story; they want their children to have a better life and career, for example, in medicine, engineering or information technology. A social upgrade for the children of ‘karigars’. With the Dior show, they have gained a higher respect and reputation, which will hopefully grow to reach the level of the Métiers d’Art one day.
Parallel to the Dior Fall 2023 show in Mumbai, Chanakya launched an exposition of 50 pieces designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri that its artisans embellished with a range of techniques. There, some of the ateliers' master artisans personally highlighted examples of Indian textile savoir-faire © Mevin Murden
Chanakya School of Craft empower female “Karigars” (craftsmen) © Mevin Murden
The week was also buzzing with the opening of India’s biggest fashion exhibition, ‘India in Fashion’ at the Nita Mukesh Ambani cultural centre, exploring the layered impact of traditional Indian dress, textiles, and craft have had on international fashion sensibility since the 18th century. Iconic pieces are on display from local and global leading designers, some of them borrowed from The Met and the V&A. Rizzoli even published a book about the exhibition.
While India has inspired many international designers, these two events will encourage more students to ‘look in’ for inspiration and cultural appreciation rather than the West as a post-colonial hangover. Successful local designers such as Dhruv Kapoor and Rahul Mishra have brought authenticity on a global stage through their labels, showcasing a range of local textiles and surface embellishments. A newly launched book ‘Inspired by India: How India Transformed Global Design’ by Phyllida Jay, offers a panoramic exploration of over six centuries of trade, cultural exchange and inspiration between India and the rest of the world.
Looks from the Dior Fall 2023 show by Maria Grazia Chiuri © Dior
The Dior collection included techniques and textiles such as Aari, block printing, couching, applique, shisha, Zardozi, Zari, Madras checks, Banarasi brocades and tie dye each from different regions alongside saree and kurta flavours.
On the left, a creation by the master artisans from the Chanakya Atelier © Mevin Murden; on the right, a look from Maria Grazia Chiuri's Dior Fall 23 show held at the Gateway of India in Mumbai © Dior
The set included traditional diya lamps and floral rangoli, all tied in with a wonderful live orchestra playing Indian fusion and a woman tabla player. Models walked through the huge ‘Toran’, a traditional Indian tapestry embroidered by women to welcome guests into their home, and this one took 35 000 hours of manual labour.
The noble magnificence of the scenography for the Dior Fall 2023 show in Mumbai © Dior, photo: Gupta Niveditaa
In line with our Istituto Marangoni Mumbai school identity, we encourage students from the first year to explore local materials and crafts and help them innovate for a glocal market through research and development.
Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri and BoF’s Imran Amed at Istituto Marangoni Mumbai
During a conversation held in the school for students the day after the show, BOF’s Imran Amed sat down with Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri to discuss Indian craft in the global fashion industry. Imran Amed, who wore a Khadi jacket, started by making a very interesting point from a business point of view, recalling the Fendi show at the Great Wall of China and the start of a Chinese boom in the luxury market. Similarly, India is set to grow exponentially over the next few years.
Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri at Istituto Marangoni Mumbai
Wearing beautiful tie-dye trousers and Kolhapuri Chappals, Maria Grazia Chiuri discussed how Karishma Swali, managing and creative director of Chanakya International and the Chanakya School of Craft, and her team are like family and how they grew together in terms of creativity and exploration.
During her first visit to the workshops, Maria Grazia Chiuri was surprised to see that all karigars were men. The skills are passed on personally through the guru-shishya mentoring tradition, usually from father to son or mentor and apprentice, whereas in Italy, it is primarily women.
One of the many similarities between India and Italy is the different regions making up the country, each with its own flavour. Italy is a successful model of craft innovation and preservation by striking the right balance between respect for tradition, the ‘methode’, research, experimentation and development.
About her creative process, Chiuri said it is important to know a brand’s history and review its archives from a personal perspective. Furthermore, she highlighted the human connection and similarities between working with a ‘première’ in a Parisian studio and working with karigars.
Among the decorations revealed in the Dior Fall 2023 show in Mumbai, appliqués crafted in the Chanakya atelier recreated motifs inspired by the kind of signage typically seen on Indian trucks and shopfronts, combined with symbolic animals and the phrase "L'Union Fait La Force." © Dior
Maria Grazia Chiuri insisted that the collections come from a team, a community, and it is not her style to be the centre of attention.
Imran Amed highlighted that, alongside Dior, Chanakya has been training women in a mainly male-dominated art in India, an essential project for Maria Grazia Chiuri and Karishma Swali, making it possible to pass on disappearing crafts to the next generations.
On the aspect of art, Chanakya has been collaborating with artists to create large-scale tapestries for the Dior shows, diversifying the craft into other areas. This is a helpful step in supporting the art as collectables, not only garments.
“Creativity helps you express yourself and open your mind, to see yourself and your relationship with others in different ways” – Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Women’s Collections at Dior
As advice to young creatives, Chiuri said to know oneself first, to start with small companies and to be exposed/understand more, not to be too obsessed with big names and lastly, having great mentors is crucial.
A look from the Dior Fall 2023 show in Mumbai © Dior
The insightful session ended with student questions where Maria Grazia Chiuri stressed the point of understanding the history and context of design, why shapes and silhouettes emerged and their role in how the designer wanted to portray women and the message at the time.
About giving tips to emerging female designers in a male-dominated industry, Chiuri replied that it is a global problem. There are no secrets apart from working hard; we need to stop talking about man or woman but rather talent or no talent.
“A male-dominated industry is a global problem. But we must stop talking about man or woman, rather about talent or no talent” – Maria Grazia Chiuri
Transparency is no longer a choice but a necessity. Chiuri stated that it is impossible to think of a collection as being created and realised by only one person; it is “collective creativity,” as BOF’s Imran Amed put it.
The aari technique was used for the Dior Fall 2023 collection by Maria Grazia Chiuri to embroider vibrant 1960s motifs from the Dior archives
The closing question was about the future of luxury in a digital age, to which Maria Grazia Chiuri replied that there is a difference between making luxury accessible and its democratisation. She says luxury is one of a kind, slow and personalised. Haute couture will still require handmade and will not be affected so much by digital. Imran Amed closed the conversation by expressing his gratitude for being part of this great moment for India, which everyone will cherish and remember.
Chanakya's special presentation in honour of the Dior Fall 2023 show as "an ode to the artisan, a reflection of their creative spirit, and the sustaining power of human hands" © Dior, photo: Sahiba Chawdhary
As a beautiful addition to the whole experience, Chanakya held an in-house exhibition to celebrate India’s cultural heritage and artisanal legacies with a selection of Dior garments and accessories bringing it to a full circle.
Chanakya's presentation in honour of the Dior Fall 2023 show by Maria Grazia Chiuri © Mevin Murden
An ode to the artisan, the three-part presentation reflects their creative spirit, the sustaining power of human hands and the medium’s centrality to the artistic process. From the start of the journey into Chanakya’s world, greeted traditionally with a garland of Jasmin to the end, presented with a beautifully wrapped recycled cashmere throw, the visit was an experiential delight.
The three-part presentation included an exclusive Chanakya x Dior retrospective featuring 50 hand-embroidered archive pieces made with Chanakya across 16 haute couture and ready-to-wear collections © Mevin Murden
The first part presented an exclusive DIOR retrospective featuring 50 hand-embroidered archives across 50 haute couture and RTW collections designed in collaboration with Chanakya. The second part is a curated display of Chanakya’s archives with rare global art antiquities and craft objects spanning over a thousand years. In the third part, the visit climaxes with a ‘living museum’ of the 13th generation of ustads (master artisans) demonstrating the virtuosity of Indian savoir-faire, where visitors could observe and appreciate the process of each of the techniques. Beautifully curated, it was one of my most insightful and emotional visits ever, leaving us in awe of the pure talent, poetry and passion behind the models’ outfits at the Gateway of India and the uniquely aligned visions of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Karishma Swali, two prominent and powerful women carrying forward a shared vision.