The idea of couture being luxuriously irreverent or that it should be the platform for raucous theatre is a limitation created by our modern times. Haute Couture is, of course, an opportunity for designers to devise a collection less akin to the financial bottom line. However, its history is more simply rafted to bespoke pieces for individual clients. Patterns suited to specific bodies and unique lives, and collaborations between by designer, atelier and wearer.
Maria Grazia Chiuri follows this fundamental process and, with each bi-annual collection, offers a precision of feminine mode that honours both the Maison’s history and fulfils her own view of the future. Chiuri is a staunch advocate for issues outside of the fashion bubble (celebrating Indian fashion design by staging Pre-Fall 2023 in Mumbai and honouring African American pioneering performer Josephine Baker for Couture Spring Summer 2023) and is never shy from discussing the problematic nature of the industry’s mass-production (“There’s a big problem with fast fashion and what we consume…It means thinking about what you buy—quality—and maintaining it for a long time” she said in a preview), so the fact her collections are steeped in modern classicism is not surprising.
Today’s in particular. Though it was staged in Paris’ Musee Rodin, it could have been set within a Pantheon or Parthenon of a neo-Greek or Roman mythology. It was a re-imagination of the chitons, peploses and chamlyses that draped deities such as Aphrodite, Penelope and Venus and were immortalised by the master sculptors and painters. Chiuri conjured their “apparent simplicity”, as she called it pre-show, through soft construction, column gowns, pleating and delicate detailing in a mostly-white palette. Its elegance achieved through minimalist decor and ethereal materials was designed to bring the past to the present, and not unlike the undercurrent of our moment of “quiet luxury” – that stems from a new perversion for statement wealth-dressing without any of the obvious statement – it uses exquisite fabric and skilful design to offer supreme brand value. And although she and Monsieur Dior came from different backgrounds (his is Parisian, and hers is Roman) it is possibly their combined desire to pursue this understated beauty and a history of antiquities that creates such a cohesive trajectory.
In doing so, this Autumn-Winter 2023-2024 collection (set beside a breathtaking Garden of Eden mural by Italian artist Marta Roberti and embroidered by textile conservation house Chanakya International, whom Chiuri worked with on her Mumbai show) offers a very Dior, very 2023 version of Goddess sensuality. Crepe gowns shrouded by long-line stoles, pin-tucked blouses worn with silk box-cut pleat skirts and sculpted blazers fastened over column-cut sheaths created new fire for this eternal type of fashion flame. Most notably Chiuri’s expertise for designing the dreamy white dress became even more other-worldly. Waist-contoured silhouettes softened by gathered bustiers and lithe skirting, as well as embroidered and laced floor-length kaftan cuts, will only further tempt our desire for white-dress couture – or to be suitably crass ignite the case for a Goddess-core.
Each look was finished with simple leather slide sandals, some with inspired bootie-style cuffs, soft hair and a “radiant, luminous” complexion achieved by Dior beauty and the masterful work of Peter Philips.
Couture, at its core, is the custodian of one-of-a-kind design, which could well make it the Goddess of future fashion. If nothing else, it is certainly the antagonist for the demonic thrash-and-trash-fash we’ve become vexed by. Its meaning vies for the perpetually artistic, supremely skilled atelier and the work we are privileged to go behind the scenes to see via social media twice a year. It celebrates all the effort, time and subtle complexities it takes to achieve such “apparent simplicity”.
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This story first appeared on GRAZIA International.