“Surrealist images manage to make visible what is in itself invisible. I’m interested in mystery and magic, which are also a way of exorcising uncertainty about the future.”
– Maria Grazia Chiuri on her collection that honours five female Surrealist visionaries, who have transcended from muse to master.
Inspired by the spirit of optimism and creativity of Théâtre de la mode, a 1945 post-war odyssey to promote French haute couture around the world
at a time that forced the industry to reinvent itself, the pieces are rendered in miniature forms, giving the term petites mains new meaning. They are presented in a trunk resembling Dior’s iconic Parisian headquarters, which will also travel the world to be presented to international couture clients. For the lookbook, the ensembles were photographed by Italian photographer Brigitte Niedermair, who also created the collages portraying the collection.
Chiuri opened the collection with this waffled satin crepe peplum dress named after Lee Miller (above). The war correspondent was regrettably confined to the role of model and muse (of legendary Surrealist photographer Man Ray) before her remarkable independent body of work and influence on the movement was acknowledged. A Hollywood biopic is reportedly in the pipeline, with Kate Winslet portraying the bold American photographer. Chiuri saw Miller as an emblem of audacity and freedom, projecting her grace and timeless allure through the rigour of tailoring, a utilitarian spirit and the elegance of evening couture in this chalk-coloured number, with details that are pleated and twisted by hand.
Wife and muse of André Breton, a co-founder of Surrealism, Jacqueline Lamba was a significant figure in her own right. In her embrace of the avant-garde in all forms, she held jobs as a decorator in a department store and was a water dancer at the Coliséum nightclub in the Pigalle neighbourhood in Paris. While taking refuge with other artists at Villa Air-Bel during the occupation, the French painter took part in the Jeu de Marseille (Game of Marseille in French), a reinterpretation of the divinatory tarot. Chiuri’s reimagining of the card Baudelaire. Génie d’amour – Flamme (Baudelaire. Genie of Love – Flame in French) recreates the motifs in satin leather of three colours on this double-cashmere Jacqueline coat.
Chiuri’s finale number (above) is dedicated to self-taught painter, Dorothea Tanning, whose work stood out for her unusual female gaze on the female body, unlike the objectification by male Surrealists of the time. This Dorothea corolla coat brings to mind her seminal Birthday painting, a name suggested by husband, German painter Max Ernst, to mark her “birth” as a Surrealist artist. In what appears to be a self-portrait, a woman in the artist’s likeness is depicted in an elaborate coat with cascading Lilliputian figures, opened to reveal her bare chest. Chiuri’s voluminous fringed piece employs 35m of shantung, which required three petites mains to put in 150 hours of work that included pleating by hand.
“I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of Le Palace at dawn,” reveals Virginie Viard. “With a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers and lots of jewellery. This collection is more inspired by Karl Lagerfeld than Gabrielle Chanel. Karl would go to Le Palace, he would accompany these very sophisticated and very dressed-up women, who were very eccentric too.”
– Viard on her collection marked by collaborations with Metiers d’Art partners such as Montex, Lemarié and Goossens, and accompanied by dazzling Chanel high jewellery pieces.
Setting the tone of the 30-look collection is a noble authority of heroines Viard referenced from Karl Lagerfeld’s 19th-century German paintings. “I really had Karl’s world in mind…”
In Loïc Prigent’s behind-the-scenes documentary, In the Haute Couture Ateliers, a premiere reveals the multitude of yarn that composes this two-piece ensemble. In addition to golden threads and laminette threads, there are various types of novelty yarn with butterfly paillettes in the tweed that accentuate the embroidered Goossens jewels.
Oozing rock romanticism, this tweed jacket (above) is defined with the midriff smocked by hand. It is paired with tapered all-in-one boot-trousers in black suede, which are Viard’s youthful take on haute couture.
Embroidery atelier Lesage crafted this organza bolero (abov) with lively velvet petals in colourful textures that looked as if flowers were blooming on the number. A premiere called it “a little jewel” in the documentary. “It’s very difficult to alter embroidery like this one,” Viard adds.
“My deepest gratitude goes to the grace and light of the humans who worked so hard on this collection. If I have to think of a future, of the opportunity we have to build something new, I can only hope that it will be made by the hands and hearts and with the same passion of those humans that I can call my people.”
– Pierpaolo Piccioli on his fantastical 15-piece symphony of dresses in immaculate white, a divine embodiment of rebirth that welcomes the hope of infinite possibilities. It aptly signifies a new start to his redefinition of haute couture that showcases the mastery of the ateliers through a digital dialogue, an idea he already had in mind before the pandemic.
It took 4,000 hours to craft 400m of ruffles covering this cape dress (above) made from 235m of organdie.
This ensemble of an organza and tulle coat covered with flounces and worn over a hooded silver-sequinned organza dress (above) seems to express Piccioli’s idea of human touch-meets-high tech.
This voluminous gazar and tulle dress embroidered with feathers (above) demanded about 2,900 hours to create in the atelier.
(Main and featured image: Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2020-21 scenography)