all clothes DIOR CRUISE S/S 21
photography by LAURA COULSON
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM with MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI
portrait by FREDERIKE HELWIG
style by SHEILA SINGLE
for the presentation of dior’s cruise collection, maria grazia chiuri went back to her roots, staging the show in a closed-off public square in lecce, puglia, on the heel of italy. for an event that reshaped the fashion map, she involved the local community and italian artists, melding the paris house’s heritage with poetry, craft, and an earthy human touch.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, your father was born in Puglia?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you spend much time there as a child?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, of course. I used to go there each summer. We still have a family house there. My father was born there. He went to Rome when he was 18. But each summer, he’d go back to Puglia to help his mother and father, and I’d go with him. I know the place and style of life very well. Coming back to present a show there was, in some ways, a journey back to my roots, but it’s also the story of Puglia, of the people.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you like about Puglia? How would you describe your love for this part of Italy?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It’s very Italian. It’s very poor, too. My father chose to leave Puglia because there were no job opportunities — you could only work in agriculture.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Cultivate olive trees, vegetables… The seaside is not so touristy, right?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I think it’s still pretty unknown. Lots of the locals emigrated around the world because they couldn’t find work there. My father was one of them. There were no options in life. And the land was very arid, so it was challenging work. I remember well that if the season was good, all was okay. If it was bad, then all the family felt it. So, one of the things I really wanted to celebrate in the show was the value of work. Because these people worked — and continue to work — really hard to have a future, a life.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did people react in Puglia when they saw a luxury brand like Dior arriving in Lecce, a city that is very traditional but also isolated, in a way.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I think that — no, I’m sure because I saw it — that everybody was so happy. So much generosity to support the project and to support Dior because the fact that Dior decided to hold a show there was very moving for them. They had never seen a show. They never had this opportunity of someone coming to do something so important in their city. We started the project in November, before the pandemic. Our idea was to have a party in the city, like the parties they have in the summertime. In this region, the Catholic religion is very present, and they hold parties during the summer in the different towns to celebrate the different saints. The idea was to go there and have a party, where we’d invite local people — that was our mission, and that’s why I called in Marinella Senatore, the community artist. The idea was to involve the people in the show, but with the pandemic, it was impossible. We wanted to really speak about France and Lecce together. They were super happy. I remember that it was very moving: the moment I called Edoardo Winspeare, an important Italian director based in Depressa, a little town close to Lecce but right in the south, at the end of the world.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tell me more about him.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — He’s an important director, and all of his films are about this region. He works only with local people, and he’s been deeply involved in this culture for the past 25 years. So, I called him and said: “Edoardo, I’m working on this project for Dior. Now that there’s the lockdown, I’d like to work with you so that you can help me to explain what we’re doing with Dior and the local artisans. I also told him: ‘You don’t know this, but we have things in common. In some ways, we are linked.” And he said to me, “When my mother was 18 years old, she was a petite main [seamstress] at Dior.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really? Crazy.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes! And he showed me a picture in Paris Match showing his mother at Dior in Paris. He grew up with this myth of Dior. His mother would speak to him all the time about her experience in Paris — because she lived in Paris for a long time, and so did he — and about Monsieur Dior. So, in some ways, we started from completely different points of view to arrive at something so special in common.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Intimate.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — This thing was amazing. Last night, he called me and told me that in Cutrofiano, a very small town, there’s a little community of French people who emigrated from Paris in the ’50s. They speak French together in the square of Cutrofiano. And one of these men, who died suddenly two days ago, was a première at Dior for 15 years.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Wow. A première in the atelier?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — And Edoardo called me because the man’s daughter wanted to speak with me. Her father had come to Cutrofiano after a life spent in Paris working for Dior, and his dream was to see a Dior show in Puglia. A few days before he died, his daughter said to him, “Your dream came true.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — Dior is a global brand, but as soon as you zoom in to Lecce, to Puglia — because you love this territory and these people — suddenly, you give the brand a more human side. Suddenly, you reveal the brand, in a way, because it’s not just a megabrand. It’s a brand that speaks to everyone.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I think sometimes that’s the problem in fashion. That when people think about Dior, they think about a big brand: a global brand, a power brand. Inside the brand, there’s a lot of humanity, a lot of history. For me, fashion is so much more: we’re speaking about culture, and people think that fashion is only superficial, that it’s only about celebrity.
OLIVIER ZAHM — During the lockdown, it was like the city disappeared. We were all in our houses, in a room, on the screen, but all the cities on the planet were empty. It’s like the city disappeared, the architecture disappeared. It makes sense that you go back to a small city, Lecce, and that you use the luminarie, the decorative light installations they have there…
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Absolutely. This place is so poor. So, the people meet in the square, celebrate in the square.
OLIVIER ZAHM — If we light up the city, the street, and the square, it’s a symbol of community, of being together on the street.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Absolutely. Being together on the street is something very important, also because the cities are not used to being empty. I was in Italy during the lockdown. Rome was empty — something that I never imagined seeing in my life. It was magnificent, but the city is not meant to be empty. People make the city. That was a really moving moment for me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It was a beautiful idea to use these luminarie for the show.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It’s a very important element of the city. It’s like they use luminarie to dress the city for parties. It also has a historical reference, a religious reference, because they used to put the lights on top of the buildings to celebrate the saints. As the culture evolved, it became an occasion to dress up the city, like a woman putting on a beautiful evening dress for a party.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And the artist Marinella Senatore worked with these luminarie for the show, right?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, because she has worked with them in the past, in New York. She’s a community artist who works with different communities in different cities around the world. She has involved more than six million people in her work.She believes that art has to break the wall between the artist and…
OLIVIER ZAHM — The public?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes. The public is a part of it. They have to work with the artist.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Okay. So it’s true inclusivity.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Absolutely. I saw one of her artworks in the outskirts of New York recently. It was fantastic because she went into this little town and made an artwork and performance with the local community. Our idea was to do the same in Puglia and to involve a band, as there’s a big local music tradition. Dance, too. The Notte della Taranta — an important foundation that supports and promotes popular music and popular dance, specifically the pizzica [a traditional Italian folk dance] — also helped us a lot. I’m very grateful. They gave me the Orchestra Popolare as well as the opportunity to work with this season’s director, Paolo Buonvino, who wrote all the music for the show.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Fantastic. So, you connected the city, architecture, luminarie, dance, music, and fashion. It goes beyond fashion. A sort of… In French we call it art total, connecting all kinds of art.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, that’s what I learned. I think France is the only country where fashion is seen as being part of the culture and is at the same level as the other arts. I’m very sad to say — and I’m working a lot on this and trying to explain this in Italy — fashion is important in my country, but it’s not at the same level as the other arts.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s great about fashion in France?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I really appreciate the French approach, which is really part of French culture. Probably that’s what moved me most when I arrived at Dior, to see that Monsieur Dior was very appreciated by the artists of his time like Alberto Giacometti and Jean Cocteau. Intellectuals. All these artists worked together all the time. If we think about Paris during the First and Second World Wars, it was the place where artists from different domains worked together. That’s the lesson that I think we have to explain to the world — it’s the right way to work, in general, for me. Also, Monsieur Dior, after the Second World War, worked with different artists. He worked with dancers; he made costumes for the theater; he worked with painters, also for his stores. This kind of culture is so important. And I try to translate what I feel in Paris when I do projects in other places like Marrakesh, LA, Italy…
OLIVIER ZAHM — This is very avant-garde because you open what you do to every kind of artistic influence, and you orchestrate everything.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, for me, it was immediately evident that it’s a different way to work, in French culture, and this way of working gives a lot to the community. It gives a lot to the artist, to different artists, because everybody puts their heart and their passion into it. It’s a language.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you say that love is a source for your designs, for your art?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Absolutely. I was so moved, for example, when I asked Sharon Eyal, a choreographer based in Tel Aviv, if I could work with her on a dance for the Dior show. I called her and said: “I have to do this project with a local dancer. Can you come work with them for the choreography?” Normally, she works with her own dancers, but she was super excited to work with them, to discover another way to dance, another point of view. I saw the guy, the other dancer, and it was so moving. When they left, they were all crying because the experience was so intense. She doesn’t speak Italian, and they don’t speak English. They understood each other with dance, with the music.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Words aren’t necessary?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — No. Sometimes people say, “You speak French very well.” Absolutely not. I don’t speak French — I understand it. “You speak English.” Absolutely not, I speak English very badly. But it doesn’t matter. When you do this work enough, you can work with the other artists in the same way. It’s not important that I speak French or English well, or that they speak Italian. We understand each other.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like a musician in an improvisational jazz band.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It’s the same. It’s the same in fashion, it’s the same in music, it’s the same in dance. When you have the love to do something together and to create something artistic, I think that we can understand each other. That’s what I want to say. The real beauty is art — because art helps us to understand each other.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a very optimistic perspective, and I agree with you, but do you think that since the ’70s or the ’80s, love has changed? Or do you think that we need a new model for love today?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I really believe that all we need is love. Like the Beatles. [Laughs] I think people need only love. When people are aggressive, it’s because they don’t receive love. All the problems in the world are about that. The real thing, probably, is that we have to learn to love ourselves.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s so true.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Not that other people love us, but to love ourselves is the point, to be at peace. To see ourselves with love. Sometimes we don’t see ourselves with love.
OLIVIER ZAHM — This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of love, right?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes. You have to understand that you are human. You have to accept your limits, and you have to love yourself for what you are. That helps you to love other people more because you know that, like you, others are in the same situation. Right?
OLIVIER ZAHM — And we also have to fight against all kinds of prejudices. In your work, you introduce all kinds of artists from every part of the world.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Because it’s about working together. I was born in Italy, but I don’t think of myself as Italian or Roman. I’m a citizen of the world.