Purple Magazine
— The Brain Issue #33

through the labyrinth dior s/s 2020

dior s/s20

cult italian publisher and bibliophile
franco maria ricci designed a gigantic star-shaped labyrinth
to surround the esoteric house he built near parma, italy

made from 20 species of bamboo, the mystical maze sets the stage for MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI’s latest collection for dior,
dedicated to the diversity of plants — sowing the seeds
for a more sustainable future

photography by DARIO CATELLANI
with LILY MCMENAMY
style by SHEILA SINGLE

MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI  by OLIVIER ZAHM

MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — When we started to work on the summer collection in May, we didn’t know about these big disasters happening in Brazil and Australia. But it’s clear, from what’s happening with the weather everywhere, that the world is changing. Especially for a country like Italy, it’s so evident that there’s a big problem with nature.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why Italy?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Italy’s a country where, honestly, the governing powers aren’t so good, so we’re experiencing a lot of problems with nature. For example, in Puglia, with Xylella, a bacterium that has ravaged all of the olive trees. Before that, it happened with the palm trees. The punteruolo rosso [red palm weevil] destroyed all of the palms in Italy. These insects arrived out of nowhere.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Dying trees are a bad sign.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It’s a disaster. Also certain trees are very big and old. You can try to replant them… It’s evident that there are changes happening and nothing’s being done about it. Also the temperatures. When I was young, in southern Italy, it was sunny all the time. Now it rains all the time. When I arrived in Paris for the first time, with Valentino, in July — it was so cold! Now, Paris is super hot. If you pay attention to what’s happening around you, it’s impossible not to reflect on this.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you keep informed about the environment?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I’m lucky to have kids who pay attention to what’s happening. This new generation is completely different. They’re more knowledgeable because, thanks to new media, they have more information. They study more details. So they, in some ways, criticize us and help us to reflect on what we’ve done. Because this is the Anthropocene era. Human activity is changing our ecosystem.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Have you personally experienced this change?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I’m 55, so I’m not so young, but also not so old. My father comes from a family of farmers. It wasn’t possible to eat strawberries all year long back then. So why am I eating strawberries throughout the year? It’s not normal! Our lifestyle may be improving in quality, but it’s not good for the planet. We have to find a balance. Also, being Eurocentric, we think that we’re the center of the world. We’re not! [Laughs] And as other countries develop — which they should — the problem will become bigger for everybody.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about the responsibility of fashion?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — For years, I didn’t think that fashion was responsible; fashion was probably just lacking the academic knowledge to understand. And I was inside the system, all the time. Initially, for me, fashion was about expressing your creativity. And I’m not just speaking for me, I’m speaking for everybody. When I started to work in fashion, it was a very young and small industry, with less impact on the planet. Prada didn’t yet exist. Probably in Paris it was completely different, because there’s a long tradition. But in Italy, when I’d say, “Oh, I work at Fendi, with Karl Lagerfeld,” nobody knew who he was. Now, when I speak about that with my kids, or with my studio, with friends, I think, “Oh my God, I’m prehistoric.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs]
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Paris is completely different, because there are brands that were born 70 years ago, like Dior. But in Italy, all of the famous Italian brands started in the ’70s. Prêt-à-porter started in ’75, also. Initially, it was little companies, not global brands.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you tackle this issue as a woman at the creative head of one the oldest French couture brands? For example, here you worked with Coloco, a landscaping collective.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It was very interesting, very exciting. The idea is to build on the Dior code, but the code should also speak about our time. The idea of a garden is part of Dior’s history. But to speak about gardens today as a decorative element is no longer possible — it has to be something more consistent. For me, reading The Planetary Garden [2015] by Gilles Clément was very inspiring. He says we shouldn’t think about the garden as our own personal garden, but as our world. He also says we shouldn’t imagine a perfect garden; we have to think of it as nature living around us. And we have to find a new balance with human activity. So he gives us an optimistic idea, and if we’re smart, we can find solutions, because it’s not believable that we can become fully sustainable. Because everything we do has an impact.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, the moment you’re born you attack the planet.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — We have to be more conscious. That’s our goal: to have less of an impact. It’s impossible to ask people to go back, to live as we did in the past. So we have to try to put in our production chain a new culture where we pay attention to what we do, the choices we make. Honestly, everything is political. All of our choices, in some way, have an impact. But what we can try to do is make better decisions, even if we’re not perfect. We’re lucky at Dior because we’re a luxury brand, so we can select the best suppliers. For example, ones that recycle water. I only use factories that are based in France or Italy. We’re working with the team to use recycled paper, recycled nylon, biodegradable nylon for the covers when you transport things, even the hangers. Because it’s a real chain: there’s creativity, there’s production, there’s organization. In the store, we’re changing the lights to LED. But the problem is being able to control the whole chain, which is very long. I’m lucky that I work in a group that allows us to do our best in controlling that chain. But sustainability also involves people, making sure they have a safe working environment. I’m also aware that it’s not so easy for young designers who are not working for a luxury brand. I can’t say to a guy on the other side of the world who wants to make his own line, “No, you can’t do it because of your impact.” It wouldn’t be correct. And of course, the best thing to do in order to reduce your impact is to buy less, to not have hair conditioner, to not have a car. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the marketing teams, the people at Dior and LVMH, do they support you? Or do you feel alone?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — No,  I never feel alone in what I do at Dior. Because people feel that it’s a global problem. When I arrived there three years ago, there was a big conference about the environment, how we could impact less as a group in terms of CO2. Because the group also owns wineries. For these categories, this kind of sensibility arrived before other industries. I was the only designer present. They invited me, I went. I was curious to understand what small part I could play in this process. Because, however you look at it, it’s real teamwork. You can’t do it alone.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Don’t you think that luxury should be irreproachable in that respect?
MARIA GRAZIA — At Dior there’s a more timeless idea. Frankly, our coats are in cashmere — you don’t throw away pieces that are so expensive. It’s like Chanel or Hermès. Luxury was a more elitist world before, so the impact was lower. Now that fashion has become so popular, people are buying more, so it’s normal that the dimensions became huge.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it happened so quickly.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, but nobody realized. When I have discussions at home with my kids, the only thing that I really discuss with them is that there wasn’t enough culture in the fashion system to understand what was happening. It wasn’t because brands wanted to destroy the world. No. People believed that fashion was about creativity, freedom.

OLIVIER ZAHM — To come back to your latest collection, you wanted to do a sustainable set with trees that were then replanted after the show. 
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes. That was the project with Coloco. With Gilles Clément, the Coloco collective did this beautiful project in Palermo for Manifesta, an art exhibition, in 2018. They analyzed a very famous botanical garden in Palermo, and what they found was that all the trees that you think of as local, aren’t — they come from other places, China, Asia, Africa…

OLIVIER ZAHM — And were brought there.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yeah. And although all of these plants come from different parts of the world, they live together, and they create a new ecosystem. That’s a metaphor for the idea that we can live with diversity. They also went into an area that’s not very well-known in Palermo, ZEN [Zona Espansione Nord], and helped the local people to create a garden. And afterward, they involved all the people — because the purpose of a garden is a community, that’s the main idea. Probably the real issue today is that we no longer have a very strong idea of community. When we think about gardens, what first comes to mind is our own personal garden. And probably new media isn’t helping us with this. Because through this new media, you start to think that even when you’re alone, you’re in contact with the world.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The virtual community.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — The virtual community. But we’re losing contact with community in real life. For that, you have to be close. And what Coloco promotes is: if you want to help the eco­system, it’s not possible that this can happen in a natural way. Human action is required to rebuild the ecosystem. There are many different projects in the world that Coloco is involved with. It’s a collective with botanists, urban landscapers — people from very diverse backgrounds who come from different parts of the world, working together. And they carry out these kinds of projects around the world. I called them and said, “I have a big opportunity with the show.” Because we need to always remember the budget. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — Trees are expensive.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Very expensive. So I said, “Do you think it would be possible to bring in the trees and afterward replant those same trees in three different projects that you think could benefit from them?” They selected the trees and did everything, because I’m not a botanist. We did the same collaboration in a repeat show in October, in China. I wanted to use the same concept there. Initially, we thought it might not be so easy, but we were surprised. In Shanghai I found that because they feel the effects of this problem much more than in Europe, they’re working very hard on sustainability. So they were very open to this project. They also gave us an area where we could replant all of the trees, so we now have a Dior park there.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Magnifique.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes, it is magnifique, because it’s not possible to speak about sustainability without involving China. I met women there who are really interested in sustainability. They did an incredible conference, which Gucci and Prada also attended.

OLIVIER ZAHM — China is number one in new consumers.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — And in population. They’re now super-focused on changing the situation. Now in Shanghai, all of the cars are electric. In the schools, they’re teaching kids about waste. I found them more advanced than in Rome, for sure. No doubt about it. I was shocked. They’re planting trees along the streets — lines of trees everywhere.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the government?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — The gov­ernment understands that it’s become an issue for them to have clean skin. They’re working faster than Europe and the US. I found, for the first time, a really different city, a really different attitude.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And this revolution brings a lot of energy. It’s the same for me with my magazine, which can be a medium for these kinds of ideas that you’re promoting
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I completely agree with you. Also because, honestly, I love fashion, the history of fashion. But at the same time, I think that fashion’s a more complex system now. Coming to Dior three years ago was very good for me, because when you get out of your comfort zone and have to understand another culture, another background, in some ways you learn a lot about the new culture that you encounter, but at the same time, you have to reflect on where you come from. You have to reflect on, “Why do I think this way?” It’s a truly revolutionary time.

END

 

Christian Eberhard at M + A using MR.SMITH, hair — Luciano Chiarello at ATOMO MANAGEMENT, make-up — Paul Louisor, casting director — Daniele Coppa, Gianluca Crivellin and Jacopo Vimercati, photographer’s assistants — Laëtitia Gimenez, stylist’s assistant — AMAZED/BY, productionstory shot at LABIRINTO DELLA MASONE

[Table of contents]

The Brain Issue #33

Table of contents

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