Purple Magazine
— The Cosmos Issue #32 F/W 2019

inclusivity now dior cruise 2020 maria grazia chiuri

inclusivity now
dior cruise 2020
maria grazia chiuri

photography by SUFFO MONCLOA
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM

OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m curious to know how you understand our time? Nobody seems to understand what’s going on today!
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — You can only understand your time well if you travel the world, especially in fashion. I’m a woman, a designer who travels around the world a lot, so I get to experience many different moments and see different cultures. Each of those moments has the potential to inspire me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what do you like and dislike about our time?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I think it’s wrong to dislike something. I have a positive approach: we have to complain less and try to make something. Life’s a good opportunity to change the things that you don’t like. Everybody can do something small to make change happen. I love many things — landscapes, small cities…

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s changed in fashion recently?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — There’s a dialogue with a bigger audience. Before, fashion was a small world where the audience was very limited. Designers were only in contact with the people who were working in fashion. Now, with social media, everything you do goes around the world immediately. You’re speaking to a big audience in one second. So, it’s very important to consider the message you’re sending.

OLIVIER ZAHM — On that note, why did you choose Morocco and Africa for your 2020 Cruise show?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Morocco is the connection between Europe and Africa. Geographically, it’s Africa, but it’s very close to Europe. It has a huge tradition. To show in Marrakech was important because we were able to approach many topics in a different way. Lately, fashion has constantly been attacked for cultural appropriation — this is a big debate. People who work in fashion have to listen to this voice from the worldwide audience. We need to translate this to show it’s possible to work in another way, with another country, and to find common ground. That’s what I wanted to achieve through having the Cruise collection presented in Marrakech. The problem is that, before, the fashion system worked in a little bubble. Now, there’s a global audience that’s right to criticize it for a lot of reasons: gender, the environment, cultural appropriation, representations of women and men, humanity…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Diversity…
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Diversity, inclusivity… It’s true! The people who use social media are very young. I’m old to them, I’m 55. I’m not a digital woman. For me, it’s probably a little easier because I have kids who are 22 and 25, so I know these issues quite well. There’s a completely new perspective, and I need to explain to them why we worked a certain way in the past. I’m completely honest with them — I say that we didn’t understand some issues because we didn’t receive an education to help us understand this kind of culture. When I was at school, artistic geniuses were only men! So, we have to change our point of view — to start again, to study. We had to see that the world is different now, and to open our minds to working in a different way. When we started this adventure in Marrakech, we did a big tour to see the setup and find suppliers who could work with Dior to create things for the show. And that was with the purpose of being more inclusive. Afterward, we decided to visit Ivory Coast because we wanted to use suppliers in Abidjan to produce our clothes with African cotton and print in Africa. We collaborated with Uniwax, the only African-based company that can produce a genuine 100% African wax. It was my first time using not just African patterns, but also African techniques, using wax prints — a printed fabric that’s very specific. It comes from Europe and Indonesia, and is printed digitally or using very precious, complex, traditional techniques. The process may involve about 20 steps or phases, and the fabric has no reverse side. Genuine wax printing always contains perfect imperfections: one meter will always be different from another. It’s difficult sometimes to speak about cultural appropriation because you can find the same technique in different countries. Most of my family is from southern Italy, and they have the same kind of embroidery there as they do in Mexico and Africa. So, we need to understand our time better and find the things that are common between different cultures. We need to try to dialogue. At Dior, I can work with this heritage from a different point of view that’s more global.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it’s possible to connect with Africa, to work with a different kind of mentality, different kinds of fabrics.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Absolutely. When I was there, I met the most important African designer, Monsieur Pathé’O, who used to design shirts for Nelson Mandela. He was very happy we went to Africa to produce our cotton. He has the same problem that we have in Europe: he uses authentic wax print, which is a specific material, but there are fewer qualitative waxes on the market. I want to show you the print… There are many different ways to make that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Ah, beautiful! So, it’s the wax that makes the pattern.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — It’s very complicated. People perceive this product as if it’s not expensive, but it’s really something with a high value, a luxury product. It’s difficult for people to understand that it has value because there are also digital copies of this kind of print. This designer’s desperate because many people in Africa don’t see this as a luxury product, so he’s very happy that we’re using it at Dior. He said, “Finally, people understand that it’s a really valuable textile.” At the same time, it’s difficult for him to sell in Europe or the rest of the world because they think everything that comes from Africa is cheap! Original wax is the couture version. People believe that couture is only something expensive — no, it’s handmade. So, we want to better explain to people the difference between couture and prêt-à-porter, between these two worlds. We met a French anthropologist, Anne Grosfilley, who specializes in African fashion and textiles. She wrote a beautiful book, Wax & Co. — it was the starting point of the inspiration. I went to meet her in Nice before going to Marrakech, and after that she came to Paris because I wanted to have an anthropologist with me while working on this project. Because if you want to respect other cultures, you need to have knowledge. We decided not to use the typical print, so we gave the collaborators our pattern in toile de Jouy and tarot cards, which is very traditional, and asked them to interpret the Dior codes with their hands and their techniques. For me, this means working in a different way in fashion: you maintain your codes, but ask other people to give an interpretation of them. When I started to work at Dior, from the first collection, I immediately said that I’d like to shoot only with women photographers because I wanted to speak about femininity, about this important issue, and I wanted to give other women the opportunity to give their point of view on femininity. I also chose photographers from different countries, not only European ones, for a point of view that’s more global. I come from Rome. I have a specific heritage. Dior is a French brand, the founder was a man, and all of the previous designers have been men. So, to give a point of view that’s more about femininity, something that comes from a woman like me, there has to be an idea of sisterhood with other women, and women from different countries — I’ve grown up with a European concept of beauty, of fashion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Have you been influenced by Moroccan colors, by an African palette?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — We were very free about all that. If you collaborate, you can’t impose color. You have to speak with them, to see their point of view about the whole project.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, there’s Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but the actual show is in Marrakech…
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — In Marrakech, we’re working with a group of Moroccan women from Sumano for all the textiles we use. Sumano is an association that aims to revive the ancient women’s crafts of Moroccan tribes. For the show’s decor, the women produced both pottery, such as painted ceramic plates, and fabrics for cushions, all woven and painted by hand. There’s also a coat in a very Dior shape called “opera,” where they’ll use this technique that’s very specific to that area: they make this incredible cotton and wool fabric, which they print by hand with natural colors like henna. We’ve done an unbelievable job with them.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s beautiful. Africa is responsible for only 1.5% of the planet’s carbon emissions, but they’ll be the first to suffer from it. So, we have a responsibility, as Europeans, toward Africa. It’s interesting that you work with Africa because, in a way, you’re reducing pollution.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yeah. The Uniwax factory we collaborated with uses recycled water, is sustainable, and has an ecological and social commitment. It’s a completely
different point of view when you work in Africa because it’s so important to save water, to use as many natural things as you can. I think that we have to work on this in the future.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Can we mix our technology with this kind of natural approach?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Step-by-step, we need to change our way of working. If you
have a small brand, you can change everything more easily. But with a big brand, it’s not only about creativity — it’s also about production, communication. To change, you have to think in a different way when you work in fashion. People in production only had one issue in the past: to get things done on time. So, you have to explain to them that now there’s a new point of view. Before, they didn’t take care of the environment because nobody felt it was a problem. For example, I grew up in a very natural setting in Italy. For me, to eat vegetables from the garden was normal. My son, who’s 25, is obsessed with where food comes from because this generation hasn’t grown up eating natural things. I’d sometimes say: “Are you joking? Why are you obsessed with all these things to do with food?” [Laughs] And he showed me some videos and some information, and now I understand him more. We’re from different generations, and the new generation criticizes past generations for not taking care of some key issues — they’re right to. So, we have to start again. It’s not like we wanted to destroy the planet, we didn’t realize… Now we have to change our way of thinking.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a social process.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — There’s a new sensibility. We have to change the way we study. When I went to school to study fashion design, they didn’t speak to me about identity or give me books about gender studies. I studied how to sketch, how to color, how to make a jacket, how to make pants — techniques. But fashion doesn’t just speak about that — it speaks about people. Clothes are how we express ourselves. Fashion is something more than just visual art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Absolutely. And Morocco, Africa — we can learn a lot from them.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — We can learn from everywhere, not just Africa. If you want, you can learn from everybody. The important thing is to keep an open mind, to find a balance between the differences. We can learn from and teach each other. It’s a conversation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Exactly. And I like that you approach Morocco on this level, not just as a tourist, with this idea of it being a little French paradise, and the obvious Saint Laurent connection.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Of course! But Morocco’s also close to all these things. Monsieur Dior was very close to Casablanca; he opened one of the first boutiques there, in collaboration with the Maison Joste. If you think of Marrakech, you think of Yves Saint Laurent immediately because he spent a lot of time there. There’s a beautiful museum. We can’t cancel history. When I arrived at Dior, I said I wanted to be a curator of its history, but at the same time, we have to move toward the future, to use another language. We aren’t doing a show in Marrakech because we’re obsessed with all these references from the past. We can do it with another voice, another language, to reflect the people and other issues.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a difference between Nigerian and Abidjan fashion?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — Yes. Nigeria is entwined with traditional clothes; Abidjan is more of a fashion city. We all work in fashion, so we believe that fashion is fashion. But it’s different when we speak about fashion in Paris, Milan, London, or New York. Milan is more of a fashion city — people are obsessed with everything fashion-related; they speak about fashion like football! In France, there’s more of a cultural, institutional idea. In London, it’s more about creativity and is closer to theater. In the US, sportswear is in their DNA.  Japanese designers are more experimental, intellectual. It’s completely different because it comes from different backgrounds.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We’ve forgotten how much African people — for example, in Ivory Coast — love fashion. And they have amazing style. But you’re the first European designer to go there.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — At least the first to do a real fashion show. We didn’t do all of this just because we want to promote something. Our goal is to end up with a collection that’s wearable and desirable for everybody, for all nationalities. My goal is to dress everybody.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s totally legitimate.
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — I try. It’s very ambitious. I want my mother and daughter to desire the same piece — it’s not about age, but taste.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Finally, have the streets of Marrakech inspired you?
MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI — The city is beautiful. In the past, I toured Morocco — Fez, Essaouira… I know it. It has a very rich tradition: a Berber tradition, Arab tradition, Roman… It’s a long history. I want to really understand what’s happening around the world. All of the collections are a trip, in some way. They’re the story of what I’m living. I saw an exhibition at the Paris Photo art fair by a Marrakech gallery that only used women photographers — beautiful pictures. After that, I went back to Marrakech and kept in contact with them because I’d like to shoot with women photographers from Marrakech and other parts of the African continent. I’m very curious about everything, and I have an unbelievable opportunity at Dior to go around the world. And I find inspiration everywhere.



Christian Eberhard at MANAGEMENT+ARTISTS using TIGI, hair – Kathinka Gernant at ART+COMMERCE using DIOR, make-up – Adrien Thibaud, lighting assistant – KITTEN, production – Hiandra Martinez, modelspecial thanks to Ying Wang

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The Cosmos Issue #32 F/W 2019

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