The set of the show was a cresting wave that creates a tunnel before it breaks, where surfers glide, chased by sharks, towards an escape that does not exist
Mera and Don Rubell: husband and wife, collectors. Over the years, the couple successfully invested in artists before they became well-known. Cindy Sherman in 1978, Jeff Koons one year later, then Keith Haring and Richard Price in 1981. If they believed in the continuity of a new artist, the Rubells would purchase almost the entire body of their work. When the prices of these pieces went up, they would sell several of them for the budget to proceed with the next, and so on and so forth, thus generating exponential economic value. They made each decision without the support of an advisor or anyone from the industry. A simple middle class couple, Don a gynecologist, Mera a teacher. In 1999, the Rubells purchased the entire body of work, nearly 3,000 pieces, of Purvis Young — a penniless and self-taught artist from Wynwood, staging a solo show for him and donating five hundred paintings to other museums and institutions.
The Rubell family’s collection of modern art in Miami
That’s how modern art works — once an artist is in the Rubell collection, the value of their work increases. The sequence of an artist’s success creates monetary and not just economic value. The Rubells also invested in real estate and hospitality. Today, they own more than 7,200 works by at least a thousand artists, and they continue to travel on the lookout for more. In 1993, they purchased a warehouse previously used for confiscated goods, there placing the Rubell Family Collection. A new space is now located not far from the first, but there are a total of six former warehouse buildings in the entire complex. The doors of the Selldorf Architects-designed museum opened this past December when the entire neighborhood became the stage for Kim Jones’ show for Dior, with all the media frenzy that fashion can generate: press, celebrities, and digital coverage. It was December 3 and the entire industry was not in one of Miami’s impoverished neighborhoods, but in a district that responds to the name Wynwood.
The set of the show was a cresting wave that creates a tunnel before it breaks, where surfers glide, chased by sharks, towards an escape that does not exist. In the background is a fiery sunset. The show developed from a collaboration with Shawn Stussy — looks into the counterculture of surfing and the streets of Los Angeles — and took place this past December. One could say that Stussy was one of the founders of what is known today as streetwear: that combination of Japanese graphics and Venice Beach colors; synthetic pants to wear while riding a skateboard down a parabolic pothole-riddled street, while jumping around a basketball court or hanging out by a wall, inhaling mouthfuls of fragrant smoke. At the start of his career, Kim Jones worked in imports for the line created by Stussy at the start of the 1990s. A subversive street artist, marking walls that would one day be protected as forms of artistic expression. Streetwear has been absorbed as a stylistic element by Parisian and Italian fashion houses, bringing with it a combination of hand-embroidered fabrics on street shoes, fluorescent colors on tailored garments, decals of spray-painted writing, athletic bands, silver bracelets, rings, and tattoos with messages of civil responsibility.
The Dior men’s collection presented in Miami in December
It was almost twenty-five years ago that Shawn Stussy left the fashion world, finally reappearing this past December in collaboration with Jones in front of the Rubell Museum. The venue of the show was covered in a pattern as thick as a sweater, made up of the word Dior handwritten over and over again by Stussy; the curves of the letters varying in size and thickness. This motif was also printed on fabrics, a creative element in the fashion show, playing with the oblique logo on canvas. Shirts, colored berets, horizontal straps that hold a jacket closed. Waist packs become purses, a vest is part of a fleece. The best of Alexander McQueen’s British school returns with Kim Jones and finds its signature style in the cut of the sartorial garments. New pieces invented, new shapes to be worn, rediscovering the definition of cutter; cutting fabric into shapes that were not previously considered for covering or dressing oneself.
The graphic aesthetic of East London whose streets are well-represented in the imagery of the creative industry. Jones’ father was a geologist specializing in irrigation projects and his mother was Dutch. He lives in Paris in a hôtel particulier which once belonged to a historic genealogist of the French monarchy. Obsessed with books, Jones took on a collection of 1970s London garments dating from when Vivienne Westwood was still a phenomenon of costume design and not yet a fashion project. Last March, Jones’ issue of A Magazine was published with a reference for each letter, with A for Africa and his fondness for Naomi Campbell, to Amanda Lear’s Zero, as well as Japan, ornithology, vinyl records, punk culture, and all that can be considered queer. In December, Kim Jones designed a crash with the graffiti of Wynwood — a conceptual example as well as commercial emblem, the collaboration with Jordan, an American brand, in Florida, for the launch of Air Jordan for Dior.
The French seamen’s berets were designed by Stephen Jones — an English milliner, honored by the Order of the British Empire, a notable artisan-artist in the history of the Dior fashion house. The jewelry was designed by Yoon Ahn. As a young girl, in middle school, Yoon discovered fashion magazines and chose them as her obsession, understanding the mechanism, the confidence, and the approach. Without a college degree and without technical training, Yoon founded the brand Ambush and eventually became — after having won the LVMH award in 2017 — a part of the Dior Men crew. Back in 2015, she had cited Phoebe Philo, Rei Kawakubo, and Kim Jones as the designers she emulated. One must merely understand the approach — hers is the Skepta necklace with the lock, hers is the ability to create metallic jewelry, capable of demonstrating that streetwear has a valuable component, represented in the destruction of artificial formality, of a worldliness that is always surpassed. For the final entrance, a young man carries a canvas fan made from inlaid wood and organdy, an asymmetrical rainbow like a shield or a banner. He wears one last white men’s suit, a dark blue beret with striped embroidery and hand-sewn couture leather flowers on the jacket’s lapel — to create flowers like this requires a level of artisan craftsmanship normally reserved for the creation of a prototype. The end of this sequence is accompanied by 1980s pop music, a Whitney Houston cover.
Dior — what the French fashion house indicates is that both the women’s and men’s collections are Dior. In keeping with this fluid attitude, the men’s runway show acquires the same freedom as the women’s — men’s clothing looks good on women, a long-standing concept. Today, the opposite proudly asserts itself: women’s clothing looks good on men. The concept of fluidity becomes the focus of every conversation. Industry newspapers — which drive aesthetics and are the main vehicle of a changing culture — have long dismissed gender connotations. Man and Woman, as aesthetic concepts, will combine with one another, blend, until they cancel themselves out and complete each other. In terms of social life, couple relationships will no longer be considered, and that which could have been well-defined becomes fluid.
This is not an introductory concept, but rather, an ultimate description of Jones’ work. Blues and whites against dark blacks, as well as pink and purple tones. Double-breasted jackets. Suits with contrasting shirts. Tracksuits are pajamas. Feminine ponchos worn by nostalgic demons. Director bags. Short pants, printed python skin. Water bottles. Combat boots with embroidered canvas inserts — the diagonal Dior motif once again. Shelley Durkan’s casting: Luc Defont-Saviard, who becomes an icon of the fluid generation; it needs to be emphasized that this is the very moment in which we understand that the face of the young man is no longer original, but rather, conforms to the establishment of the male aesthetic. The definition of a fluid generation is ready to become an icon of the common masses. Fluid is not the destruction of gender — fluid is the pride of tearing down every barrier: sexual, social, racial. Fluid is not one who manifests their identity, but rather, one who is so sure of oneself that they no longer need to define their own identity; who do not bother with meaningless controversy, aware of the fact that our bodies are made up of 90% water and that water can get around any obstacle.
That is fluid — the ephebic that becomes powerful, the angelic that reveals itself as mysterious. Fluid is the mark of Kim Jones in this men’s fashion show: among tropical flowers and surfers’ graffiti, Versaille fans, colored leather flowers, Hibiscus red and Pacific blue.
Dior Report #6: 1999 / 2019 – anniversaries and flashbacks
The work of Victoire de Castellane for the Haute Joaillerie of France: references amassed as mineral layers
Nature. Victoire de Castellane dedicated her first line of jewelry to lilies of the valley, which was one of the flowers that Dior grew as a boy with his mother in their garden at Villa Les Rhumbs: he slipped twigs into the lapels of his jacket as a lucky charm. Castellane made pearl radishes and ruby raspberries for her 1999 collection. The cannage design hinted at the golden Napoleon III style chairs designated for clients and journalists at his first show — they were chosen by Dior with his interior designer Victor Grandpierre. Two warps and two wefts interlocking with crisscross diagonal threads — the same technique used to make wicker seats. It became a decorative code par excellence, applied to the bottle of Eau Fraîche before bags and accessories. And then there were always the roses
Majesty. Christian Dior visited the house at 30 Avenue Montaigne and it was love at first sight. Its small proportions and modest appearance suited his vision. It was located close to the Hotel Plaza and the customers he wanted to reach. He styled the renovation to his liking. A story that resurfaced in the jewelry designed by Victoire de Castellane: thimbles, scissors and spools became lucky charms on sautoir chains, reworking couture ribbons in white gold, and bows in pavé diamonds. 2014 was the year of the Archi Dior collection inspired by couture dresses: the bodices, the padding at the hips, the waspish waistlines, the skirts that opened like a blossoming flower. Architectural majesty — the “Archi-Dior” collection got its name on account of the double meaning in English: Architectural Dior and Archi-Dior; Dior and the majestic skills of the goldsmiths, of the diamond cutters, and the polishers.
Nobility. Louis XIV moved his court to the Palace of Versailles in 1682: a narrative founded on magnificence. It was a period marked by war and the affirmation of absolute power. Aesthetic standards applied to architecture, defining the art of living and of ceremonial standards — an idea of luxury that would bewitch Dior more than two centuries later. Victoire de Castellane has dedicated three collections to Versailles — to its interiors, its gardens, its secret rooms and passageways: cascades of diamonds and forests of sapphires, sliding rings and revolving gemstones. The Roi Soleil necklace: sunrays made of diamonds, yellow sapphires and spessartite garnets. The Reines et Rois collection. Ambiguity in splendor — like the oleander plant. Its flowers contain the duplicity of a drug, poison and cure. The women of Versailles. Intrigue, black magic, murder. Even the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, Olympe and Marie Anne Mancini, the Countess of Soissons and the Duchess of Bouillon, were involved in the Affaire des Poisons at the French court. It turned out, however, that Catherine Monvoisin, La Voisin, was behind it all — a sorceress and poisoner, she was the wife of a bankrupt jeweler who resorted to magic to restore the family fortune. It was to her that Madame de Montespan, a favorite of Louis XIV, would turn in the opening episode of the second season of Versailles. She was burned at the stake just like Giulia Tofana twenty years earlier in Campo de’ Fiori — an Italian woman who used poison at the court of Philip IV of Spain, persuading unhappy wives to kill their husbands with “tofana water”, an elixir invented by her mother.
Belle Époque. Dior was inspired by his mother’s clothes, the styles in vogue in the second half of the 19th century, the Belle Époque, the golden age to return to. Optimism, the explosion of a new lifestyle: holidays on the Côte d’Azur, women with tanned skin — light bulbs, radio, telephone, the first cars. Victoire De Castellane made her first ring at the age of twelve using gold obtained by melting down the medallions she received for her First Communion. Her uncle, Gilles Dufour, worked with Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi and Chanel — Victoire worked there for fourteen years before she went to Dior. She was raised by her maternal grandmother and uncle, born into one of the oldest noble families in France, originally from Provence. The family history is the stuff of reigning princes, crusaders, archbishops, and Boniface ‘Boni’ de Castellane, who became the symbol of the chronicles and customs of the Belle Époque when he wed heiress Anna Gould, daughter of Jay Gould, the American railroad magnate. Blonde, a thin waist, and a purple carnation in the eyelet of his shirt. Then came the affairs, the crazy spending — palaces, boats, castles. Boni squandered the fortune his wife inherited from her father and Anna obtained a divorce so she could marry his cousin, the Duke of Talleyrand. Not long thereafter Boni went to Rome to petition the Roman Rota for the marriage to be annulled. De Castellane then, is one among the descendants — of the Ancien Régime, the Restoration, Napoleonic nobility and Papal aristocracy. More numerous than before the French Revolution, they live in discretion. Managerial nobility — Jean-Dominique Senard (in charge of Michelin and then Renault), Henri de Castries (former chairman and CEO of Axa) — the oldest families like the de Vogues, who still live in the Berry region, in central France.
Biography. Victoire de Castellane presented her Granville collection in 2016, a Disney-like rêverie inspired by childhood. Christian Dior at home in Normandy — his father owned a company that made fertilizer, Dior Frères. His mother Madeleine, who Dior accompanied when she went to the florist or the seamstress. Another muse came on the scene, Mitzah Bricard, a Parisian designer of accessories, who paired animal prints with red lipstick and diaphanous skin. Victoire de Castellane made a tribute to her with the Mitza ring, a leopard’s paw that coils around your finger. It was 1947, a time of post-war rationing and frugality — much like today, excess was rejected in favor of seriousness rather than sobriety. Politically correct at all costs: we’ll never know if this is a conquest or hypocrisy caused by overexposure. Christian Dior launched his first collection in 1947: the tiny waist, the rounded shoulders, the wide skirts formed a strong contrast with what was going on around him. He was criticized for squandering fabric, but Dior merely anticipated what art, propaganda, and 1950s design would become and how it would change the public’s attitude.
1999: Bernard Arnault appointed Victoire de Castellane, great-granddaughter of Boni de Castellane, as the Creative Director of Dior’s first collection of fine jewelry: Today, it is like I have put all my collections over the last twenty years inside a shaker, she explained, all that remains, after being shaken up, are the materials. The collection was called Gem Dior — a play on words with the French J’aime Dior: jewels that look like a pile of fallen stones. The gems pile up and settle down in place according to their natural conformation. The inspiration came from geological stratification. The vision became a tangible idea, that can be seen by the naked eye. A gemologist uses a three-dimensional microscope, different to the standard used by biologists, to see the facets, the fixed morphological traits that determine the value of a gemstone. More precisely, Castellane’s creations refer to the microscopic image of the crystallization of certain minerals — like pyrite — whose natural stratification develops in geometrical patterns. Ruby, purple garnet, spessartine, pink sapphire, yellow sapphire, emerald. Tsavorite, grenadine, Paraiba tourmaline, cobalt blue spinel, tanzanite, and rubellite. The stones have different cuts: baguette, marquise, oval, teardrop, carré, cushion, and are then piled together like meteorites hidden at the bottom of a mine, fifty meters below ground.
Latest Dior #5: Philip Glass at the roman Opera
Finding form in structural rhythms – fever pleasure, an obsessive repetition
The Rome Opera House decides it is time to pay homage to minimalist music phenomenon Philip Glass as a reaction to the excessive digital freedoms of these years, a freedom that has become difficult to manage. This return to the rules is like revival of bourgeois codes, which has been under consideration for some time. According to Germano Celant, minimalist music is not about reduction or simplification, but about geometry a form reminiscent of musical harmony. Informal and pop music are set aside in favor of rigor: even if opulent, minimalist music deserves respect for the fundamentals of rhythm and scale. Straight music minimal: it results in precise projects and sober messages that is, a mathematical score. Celant speaks of an architecture that at once musical and plastic. A hypnotic cliff in front of a proliferation of whites and black lines in repetition by Sol LeWitt resembles a progressive sequence by Philip Glass: the violins produce looped refrains that resemble drums: there is an orderly rhythm, a straight scan, easy to understand even in a power chord.
Fever and pleasure. Philipp Glass’ compositions are so confident in their rules that they allow him to engage with lyrical and rock genres with the security of a purring cat. It was 1968: Glass was accompanied by the violinist Pixley-Rothschild: scores hanging on the walls, moving around to the execution the public applauding at the dawn of performance art. Now Philip Glass is eighty-two years old. He studied noise and silence. In the 1950s, when he visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University, he heard the sounds of his body, his beating heart, circulating blood. Minimalism the way Michael Nyman defined it. Philip Glass began working for opera houses in 1975 along with director Robert Wilson and choreographer Luchina Childs. The ballets were named after personalities that symbolised human unity given by genius, effort and research: Einstein, Gandhi and Akhnaten, the pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty who imposed monotheistic religion during his reign.
Philip Glass was born in 1937 and the Rome Opera has decided to pay tribute to the synthesis of his path. A tribute in three times or rather three disconnected ballet (a program that clashes with the unity referred to above, which can be confusing for a spectator). The first work is a remake of the ballet Diamonds choreographed by George Balanchine in 1967 to music by Tchaikovsky: today it is called Hearts and Arrows and is choreographed by Benjamin Millepied to a string quartet by Philip Glass called Mishima. If Balanchine’s dancers sought a diamond structure, Millepied imitates the way diamonds capture light: hearts and arrows is a method used by gemologists to estimate the reflective qualities of stone. The dancers wear colorful t-shirts like in the film Grease, as if the refraction had broken down into a pride rainbow.
Harmonies and gymnastics move intuition and irrationality, a physical complexity that reaches the mind before the heart. A pity that the music for this first ballet is pre-recorded.The orchestra enters the hall for the second work titled Glass Pieces, with choreography by Jerome Robbins to the track Rubric and Facades, excerpts from the opera dedicated to the pharaoh Akhnaten. Staged for the first time in New York in 1983, the work defines an identity for the trend toward ballet on Broadway. It opens with a walk which gathers strength in a rhythmic and symmetrical choreography an Italian audience may remember the variety of a Saturday night in the Sixties, our local translation of Broadway. It involves movements for 46 dancers. These days all the Italian newspapers have started talking about the art of dance because of the third ballet: called Nuit Blanche, with choreography by Sebastien Bertaud to Philip Glass’ Tyrol Concert. The work was presented last night in Rome: the costumes come from the Christian Dior couture atelier directed by Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Couture dance costumes mean pieces sewn and embroidered in an experimental laboratory made possible at a technical level by sartorial house that is a world leader for its history, tradition and economy. Tight bust bodices and wide tulle skirts: each skirt has the embroideries among two layersthe result is a rigid and soft presence that blends with the movement of the dancer’s legs and returns to the structural minimalism of Glass that we have defined as compact. Embroidery is perceived as part of the legs movement, not as a fabric decoration a vague iridescent nemesis. The opening of the ballet is classical, compared to the first two which are more rhythmical: the romanticism of this Nuit Blanche finds the sign of Chiuri for Dior, night colors for the moon among shines a green glass, like a corner of lawn lit in the dark, and the pasty antique velvet of a childhood memory. Eleonora Abbagnato’s muscular movements clash with this poem, hard and snappy, overly trained, to the detriment of the rhythmical sinuosity of the music.
Text Carlo Mazzoni
Many remember the series of films directed by Godfrey Reggio, released on the big screen over two decades, from 1983 to 2003, which are inspired by the Hopi Indian prophecies, a cycle known as the Qatsi Trilogy. Koyaanisqatsi, the first film, which was shot by Reggio in 1982, is a mosaic of filmed frames, slowed down or sped up, devoid of plot and dialogue. At its appearance it created an impression everywhere precisely because of its alienating sensation, the prophetic anxiety that pervaded it from the first sequences. It guided the viewer through an itinerary that starts from the natural world through to that of human intervention. A crescendo flowing without respite. One of the elements that made these films iconic, in addition to the accelerated dynamics of the image and the story, is the minimalist brand soundtrack. A sort of hypnotic obsession, made up of iterative forms and austere sounds. Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1937, The composer Philip Glass was the leader of American musical minimalism, and part of a group of experimental composers that also included Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Terry Riley and John Adams. Son of Ukrainian Jewish emigrants, Glass prefers compulsive and geometric rhythms to abstraction in his first minimalist production. His research is taken to the extreme.
At the end of the 1960s he abandoned his studies in the USA and Paris. While working as a taxi driver in the Big Apple and running a removalist company with Steven Reich, he became assistant to the sculptor Richard Serra. An era at the forefront of the American Minimal movement. He established an intellectual bridge with the artists active in the New York scene in those years, including Sol LeWitt and Nancy Graves, Chuck Close and Laurie Anderson with their talent for multimedia and dramatic performance, in museum installation and spoken poetry. In 1976, Philip Glass established himself with Einstein on the Beach, a work created the previous year born from the collaboration with the theater director Robert Wilson and performed by his group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. It has a score that includes choir, solo violin and actors. With Bob Wilson he collaborated on a new project in 1985, The Civil Wars, first performed at the Rome Opera. Philip Glass’s life is a novel.
In 1972 he met the fourteenth Dalai Lama and became a Buddhist. Eastern culture was introduced to him by the Indian musician and composer Ravi Shankar ‘The Godfather of Sitar’, as he was named by George Harrison in the Seventies. In France in 1966, Shankar works on the soundtrack of the film Chappaqua, written, directed and performed by Conrad Rooks which wins a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September 1966. Rooks involves figures such as William S. Burroughs , the guru Swami Satchidananda who plays himself, the Beat Generation poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlosvsky, the blind composer Moondog, Jean-Louis Barrault and the free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, here in the role of ‘Peyote Eater’. Glass’s initial compositional path, diatonic and structured on repetition, such as in the music for Comédie, by Samuel Beckett from 1963, and by the String Quartet No. 1, from 1966, and by achievements such as Two Pages, Contrary Motion and Music in Fifths, is enriched with colors, over time, exploring the expressive faculties of tones beyond the symphonic tradition. He mentions in particular the master of Glass, the French Darius Milhaud, but also the synthesis of Aaron Copland and the neo-romantic mood of Samuel Barber, both Americans. At the turn of the eighties and nineties, Philip Glass writes for more accessible forms, like string quartets and symphony orchestras. He identifies a more poetic vein, a more lyrical attitude. He resurrected old musical forms such as the Ciaccona, which he used for example in 1987 in Satyagraha or in the slow movements of Symphony Nr. 3, from 1995. Coming from his scores, baroque and early romanticism, there are echoes of Honegger and impressions from Milhaud and Villa-Lobos. Glass manages to escape the banality of pastiche, he remains the master of a coherent language. Theater, dance and performance and his contribution to the film industry. His collaboration with members of the world of electronic music, pop-rock and ambient Brian Eno above all, but also with David Bowie, his admirer, are very important. Of Bowie, Glass has adopted the themes of Low and Heroes, to translate them into the homonymous symphonies.
Text Cesare Cunaccia
Latest Dior #4: L’art de la table
Dior launched a capsule collection for the table and the home
Irene Brin would amuse herself by wrong-footing her dinner guests with surrealist dishes coloured in blue with methylene. Pour épater les bourgeois, deconsecrating one of the classic social rituals and a cliché of the upper classes. Jean Des Esseintes, the hero of the Decadentist novel À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans, was even more daring, having a total-black funereal meal served, worthy of the crepuscular darkness of Marchesa Casati, in a room decked out for mourning and with coal dust scattered over the gravel paths in his Paris garden. On this subject, Valentino Garavani has always followed a philosophy of taste similar to his idea of couture, even dedicating an illustrated book to the subject, At the Emperor’s Table. In 2014 At Casa Crespi, in Milan, there are gold plates for two hundred people and silver ones for at least two thousand. How can we forget the Jester’s Supper by Sem Benelli, with Amedeo Nazzari and his shrieked curse: «A plague on anyone who refuses to drink with me!», The Ash Wednesday Supper by Giordano Bruno and Plato’s Symposium? Legendary are the dîners and luncheons served by Maria Angiolillo, the Roman socialite who copied Madame de Staël and Julie Clary Bonaparte, in her Villino Giulia at Rampa Mignanelli 8, on the Trinità dei Monti steps. A tiny lift led to a dining-room where three tables, christened Alba, Meriggio and Tramonto (Dawn, Afternoon and Sunset) saw more political decisions made than in the Italian parliament, a venue where power and economics met up during the first Republic and beyond.
The art of setting a table bourgeois symptoms and epitomes of snobism
«Nobody has any idea of how we should entertain», a Milanese lady whispers to me, recalling with nostalgia the dining table of a lunch and dinner pro, the art dealer Dino Franzin, who, in his home in Corso Matteotti surrounded himself with a varied milieu, an international melting pot of ancien régime and the newly powerful, artists, politicians, millionaires and fashion designers, plus any celebs who happened to be passing. An alchemy that was difficult to repeat and a source of inspiration. Chez Franzin, a lunch was a social mapping, as diners were selected with the same care as the strategy in a game of chess, but also based on friendships, affinities or old affections. Not least was a calculation of the diners’ conversational skills and their ability to mingle. This was what made the difference, a crucible of shared nuances, ideas, humour and esprit exactly as used to occur in the eighteenth century.
These two homes generated more than a few liaisons dangereuses and weddings, the first called Mongiardino, the second originally Franzin’s art and antique gallery, located on two floors in the same building, which also saw the endorsement of political affairs and alliances. It mattered not whether it was a buffet on a regency table in the central gallery, left unadorned or decorated with a series of urns, antique vases and crystal pyxides, or if it was a lunch for a select few. Every day, rotating a selection of people chosen according to the day’s theme, lunches were held in the dining room, cocooned by tucked up Flemish tapestries. A St Sebastian by Desubleo, over the multi-coloured marble fireplace, there is naked ivory body standing out against the petrol blue of a Baroque sky. After the lunches, before coffee was served on the terrace, or in a small drawing-room with embroidered armchairs and guéridons, the waiter would place gilded neoclassic plates on the table, of Russian manufacture, which remained there untouched, their function purely ornamental. This was how the game ended.
Some centuries-old table conventions are still more or less in force. Everyone knows that the knife must be placed on the right, its blade turned in towards the plate, at a distance from the edge that will vary according to personal taste and available space, next to the spoon, with the fork on the left. At banquets in Buckingham Palace, the cutlery in silver or vermeil for the various courses is laid in order from the outside in, starting with the smallest and ending with the largest. The cutlery used for dessert and fruit, smaller in size, is laid above the setting. Each place has a charger plate in vermeil that floats like a mirror on the mahogany surface. At the top, diagonally from right, a series of glasses are lined up for the various wines with a personal mustard pot and salt shaker, on the left is the bread plate. An imaginary dividing line between the opposing rows of diners is provided by bouquets of flowers and leaves in nineteenth-century style, alternated with pairs of candlesticks. The rule says that when table linen is used of whatever kind, even simple place mats, charger plates should never be used. Some prefer a French setting, with cutlery for successive courses after the entrée laid out in compass style, the knife stuck into the prongs of the fork, on the plate that is served from the right, while the previous one is removed by the waiter from the left with a nimble rotating gesture.
For the French and the English, both spoons and forks should be placed face down, in order to show the shields or initials engraved on their backs. The triumph of fruit that often replaces floral decorations is left over from the ancestral custom of putting it on the table to be eaten as desired during or after the meal. Rather outmoded today is the use of small bowls with lukewarm water and lemon, or even rose petals, corollas or leaves and aromatic berries, for the cleaning of fingers. Comments, whether positive or negative, are not allowed, if they are direct, about what has just been eaten, neither is it done to wish everyone ‘bon appetit’ (in any language) before being seated.
How boring, when dining, (with no offence here to starred chefs elevated to the rank of media superstars), are those never-ending, know-it-all, pseudo-learned discussions about cooking, recipes and ingredients certified for one reason or another. It is always a pleasure to watch someone who knows how to peel a piece of fruit with nonchalance and the appropriate cutlery, or who takes cheese to their mouth using bread, breadsticks or crackers after having casually cut off a tiny piece using just the specific knife with its curved tip. No forks allowed in this case. If absolutely necessary, wave a specific spatula knife at them or, in the extreme case of semi-liquid dairy produce, a large teaspoon. Luckily, the various Ine or Fräulein Rottenmeier characters no longer exist today, all too ready to drill children in order to instill correct table manners, such as eating with a book under each arm without dropping them to force the poor things to eat with their elbows tucked in. Neither is it true that a white tablecloth instantly produces that catering effect. It is fundamental that it is clean and smells freshly washed and starched. Napkins should be large, as large as possible, as they used to be in patriarchal homes, so that they do not fall on the floor easily once open and laid across the knees. Crowns and initial, heraldic emblems and crests should be used parsimoniously. While candles of any kind are definitely allowed, even if the most elegant are still smooth, long and tapered, in white or ivory, which create an intimate atmosphere, as they set the mood and lend beauty and mystery to the diners’ faces.
Dior collection for the table is based on a reworking of the Toile de Jouy, that characterized the 2019 Cruise Collection created by Maria Grazia Chiuri
Classic table settings are coming back into fashion, with different purposes and combinations. Traditional dinner services, once dictated by the setting, the kind of food and the level of formality, are today interpreted more freely and often dialogue with fun trouvailles, with the addition of vintage or contemporary objects that also influence the colours and flowers used. Any variation is welcome as a sign of personality. Memories, ideas, images that seem to be straight out of another era. The thousands of patterns and interpretations in a multitude of colours and gold by the Ginori, Meissen or Herend pottery manufacturers are today used alongside controversial metamorphoses by Fornasetti and Moooi, with minimalist details or with flatware and glasses from Zara Home, where the imagination can be given free rein thanks to shelves and shelves of low-cost items. Hermès has an infinite series of items, with plates, cups and glasses featuring patterns like chain links and horse-related references often repeated in images used by the brand, but which experiment and interweave with animalier, geometric, floral or plant decorations. At the end of 2018, Dior launched a capsule collection for the table and the home based on a reworking of the Toile de Jouy that characterized the 2019 Cruise Collection created by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Classic patterns, hydrangeas and bucolic scenes, teamed with wild animals, lions, tigers, monkeys and intertwined snakes, in black, red and blue, or green, used on lots of different articles and accessories. Starting with tablecloths, hand painted with butterflies, ramage and convolvulus, plates and candles. The Toile de Jouy has deep roots chez Dior. In 1947, Monsieur Christian asked the decorator Victor Grandpierre to use it as the neo-eighteenth-century inspiration for the walls of his Colifishets boutique at 30 Avenue Montaigne, following the wise advice of his friend Christian Bérard.
Tavole d’autore, the photo book by Massimo Listri, from which images have been borrowed to illustrate this article, traces widely diverse, marked attitudes and aesthetic definitions of the modern, contemporary art de la table, laid down by well-known figures and professional decorators, and also taken from private universes of taste belonging to aesthetes and amateurs. They range from the flamboyant eclectic Fifties orientalism of the Dawnridge Estate belonging to Tony and Elizabeth Duquette—restored to new splendour in 2000 by Hutton Wilkinson, Duquette’s protégé and business partner for more than three decades—to the Florentine English chic of Sir Harold Acton and villa La Pietra in Florence. Waterford cut glass and neoclassic vermeil, to reflect the many colours of lacquer and sheen of mother-of-pearl on a spectacular Chinese screen.Matteo Corvino, the inventor of events all over the world, stigmatizes this spreading of exaggeration, this exasperated vision of the mise en scène that is everywhere today. «We must not exaggerate with colours and purely ornamental elements or floral decorations that hinder the view», observes Corvino, «whereas all this should develop low down, or be suspended from above, so that the diners can see each other’s faces. You must think long and hard about who you want to seat next to who. Very few respect place names and everyone gets up all the time, mainly to go and smoke. Not to mention a lack of cell phone etiquette, which often interrupts the flow of dialogue. Not infrequently do couples, whether married or not, expect to be seated together at the table, which goes against a custom dictated by etiquette. It is disastrous when there are many diners and some swap the place name cards, the result of calibrated selection and thought, leading to protests and unpleasant chain reactions. Often neglected, the food should instead and always be an important focus, as should the wines served. There must always be water on the table. Pasta or soup plates are ideal for a more familiar occasion, but must never be used for a banquet. It must also be considered that today nobody wants to sit too long at the table. Times must be shortened; appetizers served beforehand, during the cocktail. For desserts I prefer to set up a buffet not far from the table, and a pavlova is an excellent idea as are whipped jellies to be eaten with a spoon. It is just a question of balancing, of equilibrium. A recipe from the nineteenth century like Boeuf Rothschild, with huge theatrical impact, must dialogue with less opulent, complicated food».
Dior #3: Dieu or
Wasp waist, round shoulders, fluid and long lines, corolla gown. The exhibition Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Ce Génie léger propre à notre temps et dont le nom magique comporte Dieu et or—an admirable quote from Jean Cocteau, who with the mathematical grace of a Hellenistic lyric poet uses words to paint a portrait of Christian Dior. ‘CD’, the linchpin of an entire world. «The beginning of the Dior saga», writes Florence Müller, exhibition curator with Olivier Gabet, «paved the way for the most extraordinary epic in the history of haute couture. Bearing the promise of a bright new fashion future». The future would appear to be the access code for this adventure.
In 1947, when the first ninety-piece collection created by Monsieur Dior appeared in the neo-eighteenth century building at number 30 Avenue Montagne, Monsieur Dior’s headquarters since October 1946, it was immediately obvious that it marked a style concept. Adroit silhouettes and sensual bodices squeezed the wasp waist to its very limits, verging on a Deuxième Empire Geisha-style cruelty of geometric abstraction in a plethora of wider, longer, architectural volumes. «I have a reactionary temperament», Dior wrote of himself in his Mémoires in 1956, «a characteristic that is too often confused with the retrograde».
The new look Dior as it was immediately christened, in one fell swoop did away with any memories of the war and the Nazi occupation that had dealt a blow to French national pride. It was something dreamlike and theatrical, and yet new. Christian Dior’s sophistication hovered somewhere between a reworked Marie-Antoinette and the Second Empire, with the aim of giving women back a lightness that as he was wont to say, «remains hidden somewhere inside them, even in the most dramatic of circumstances».
Liberation, a striving for an untarnished, almost cathartic ideal of beauty. Monsieur Dior was shy and superstitious, a cabalistic and reserved grand bourgeois. Thanks to his partnership with the textile entrepreneur Marcel Boussac, and with his proverbial ‘Bar suits’, thousands of layers of taffeta, lace and dazzling decorations on his formal evening dresses, calling for almost twenty-five metres of fabric, and the corolla and tulip styles of his skirts, he advocated a return to civilised contentment from a viewpoint of confident design. He intended to wipe out restrictions, ration books and all the horror of war with a glorious bonfire of the narcissism played out in waltzes at the Tuilleries and reflected in heraldic canvases by Winterhalter. Boussac’s intuition as a wise risk taker in business proved to be right: the New Look took America by storm and French national pride was fortified. In his home country, Christian Dior became the first hero after the war, reviving the fabric manufacturing sector. During the first half of the fifties, his brand on its own accounted for almost half of French luxury exports.
This is the second haute couture collection for Maria Grazia Chiuri, who described this exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs as an opportunity for embracing the fashion house’s historical development. «We focus too much on the garment, tending to forget its social context. We need to know about the past if we are to look ahead». A truly colossal event, the exhibition is the first to bring together the museum’s fashion sections and the nave, transformed by iridescent light effects and cascades of stardust that change colour to become translucently baroque. It covers a surface area of about three thousand square metres, built around various sections. Following a dual direction, it interweaves historic formality and a wealth of material, running through a creative itinerary put in place by the founder and the sensitivity of his successors: Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, and Raf Simons – his reworked, geometric panniers are displayed in the Trianon section, under a private portrait of Marie-Antoinette by Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Each one very different and characteristic, each one a blazer of new trails: from the formal ascetic version of a very young Yves Saint-Laurent, who, hardly older than a boy, found himself at the head of the Maison on the death of Monsieur Christian in Montecatini Terme on 24 October 1957.
The exhibition rotates around a selection of more than three hundred haute couture outfits designed from 1947 to date, sharing a common denominator of affinity, sources of inspiration, life stories and expressive values. The seemingly never-ending carousel of clothes, some in dramatic-impact settings, especially in the nave where a film set features the tulle fans in gold, platinum, lunar silver and greenblue crystals on the icon robe de soirée Junon (1949-1950), is accompanied by a collection of toiles d’atelier and photos. Shots by Willy Maywald, Clifford Coffin and Willy Rizzo. Richard Avedon: who can forget his Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver? A masterpiece from August 1955. Irving Penn, Cecil Beaton, Henry Clarke, Norman Parkinson, and Lord Snowdon, William Klein and Melvin Sokolsky. Plus Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, Jurgen Teller, and Paolo Roversi. Through to Michal Pudelka. A collection of documents, notes, letters, sketches and rough drawings, especially those by René Gruau and Lila de Nobili. International magazines, illustrations and adverts. Accessories such as hats, toques and bijoux, bags, clutches, shoes, perfume bottles, cosmetics, en-têtes and garnitures. Dior’s famous lucky metal star, which he found on a Parisian pavement.
The pale picks up, it grips you, makes your head swirl. Imperial China and Ancient Greece, Versailles and the Pagode de Chanteloup, the colourist and impressionist matrix gardens from Christian Dior’s very comfortable childhood in Granville in lower Normandy. The dazzling, hypnotic India of the rajahs. Then the Siglo de Oro in Spain, Portuguese azulejos and ancient African civilisations, and the Serenissima of Beistegui. The parade of paintings features Tiepolo, Gainsbourough, Boldini, and Sorolla y Bastida. Sargent, whose powdery, distilled palette was a favourite with Monsieur Dior. Dubuffet, Picasso, Vélazquez, Romaine Brooks and Christian Bérard jostle for place and overlap kaleidoscopically. Indefinable silk in old rose by Abraham for the Bernini-style concentric rings on the Opéra Bouffe skirt from 1956.
Liz Taylor, a very loyal Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Jane Russell, Gina Lollobrigida, Isabelle Adjani and Charlize Theron, the face of the fragrance J’Adore. Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and Kirsten Dunst. A gallery of legends, of romantic beings embodied by Evita Peron, Wallis Simpson, Princess Margaret. From Caroline of Monaco, a procession of noble ladies, through to the commitment and pro-active ability marked by the arrival of Maria Grazia Chiuri. John Galliano dreamt of a prophetic vision in kabuki masks, dialoguing with Egypt of the pharaohs and with the sinuous metamorphoses of Marchesa Casati. Marc Bohan compared himself to David and Gerôme. Ferrè chased suspended Borromini-style morphologies full of melodramatic winds. Raf Simon radicalised eighteenth-century rocaille and the incipient neoclassic era. Finally, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who crosses a terse stereometry and concise profiles with allegories of Renaissance tarot cards that nod at the founder as she embraces stars, signs of the zodiac, clover leaves and lily of the valley. One group of colours follows another, green, yellow, midnight blue, never-ending shades of grey and Boldini-style taupe, an alchemic bouquet of pinks looking like a bewildered flutter of votive offerings. Above it all, a closeknit curtain of tens of thousands of paper wisteria branches cancel out the ceiling, yet another reference to the childhood garden in Granville.Paintings from various periods and often by great artists: with his brother and before their family’s financial debacle, Christian Dior was also an art merchant, with various furnishing and design pieces and articles, Louis XVI armchairs and console tables and potiches Imari that highlight the Dior point of view, exploring the links between his language and any form of art, identifying the influence, the timeless magic of this French fashion house. The Christian Dior who managed to render the press speechless with statements such as: «I really should be grateful to my parents’ financial downfall as it forced me to do, to react». Even after the death of its founder in 1958, the guidelines at Dior continue to establish a canon that at times radiates stronger, at times weaker, but never goes out. A sort of wardrobe, framed by writing in icy neon light hammers home this common denominator, also reiterated by the chosen colour trio, crowned by the special rouge Dior, in secret shades of lacquer and black. Florence Müller ends on this note, «leaving aside their different creative identity, these pieces belong to the first Dior tradition to be developed, which then expanded in its entirety into the world. To London, to New York, and to the Caracas of Gio Ponti that in the fifties was like a Latin American Paris».
Dior #2: The angels of temperance
Fast-forward and rewind, a conversation with Maria Grazia Chiuri
Art is what all her work for Dior has in common. It shines through in an unfettered experience via assonance, never theoretic or orthodox. Art that dialogues with the female figure on the twists and turns of the Twentieth century, explored as an ideal laboratory, embracing a territorial outpost. The latest prêt-à–porter collection with its multi-coloured energy of the youthquake, all protestors and barricades, reveals echoes of Nouveau Réalisme and New Dada, references to Rotella, clips from films by Bellocchio. Work on crochet and embroidery provides fodder for new reasoning after reading the book The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker. «Surrealism has become the cornerstone for this comparison game of mine», says Maria Grazia Chiuri, « for its, at times volatile, allegoric implications, for its fluid quality of expression. A digression into dreams that overflows into nightmares, a psychoanalytical chiaroscuro drift that belonged to me— clocks, dripping landscapes and floating anatomies. I feel it is similar to our present, contradictory and packed with similitudes, with the apprehension and impetus of our age. I invented conversation with some of its exponents. Claude Cahun. Artist and writer. Political and militant in the French resistance during Nazi occupation. A precursor of Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, celebrated by David Bowie, the master of transformation».
Claude Cahun, the pseudonym of Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob, was born in Nantes on 1894. A declared homosexual with cultured Jewish roots, in her writings she moves beyond the frontier of a third gender, «Shuffle the cards. Masculine? Feminine?» she emphasized in her autobiography, Disavowals: or Cancelled confessions. Maria Grazia Chiuri adds, «It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me». Claude Cahun used to shave her head and wore oversize, masculine suits and coats. She chose to exile herself on the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey in 1937. She ended up in prison, some of her works were declared pornographic and destroyed. She was a friend of André Breton, Meret Oppenheim and Benjamin Péret. Her life was an epic story of diversity and a declaration of autonomy at any cost. «I share Claude Cahun’s axiom», continues Chiuri, «that we are all different. I like her role-playing, without any need for collocations. If fashion reasons over and beyond stereotypes, Claude Cahun is totally on–trend in the techniques she explored, in her idea of clothing that uses the body for definition. Her works represent different kinds of identity, showing the plurality of the subject. She is not lacking in irony and curiosity». Chiuri ponders the current situation, «I think that fashion today has lost its classic role as a status symbol and has become a laboratory. When I started twenty-eight years ago, fashion was fun. We used to go to flea markets looking for a bargain. We were not as aware as this new generation. Information now spreads like wildfire and it is immediately shared, available. To paraphrase Claude Cahun, the body serves for self-definition, fashion is a story told to construct personal stories. An identity diagram».
«HauteCouture is a different cosmos. By constitution, it is suspended on a chronological flow. I have steeped the winter collection in black and white, pivoting on a surrealist mood that is part Cocteau and Delvaux, part Leonor Fini and Magritte. The splitting of reality like an oxymoron. Balanced between a dreamlike impulse and reality, between real and imaginary». Maria Grazia Chiuri’s black and white wanted to be graphic, it weaved an editing grid that pulled in the symbol and enhanced its sacral craftsmanship. «I am only interested in the inevitable theatricality of life», stated Leonor Fini, the scandalous ange noir of the Surrealists. Of rather gothic charisma, she was born in Argentina but grew up in the post-Hapsburg Trieste of Umberto Saba and Italo Svevo. Leonor Fini was a Medusa-like tomboy who, after leaving Italy, in 1931 organized her first exhibition in Paris in the gallery opened three years earlier by Christian Dior. She was also getting romantically involved in what was to be a mainly stormy relationship with the poet André Pieyre de Mandiargues, introduced to her by Henri Cartier-Bresson. During those years, Max Ernst rechristened her the Italian fury in Paris. «I come from an Italian tradition of ‘tailoring’ origin», continues Maria Grazia Chiuri, «which supports work by the atelier and the use of techniques perfected in centuries of history against the demiurgic method of the French school. I tackled the question of haute couture by attempting to unite these two contrasting yet complementary souls in a harmonious whole. The story of couture is linked to that of modern art. It is the only place where you can dare and experiment at maximum levels of technology, form and material». Candid fragments of anatomy are mirrored on the checkerboard floor to reiterate the surrealist canon. Mystery, breakdown of sense and dizziness, mask and maze. A ginormous empty metal birdcage transforms into réseau of black tubular fabric that wraps around the body and highlights transparent effects.
Claude Lalanne invented flowers, butterflies, and spikey metal branches that seem to come alive in contact with the body, as if by magic. This was last summer’s couture. «I went to visit her in her workshop outside Paris, a kind of Aladdin’s cave of wonders where she spends her days creating», says Chiuri. «She is the living memory of a myriad of stories and artistic relationships, a bridge built between Europe and the USA thanks to her link with Larry Rivers and Jimmy Metcalf, her familiarity with Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Saint-Laurent. When it was time for the fitting before the runway show, Claude started to shape belts with her hands. Quite natural for her, quite surprising for us».
«You need a vivid, shrill colour palette», continues Chiuri, «to go back to Niki de Saint-Phalle: her esoteric textures of mirrors teamed with lace, silk, leather and plastic. I deliberately lost myself following her Nanas – an off-the-scale concept of women, volumetric mother gods and wild pop idols, among colourful hearts and the tree of love. I found her enigma in The Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, in Maremma, a hieratic reworking of plant Wunderkammers, of the grottoes and monsters of Mannerism. Niki explored reflections expounded in the pamphlet-manifesto that Linda Nochlin published in 1971, wondering why no women artists had violated the all-male debate of the history of art. In 1961, Niki introduced an essential figure into Dior narration: Marc Bohan, who had taken over from Yves Saint-Laurent at the head of the fashion house. Having cut his teeth on the brand’s American and British markets, Bohan was the helmsman steering through the unrest of the epochal changes in the Sixties and Seventies. He directed the transformation».«‘As in all fairy tales, along the path to the treasure chest I met dragons, witches, sorcerers and the Angel of Temperance,’ said Niki de Saint-Phalle. And you need lots of temperance. You also need respect, daring and a pinch of fatalism. Dior is a fashion house full of symbols. Christian Dior was the first hero after the war in France. A light in the dark. The birth of the New Look in 1947, is engraved in the DNA of an entire country. A sliver of a dream absorbed by a whole nation, as was clear from the title of the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris – Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve. Gradually, with humility and curiosity, I have come closer to a part of French culture that I did not know. I brought with me a foundation of thought and a background in the figurative art, linked to the twentieth-century Italian movements, thanks to my relationship with Carla Accardi and her lean graphics, with Dadamaino, and Giosetta Fioroni with her visionary world. I am attracted by the debate on what it means to be an artist, on the ultimate sense of research». Fashion today can once again find its aloof, mystic, mysterious universe, hidden behind scarlet velvet curtains in ateliers, where what must be done is done: work and study.
Dior #1: The Grand Ball
Behind the scenes is a beauty workshop, the first Haute Couture parade signed by Maria Grazia Chiuri
Backstage at Dior haute couture, dynamic excitement of concentrated ritual. We are in an ephemeral pavilion erected in the garden of the Musée Rodin in Paris. In many ways, it is like tackling a fantastic journey through silken curtains of myth, losing yourself in a creative laboratory where everything comes together purely and only for one purpose and one unique conceptual and aesthetic tension: to invent beauty. It’s not for nothing, a Turkish robotic soothsayer, with even a turban, seated within a highly colorful type of litter, slightly unsettling and sardonic, it dominates the scene from its throne in the midst of the incessant to-ing and fro-ing of people, models, hairdressers, technicians and dressers, tailors, premières and make-up artists, dispensing – to those who want to tempt fate – warnings and enigmatic responses lined with ambiguous irony, printed on the tiniest rectangles of écru card that seem to appear from the mists of time. The great Christian Dior, we know, cultivated a certain propensity for the esoteric, like some Renaissance or Baroque monarch, he loved fortune telling and predictions, he read divine signs and deciphered the mysteries of Tarot. The Ottoman sorcerer wants to remind us of this irrational aspect of the couturier of the New Look, pointing out a gap and an ideal continuity with an inimitable legacy, intertwining it with a vision of the future.
Timeless and futuristic sets reveal ancestral and mystic métiers like a mantra, the proud challenge to overcome the technical and the various art forms which, together, add body to that superb, surprising magic called haute couture. Scintillating mosaic tiles that tell a common story, yet fragmented by different simultaneous sectors, which feeds on liturgies and virtuosic embodiments, but which is inherently tied by a common thread, by a harmony of echoes and narrative, imaginary fragments that play out around a vision of a single demiurge, the couturier. A theory of contributions – that are no less important than the prevalent, incisive mark of the designer, or the design line – that have to know how to exalt and further define, participating in a game for symbiosis and dialectic contrast, for counterpoint and tonal assimilation.
The fashion house’s memory becomes the seed for a new story for Maria Grazia Chiuri, who immersed herself in the roots and archetypes to find an independent linguistic form and a decisive read in our time. Her labyrinth mixes the soft curves of the ligne Bar, disassembled and reassembled to be reincarnated in a cape, to austere, geometric silhouettes, radiated by etched and abstract structures and bands. Black is a prelude to a suite of shining, poudrée tones, blue, pink, a pearl grey lifted from Boldini, mauve. Layers of tulle that keep prisoner marvelous flowers, abandoned to the tempered sweetness of memory, like those that continue to live in a herbarium. The dentelle stitching is unpicked and reassembled on the organza, in a trial between meaning and lightness to the dress, while the plissé tulle in fairy-tale colors overlaps with light, majestic compositions. This is the frontier of divination, the desire, between serious and facetious, to look beyond the mirror of the future: embroidered stars that surface from waves of golden tulle, Tarot figures, hand-painted, on the snow white cloth. Snow white is also found inside the evening cloak that accompanies the women’s smoking jacket, a masterful piece with newfound modernity. «I wanted to let myself go to a natural comparison-exchange or cultures», explains Maria Grazia Chiuri in the backstage, «I’m Italian and Dior is essentially French. I was pulled by the connotation of a dream, the sense of the unknown and a sacred labyrinth. That compelling need to also put myself in danger and in the discussion to be able to evolve, to accomplish a mutation, reaching an absolute change. After all, in fairy tales, what are you fighting for, if not beauty?». The soulier féerique in black point-d’esprit tulle – pure neo eighteenth century – is so Dior, as much as the botanic, floral, metallic forms, or the guise of delicate beetles, born from fantasy and the hands of Claude Lalanne, a lively, over ninety-year-old, still very active and experimental. Lalanne, you might say, is an escape to a mysterious, metamorphic universe, along a line of stylistic study that, if it takes nourishment and direction from nature, proceeds to species of a fibrillating, liquid oneirism, as if the insects, the corollas and the briers, through an alchemy of copper and bronze, could suddenly return to life, to beat from the simple contact with the clothes.
One other point about this complex, choral project is the hairstyle, entrusted to Guido Palau, skillful creation of apparent, suffused randomness, which balances a vaguely nineteenth century romanticism with a disheveled nonchalance, full of steam and young and bohemian freedom. It is almost like punctuation in a literary text, the poetry function of headgear, en-tête and masks of surreal spirit, works by the talented Stephen Jones. He has synthesized distant, opposing fragrances and inspiration in a harmonic figure, which hints at Gothic echoes and punk, of regency and late eighteenth-century reflections. Cocteau, Emilio Terry and Leonor Fini ogle, gratified and applauding, from the stage of the Louis XVII theatre in Groussay, where Jean Marais is performing. No doubt, they would have been captivated by the short opulence of the Domino cloak, of the large hood in black velvet.
The make-up, in a similar tapestry of taste and mastery, becomes a fundamental step. It captures the fleeting appearance of the face in a harmony of light and shade and dashes of color, which balance the theatrical impact and the extrasensory meaning of the clothes. Peter Philips became the Creative Director as well as the image and make-up director for the Dior fashion house in 2014, taking up the reins from two previous giants: Serge Lutens, appointed in 1968 and the Vietnamese Tyen, who took over in 1980. I meet Peter Philips as he is intent on overseeing the make-up operations backstage. I am able to see how he intervenes often on the foundation prepared by assistants and collaborators, on the tiny, pale gold stars on the eyelids. The stars bring about an effect of liquid magic, accentuating the sense of wonder in a glance, framed by kajal.
Inspired by audacity, Philips does not hesitate to juxtapose texture and color, starting an itinerary that blends a spirit of the avant-garde and independent research with an exploration of the heritage of the French fashion house. Philips, fearless and branché, draws unexpected bridges between the catwalk and the street. «With colour you can express concepts that you could never do in words. Black is simultaneously classic, free from time projecting into the future. It is scripture, it is night, it is transparent like tulle. It emphasizes, it confers rhythm and contour». One is reminded of a line by Wassily Kandinsky, who imagined white as sounding like silence: he defined it poetically as the nothing that precedes every beginning. Philips, even as a child, loved old films from the golden age of Hollywood. «When I was a child, I would spend the weekends with my grandparents – says Philips –, on Saturday afternoons, the Belgian channel, BRT, invariably broadcast some old film. The women were always incredible and I truly believe it was those films that really helped me understand the structure of a face: Marlene Dietrich’s looked just like a sculpture, like a plastic volumecarvedfromthelight».
The Dior défilé intersects the allegorical theme of the labyrinth with the glorious, ephemeral and everlasting theme of the grand balls of yesteryear, from the Parisian ones of Etienne de Beaumont, to the sumptuous remembrance of the marvelous eighteenth century balls in La Serenissima at sunset, as portrayed in a scene by Carlos de Beistegui on 3 September, 1951 at the Palazzo Labia in Venice. «In conceiving this special haute couture make-up – explains Peter Philips – I proceeded in very close contact with Maria Grazia Chiuri, trying to interpret, as far as I could, her expectations and suggestions. Maria Grazia wanted, above all else, make-up that appeared natural, unforced and understated, that gave women an impression of freshness and a knowing, négligé look, utterly youthful. Her brief, quite unusual for a défilé haute couture where, generally, you accentuate and exaggerate the drama and spectacle of the make-up, had a duplicity somewhat contradictory in reading and implementing. A romantic tomboy was what the new Dior Creative Directive was seeking. A code of paradoxical modernity of contours that blends in a fantastic, graceful aura, airy and elusive like the transparent wings of a butterfly. It is today’s woman. A true woman who identifies with herself, is conscious and active, who, for one fairy-tale night, transforms, dreamlike, into a princess, participating in an unforgettable, opulent, bal masqué that takes place by candlelight, amongst boxwood hedges and the thousand enchantments of a Mozart maze. The starting point, then, – emphasized Philips – could not be anything but a very bright, ethereal base, then I continued to sharpen the general effect almost by subtraction and veiling, with a palette of black and silver, pink gold, white and yellow. Gold is more feminine than silver which, at times, can be mechanical and cold. The glitter in imperceptible, shining nuances, however, contributes, and not insignificantly, to that surreal, lunar and contemporaneously metallic rarefaction that we meant to reach. It speaks a vibrating language, light and dark, it animates the surface, grasping reflections and subdued glows, it illuminates the face in an internalized way, as it pulsates from within».
The stars, the pleiades of miniscule stars, an emblematic quote in the Dior alphabet, as seen in the eighteenth century in the exquisitely Rococo semantics of artificial moles, they nestle in the ocular arches or below, where the ogive ends, incising the eyelid, revealing messages and promises, letting sentimental nuances and intermittences of the heart appear and be glimpsed. «It is a leap of alchemists in the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone. My intent is to narrate stories that take life from my palettes and from my collections. Since that first day when I began walking along my path as a make-up artist, I have never thrown away a product. You might think that it’s a little obsessive, that I have some sort of fetish, but that is how it is. I even keep finished lipsticks. I collect strips of fabric that have aroused my interest, that have intrigued me. Inspiration comes to you from all sides, you do not go looking for it. Sometimes I say to myself that these fabric pieces, found by chance, could launch a brilliant lipstick with the same dominant chromatic gradation». In spring 2017, Peter Philips introduced the Colour Gradation collection. Among the colors introduced in the look is a green Dior Vernis 800 Now. A color that Philips also introduced for the Backstage line, the correction sticks, Fix It Colour: the green nuance counterbalances redness or blotches, precisely according to a technique used in film-making during the era of Technicolor. The use of the Peter Philips color medium is never at first glance predictable or conventional.Red represents classicism for Philips. «I adore this color and I’ve used it constantly for lips and nails since my very first day at Dior. The importance of the signature lipstick 999 has become symbolic. Personally, I have a lot of faith in the progress that the laboratories are making. Each and every innovation gives me other and wider creative possibilities. Moreover, Dior has experience spanning over fifty years in the beauty business and I’m more than happy to be able to take advantage of this capital. I carefully design all my collections. It’s a fundamental starting point because I look to women who, and I’ll never tire of saying it even at the risk of becoming boring, want, first and foremost, to look beautiful. Women everywhere throughout the world. In every country, region, culture, in every climate and environment, the standards and demands in the lines of beauty are extremely diversified. There are so many elements that can exert an impact on my creative process – Peter Philips concludes –, hence, for me, defining, precisely, a detailed map of my product stakes averystrong importance».