Dior 2021’s Byculla roots

Students of Chanakya School of Craft working on embroidered panels for Chambres De Soie   | Photo Credit: SAKSHI PARIKH

It has been over two decades since Dior’s artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri (who helmed Fendi back then), and the Chanakya family started their creative collaboration. Karishma Swali — creative director of the Mumbai-based embroidery export house — first met Chiuri in Italy in 1995, and their mutual love of craft led to a strong artistic association that has only grown stronger over the years.

“Maria is an exceptional visionary who has stood out as a true champion of master crafts across the world,” says Monica Shah, Swali’s sister-in-law and co-founder of the Chanakya Atelier and the Chanakya School of Craft in Byculla (which provides women from low-income groups with the skills needed to become artisans). Their most recent collab: the Dior Couture Autumn Winter 2021-22 show four days ago.

Chanakya’s embroidered panels at the Dior Couture Autumn Winter 2021-22 show

Chanakya’s embroidered panels at the Dior Couture Autumn Winter 2021-22 show   | Photo Credit: NOEMI OTTILIA SZABO

As guests took their seats in the 40-metre-long gallery in the Musée Rodin’s garden in Paris, models showcased a minimal, functional collection that drew inspiration from fairy tales, replete with cinched waists, full skirts, and silk plissé gowns trimmed with feathers. The tactile, textured clothing was offset by French artist Eva Jospin’s installation — life-sized, embroidered panels reflecting a rich landscape of forests, mountains and waterfalls, on the edge of realism and daydream. But of equal interest was the fact that the 350 square metres of silk-thread work that frescoed the walls was entirely hand-embroidered by the artisans and students at Chanakya.

Silk walls and daydreams

The French luxury house had requested the atelier to look at the work — envisioned as an altar piece, but with the scale of a real forest — much like an art piece in a museum. “We spent a lot of time to understand Eva’s visual language and to transform it into a journey of discovery by the juxtaposition and overlay of multiple layers that have been embroidered, painted, appliquéd or fringed,” says Shah.

At the Chanakya School of Craft

At the Chanakya School of Craft   | Photo Credit: SAKSHI PARIKH

The process began earlier this year, in February, by experimenting with different techniques. Over 320 artisans worked on the project for 60 days, and over 1,80,000 hours of embroidery have gone into realising this dream! “For the entire project, we’ve used only handwoven fabrics and raw materials: a basket weave silk for the base, which we backed with an organic canvas to sustain the weight and magnitude of the panels. Both fabrics were processed using vegetable dyes,” says Swali, adding that the installation titled Chambres De Soie (Silk Room) references both the India-inspired embroidery room at the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, and the 1929 Virginia Woolfe manifesto, A Room of One’s Own.

“Woolfe’s manifesto is a compelling read — one that argues for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men. The school, dedicated to women from underserved backgrounds, also embodies these values of inclusion, allowing craft knowledge to become a means of expression, freedom and independence,” she shares.

Karishma Swali and Monica Shah

Karishma Swali and Monica Shah  

Global nod to Indian craft

Indian culture and crafts have time and again inspired global design houses, but it is not often that brands give due credit. So when Chiuri applauded the artistry of Chanakya at the show, it was a couture coup.

The feminist runway
  • Chiuri’s design vocabulary has always reflected her feminist beliefs. Think Dior’s 2016 ‘We Should All Be Feminist’ T-shirts inspired by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s political essay. And Eva Jospin is the latest addition to the roster of women artists the Italian designer has worked with. Among other works of note is Dior’s couture show, The Female Divine, in January 2020, which saw American feminist artist Judy Chicago collaborating with the Chanakya School of Craft to handcraft 21 life-size panels. Embroidered with questions such as “What if women ruled the world?” and “Would men and women be equal?”, the pennants were hung in a womb-like space that also showcased a goddess sculpture.

“By inviting Eva to experiment with the language of sewing, another collective work began in conversation with the Chanakya School,” she said during the show. “[The project] has custom-dyed over 400 colours and used up to 150 different types of stitches, while bringing together a community of women.”

Swali shares that being felicitated by “Maria and Dior is a true honour for us. By acknowledging, respecting and protecting the social and environmental sustainability of traditional cultural expressions in India, she and the brand are crafting a future and leading the way for a more meaningful tomorrow”.

Post pandemic, the designer duo (who also heads JADE, the bridal and couture brand that works with international brands such as Gucci and Alberta Ferretti), sees the school growing as a centre of excellence for multi-dimensional learning. “Together, we can all create a more inclusive tomorrow that consciously preserves communities, craft and our environment,” concludes Swali.

The panels will be installed at the Musée Rodin and will be available for viewing.


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 11:05:19 AM |

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