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Last September in Paris, Dior debuted its Spring/Summer 2020 collection within a sustainably constructed forest. Designed by Bureau Betak, the spectacularly eerie set reflected today’s urgent conversation around climate change. Assembled by approximately a hundred people working every day for two weeks, it created a special atmosphere—an environmental echo that moved beyond fashion.
To create the forest-like environment, Dior partnered with the urban landscape design studio Coloco. “I discovered the work of Coloco through their meaningful piece Planetary Garden in the 2018 edition of the Manifesta art biennial in Sicily. The way they transformed an abstract theme into concrete activism made me want to bring them on board to design the environment that would house my collection,” said Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. “Together, we thought about what kind of action could spark a positive process through fashion and its ability to speak to the world. I wanted to make a statement, to challenge the ephemeral nature of the runway by turning it essentially into responsible, positive action for the planet, and thus the #PlantingForTheFuture project was born.”
One hundred and seventy trees were purchased from plant nurseries and resurrected; 4,000 meters of brackets held the construction together; 4,500 square meters of fabric made up the audience’s seats; and over 2,200 square meters of wooden planks were used for the facade and bleachers. Even the lighting was highly considered—all electricity used for the duration of the show was produced using generators powered by canola oil.
“Care and awareness are the key words of the concept behind my collection. This does not end with the clothes and accessories but extends to the runway and all the images published for the collection,” said Chiuri. “Collaborating with Coloco to create a set that was not ephemeral, that had a future beyond that one moment, beyond the clicking cameras and stories that share the runway with the world, fits into my idea that creative direction is a form of responsibility, of activism. We decided to extend the show’s life by allowing its defining concept to ‘take root’ around Paris, so that this one creative act could lead to others.”
The installation lives on virtually through the #PlantingForTheFuture hashtag, and literally throughout the Paris region. All trees were replanted, in three different locations in Paris, and the physical materials used for the set were entirely recuperated for reuse by La Réserve des arts.
“Here at Dior, the notion of sustainability is addressed from several angles—but for us, above all, it means support, solidarity, and collaboration. This, for me, stays firmly at the forefront of my mind and the design process, because it helps me understand the present and, particularly, how I can lead a positive, future-facing movement,” said Chiuri.
The collection notes for Spring/Summer 2020 read, “Think we must. Must we think,” a phrase borrowed from the 2014 book Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf, by Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret. The book of essays encourages women to pay attention to Woolf’s plea, “Think We Must”—a call to stir conversation about injustice, arrogance, and cruelty.
With this in mind, Chiuri designed a collection around a strong female figure, like Christian Dior’s own sister, Catherine. “After fighting with the French Resistance, [she] decided to earn her post-war living selling flowers and looking after gardens, making her a clear example of care for nature and conscious femininity,” she said.
Photos of Catherine immersed in her family’s garden showed a passionate, independent woman comforted by nature and its changing seasons. In the new collection, this spirit was evoked with motifs and embroideries of botanical species.
More contemplative than nostalgic, the collection sparked ideas about what it means to care for flora and fauna today. What balance can be found between plant life and human life? Chiuri and Coloco created an “inclusive garden” for coexistence to flourish. Between the paths of trees emerged a collection that preserved both nature and beauty for a bright future.
“Now more than ever we are conscious of the direction the planet is heading and the importance of sustainability. We need to set ourselves on this path—it is both a moral duty and an inescapable necessity. I think it is essential for the fashion industry to take responsibility for putting sustainability at the core of the creation, production, and distribution processes. I always like seeing demonstrations and actions—as well as the people who make them possible—that are able to take a situation gone wrong and offer real, concrete solutions for change. This is why I think environmental activism, just like the fight for equality, is a powerful tool to draw attention to what is not working and take the first steps to improvement,” said Chiuri.