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Portrait of Maria Grazia Chiuri by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022 collaborators, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022, featuring Christiana Soulou's collaboration.
Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Dior Cruise 2022 scenography featuring Pietro Ruffo’s collaboration, photo by © George Messaritakis.
Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
Fashion

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Athens As Allegory

By Katy Donoghue

February 3, 2022

The Dior Cruise 2022 presentation in Athens this past June marked a triumphant return to life—as best we can—after over a year of challenges, loss, and disruption due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Set within the city’s Panathenaic Stadium, which in ancient times was central to the cultural lives of Athenians, the collection celebrated freedom and movement of the body. The site, built entirely in marble, was buried for centuries before being restored in the late 19th century, its history offering a metaphorical parallel to the recent gradual unearthing of the reopening of everyday life, as we’ve found safe ways to connect and engage amid our new reality of vaccines, masking, and public health caution.

As with cruise collections past, Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri found inspiration in the house’s history, savoir faire, and innovation, showcasing the capabilities of its atelier via material, technique, and production experimentation. Emphasizing a newfound ability to connect, she upped the ante, collaborating with many artisans to further explore the craft and know-how of Athens, as well as its ancient inspirations and mythology.

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Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.

Aristidis Tzernovakis, a tailor and embroiderer, was asked to embroider a jacket and Dior Book Tote, his work inspiring a number of embellishments on garments throughout the line. Silk Line factory in Soufi perpetuated the tradition of Greek silk seen in weaving in stripes and houndstooth. Atelier Tsalavoutas, known for producing Greece’s iconic fisherman’s cap, reinterpreted the hat for the collection with a braid by NE.M.A. Pietro Ruffo, an Italian artist who had previously collaborated with Chiuri, created drawings inspired by Greek athletes, rendered in prints and in flags circling the stadium. Christiana Soulou, a Greek artist, drew female figures from mythology like Arachne, Ariadne, and Penelope, which were then re-created with a jacquard technique into the folds of several dresses. The Greek musician Ioanna Gika performed readings and songs for the powerful live presentation in June. Honey-Suckle Company, a Berlin-based collective including Greek artist Eleni Poulou, designed an animated mood board. The Athenian filmmaker Marianna Economou directed a documentary on the creative process.

The unveiling of the entire project encompassed performance, art, music, and transformative fashion. Whether present in the stadium or viewing live digitally, viewers watched as a fire-lit runway traced its way toward Gika dressed as a goddess of Ancient Greece, spot lit as she descended the stairs to a symphony-filled stage. We were transported in time as she spoke with arms extended, as if calling the gods forth.

The perimeter of the stadium was then lit to show Ruffo’s flags, just as models began walking the length of the runway, entering through a tunnel within. Following the glowing flames in looks inspired by Grecian dress and architecture, they were dressed in colors of cream, white, Grecian blue, and navy, interspersed with artistic prints created in collaboration with Soulou as well as Ruffo. Veils and accents of pearl, gold, and leather accessorized each model’s look, their figures casting long shadows against the nearly empty stadium.

Between music from Arca orchestrated by Oliver Coates, Gika returned to perform, gowns flowed forth, one featuring a meters-length train and finishing with a swan draped around the neck, wings spanning in either direction. The finale crescendoed with a fireworks display that lit up the sky of Athens, as the models took a final walk, all together, marching toward a new era.

After the show, Whitewall reached out to Chiuri as well as Soulou, Ruffo, and Honey-Suckle Company, to hear more about the process of collaboration and inspiration.

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Portrait of Maria Grazia Chiuri by © Myrto Papadopoulos.

WHITEWALL: How did you arrive at the inspiration for the cruise collection, the series of photos of Monsieur Dior’s haute couture line taken near the Parthenon in 1951? What was it about these images that struck you?

MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI: Every cruise collection is now shown in a different part of the world. It became an opportunity for me to get to grips with these places and strike up relationships with artisans and artists who all enrich my project in different ways. I am also interested in reactivating past and long-forgotten treasures from Dior’s history. For the couture show—which is when I started working on that perfect and fascinating garment, the peplos—I found the photos of the famous service of the great photographer Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, which he took for Paris Match. These images tell a tale of returning to the origins of beauty, with a reflection on the canons, proportions, and harmony that can only be found when the body meets this draping fabric. I was really interested in the idea of taking this experience, which had defined a specific moment in Dior’s heritage, and re-creating it today, bringing it back into the house’s present world.

WW: You visited and revisited a number of ancient sites in Greece in preparation for this collection. What were some of the moments during those visits that struck you?

MGC: This question is tricky. Greece is the birthplace of our civilization. The archaeological sites there are the foundations of our culture in all of its facets. I could say that it was the caryatid porch that always strikes me the most. The sequence of these absolute female figures that come to us from the past astounds me each time I see it.

WW: In a recent video, you talked about how Greek mythology comes across as quite patriarchal, but that female deities and Mother Earth were actually at the center of it all. How did you want to recenter the goddess in this collection?

MGC: I read a lot of books in order to better understand the culture and history of Greece. One of these was particularly enlightening—Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine by Joseph Campbell. It helped me understand the value and importance of Gaea, Mother Earth, and how patriarchal culture appropriated this deity in order to strip her of her power, with the negative consequences that we still see today.

WW: Like with past cruise collections, this was a communal effort with many different collaborators. Why do you keep coming back to this way of working, engaging with a variety of artists, artisans, and craftspeople?

MGC: I’m curious about discovering new places, and I enjoy diving into the cultures I come into contact with, being familiar with artisan traditions and using them to set up a series of collaborations with artists, artisans, and varied on-the-ground realities. I believe that this is the right way to work in harmony with the values and history of the places in which we decide to show our collections. For me, I find that these experiences lead to a virtuous short circuit based on exchange and knowledge, which is able to create new artifacts and chart new paths of growth.

WW: What aspects of Greek culture and ancestral savoir faire did you want to honor?

MGC: I would speak in broader terms: Greece is our history. I wanted to honor the material and immaterial culture which continues today in all its facets to ground us in these myths and stories that we grew up with and that shaped us.

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Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.

WW: How did you see this collection, and the process of collaboration, as a refection of the collection of gallery owner Alexandre Iolas? Can you tell us more about your relationship with him?

MGC: While I was working on this collection, an exhibition by the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli was opened in Milan, with a gorgeous catalogue dedicated to the complex personality of Alexandre Iolas. I was left fascinated by this incredible character whom I struggle to categorize, and I decided that the wealth that he left behind could guide me as I freely explored Greek culture.

WW: The image of the Snake Goddess is something you described coming back to—the snake being a positive symbol, the ability to change one’s skin. What intrigued you about this figure?

MGC: The Snake Goddess is a Minoan mother goddess from Crete, and she is associated with fertility and life. This representation is ancient, strong, and dominant. Lots of female deities were also associated with her. She also represents transformation, causing the dead to rise again.

WW: Architecture is also an influence on your creative output. How did the architecture of ancient Greece, and the space in which the show took place, impact the collection?

MGC: Greek architecture is the basis of the architecture that defines our spaces still today. It perfectly measures space, defining all structural elements and setting clear rules. Holding the show in the immense Panathenaic Stadium, iconic for the white marble in which it is blanketed, was an extraordinary feeling. Combining this with the theory of the models walking it, punctuating the space, resulted in something remarkably ancient and majestic that really resonated with me.

WW: What did it mean for you for this show to be taking place at this time, this place, in our collective experience?

MGC: It was a way to recover different fragments, to piece them together, to understand the cultural value of every choice we make, including our clothes. I feel I can say that this look into the past while constantly turning toward the future is one of the elements of my personal design process and my own interpretation of the role of creative director.

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Dior Cruise 2022 scenography featuring Pietro Ruffo’s collaboration, photo by © George Messaritakis.

WW: Pietro Ruffo, you’ve collaborated with Dior and Maria Grazia Chiuri for a few years and several projects now. What do you enjoy about this ongoing dialogue?

PIETRO RUFFO: Meeting Maria Grazia opened the doors to a world I didn’t know, a world I thought was different from mine. In fact, I work mostly on political or social themes. But that’s precisely what interested Maria Grazia about my work—having another vision, a different perspective.

When Maria Grazia first saw the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, she called to tell me that her idea was to design a very strong collection combining Greek elegance and perfection, but also celebrating the spirit of sport.

WW: How did you want to reference Greek mythologies, Olympic athletes, and illustrations on ancient Greek vases?

PR: The games that were held in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens highlighted not only athletics but also poetry and singing, among other arts. The winner did not receive a medal, but a vase filled with sacred oil and decorated with figures and bodies of athletes. That trophy was my source of inspiration. I started with those figures, and I mixed the bodies taut by physical effort with intense colors.

On the vases, athletes’ bodies are represented by very light silhouettes, as if they were dancing. Conversely, I also drew strong female figures, the Parthenon’s caryatids, which are also architectural elements that carry the structure of the building. I simultaneously saw in these elements, symbols, the image of a very elegant and powerful woman, precisely the one Maria Grazia describes through her collections.

WW: You’ve described Maria Grazia as a maestro of an orchestra or symphony. Can you tell us more about this thought?

PR: Maria Grazia is a very contemporary artist. She doesn’t seek to be alone in the spotlight, but instead collaborates with various people; it’s always new. Her incredible curiosity leads her to look for the best in every field. She offers those different artists a unique territory of expression and encourages them to dream up something they have never done before. On the day of the show, all these creative visions sound in unison as part of an orchestra, creating shows of overwhelming beauty in which Maria Grazia is the director, the orchestra conductor, who manages to create a new and inimitable magic every time.

WW: Honey-Suckle Company, what kind of mood did you want to present visually for this project?

HONEY-SUCKLE COMPANY: Maria Grazia Chiuri was looking to work with Greek women artists. From the very first Zoom meeting we had Maria Grazia and Rachele Regini’s full trust and backing to also produce a trailer that included the theme of past, present, and future for the Dior Cruise 2022 collection.

Dior came to Athens for a show in 1958, and the iconic photos of the world dresses were taken at the Acropolis. Starting from this image, we had the fortune of visiting the haute couture archives in Paris. Maria Grazia gave us the artistic freedom to combine the archival inspiration dresses as well as dresses that caught our eye in collages for the teaser. We looked at the history and the spiritual background of Monsieur Dior. We were honored to be able to spend an entire day at the archives, as well as with the archive team who presented the archive collection so that we could find our language in this collaboration.

The past, present, and future are always a part of our work—to learn from the past, to bring it into the present, and to look into the future.

WW: What aspects of Greece, whether ancient or modern day, captured your attention?

HSC: If you see what happens in our time here, there is a big renaissance of the body cult of the ancient Greek aesthetic—it has become very popular and common. Our method combining the old and the new, we were putting fragments of dresses of ancient Greek statues on new images creating collages of the different eras of Dior dresses. It is always a patchwork of different influences, in architecture, fashion, and even in food.

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Dior Cruise 2022 collaborators, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.

WW: There’s also an element of the futuristic and celestial in the teaser you created. Can you tell us more about that?

HSC: In the 27 years of our artistic practice, we have always had a healing aspect in our work.

The title of our teaser is “Irini Returns,” themed around Irini’s return after a long period of social distancing. In a way, it also depicts time travel. Irini represents peace. She is the goddess representing female power, the anti-patriarchy.

WW: Christiana Soulou, “transformation” and “adaptation” were the two words you were given in your brief for this project. How did you want to convey their meaning in your work?

CHRISTIANA SOULOU: Transformation has always been a way of evolving in my work. It is presented like a sequence of questions that I set, like, what is image? What is resemblance? The lines of my works are not just the contouring of a form; the very form of the line is submitted through transformations and change according to my perception of its gravity, of its vibration, of its movement, but also of its memory of the specific idea and of the sensation I get out of it. In that way, drawing can define an idea, and form can become immaterial or a spiritual matter. That’s how I understand transformation.

In the midst of my work there is always a human. I’ve been drawing figures all my life. My figures can be seen like bits and fragments, like in Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, through lines and forms that respect the movement of the body, its gestures and postures. My inspiration came from the black-and-white photographs provided by Dior from the 1950s

showing women incarnating ancient Greek figures, in movement in such a vibrant intensity that it was as if they wanted to embrace all the immensity around them or the infinite.

WW: How do you think a project like this can change our perception of art, luxury, and fashion?

CS: This project, which was a collective project, brought together ideas and values that all work together orchestrated into a kind of symphony. It remains above all a very personal journey, the journey of a person, the vision of a person, the one of Maria Grazia Chiuri, but it also moves me in a very particular way because it honors me and also engages me.

I believe we have lost the sense of function of things. In the past, the function of art was related to beauty, and beauty was function. A vase containing wine was made to be beautiful because it was serving wine. The function of a form was related to its beauty. Beauty was not an isolated value, but it was a reference to a function, which was then related to a humanity. We can see that in the rich craftsmanship all over the centuries.

What I felt through this project was that it succeeded to bring back the sense of function of things.

WW: What was your impression of the final collection and presentation?

CS: It exceeded my expectations, in the sense that I saw the show more as a performance and everything was there—the fire and the moving figures, walking with a great sense of liberty. I think it was an effect of purity.

It was an accomplishment. It was exactly what I had felt from the beginning, but I didn’t know that I would see it finally.

Open Gallery

Dior Cruise 2022, featuring Christiana Soulou's collaboration.

Open Gallery

Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.

Open Gallery

Dior Cruise 2022, photo by © Myrto Papadopoulos.
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