With each collection, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri continues to steadfastly hold on to her ambition to champion the women of the past and create a space for the women of tomorrow. For the French Maison’s Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear presentation, catalysed by the Creative Director’s muses Catherine Dior, Édith Piaf and Juliette Gréco, this belief led her to work with Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos on the set design. A collaborator of the house, Vasconcelos’s gargantuan sculptures fuse together everyday objects to explore the status of women, commercialism society and communal identity. Christened Valkyrie Miss Dior, this collaborative project saw these explorations come together, along with twenty different materials sourced from Dior’s atelier and thousands of LED lights, to introduce us to a world where women are at the front and centre.
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How did the collaboration with Dior on the set for its Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear show materialise?
It all started with an invitation to create a proposal for the fashion show. After that, Maria Grazia Chiuri and her team came to my studio in Lisbon to see my work process and exchange ideas. I showed her my Valkyries body of work and we agreed to create one using fabrics from the collection and paying a tribute to Catherine Dior, a revolutionary turned florist, Christian’s sister the muse of the original Miss Dior.
When creating your Valkyrie Miss Dior installation for this presentation, you incorporated twenty different materials from the collection and turned to techniques such as sewing, knitting and crochet, bringing these together to assemble a twenty-four-meter-long seven-meter-tall sculpture. Walk me through this process?
Yes, I received twenty different fabrics, all with flower patterns in different colours, which inspired me into creating a different identity for each component of the Valkyrie. Based on Nordic mythology – and the female figures who flew over the battlefields, bringing back to life the bravest warriors to join the deities in Valhalla – I created these textile sculptures hanging from the ceiling, with different arms descending to the ground, in this case, interacting with the models and the public, lifting us all up, with a choreographical component. For each one of these arms, I developed a different identity using different fabrics and ornaments. Then the lights and the inflatables were added and, in the end, everything was packed up and assembled in Paris.
While we are discussing the sensory elements associated with your installation. I want to also point out your interweaving of thousands of LED lights into the fabrics of this piece. In my mind, it makes an already ethereal structure, appear almost otherworld. Was there a specific world you hoped to transport the show’s observers to?
This Valkyrie finds herself in a limbo between an animal and a plant. It has a very strong organic nature, due to its shapes, fabrics, patterns, volumes and meticulous details. But, in the end, it turns into a dynamic and luxurious installation, full of light, colour and movement. And yes, it’s extremely sensory and interactive.
You’ve illustrated your relationship with Dior as being one which is very familiar. Having worked with the French Maison on previous smaller-scale projects. Can you speak to the way in which these past collaborations influenced how this one took its shape?
Yes, the fact that I had already collaborated with Dior in 2013 and 2019 means that I knew the brand well, knew its values and the professional way in which they work. I strongly identify with the care and attention dedicated to the garments in haute couture but also with their respect to materials and handcrafts. However, both the J'Adore Miss Dior and the two Lady Dior bags I designed were quite different projects from this Valkyrie, especially in regards to the execution, requirement and scale.
Going from smaller-sized projects to a large-scale installation which took 6 months to build. How did you have to alter your working method for this runway presentation?
I haven’t altered my working method at all. I work with a team of fifty people and we have regular assignments, from commissions to exhibitions, and it all fits in a strict production calendar. Even when I work for Dior or another brand, the process still stems from my art. Through my body of work, I have developed an intimate relationship between scale and detail. I don’t do big for big’s sake, scale derives from the materials I use in a particular piece or site-specific requirements, but my undivided attention goes into detail.
What’s interesting to me is its title, and the story behind it. Especially as the Valkyrie, in Norse mythology were a group of female warriors, who, legend has it, were sent onto the battlefield by Odin on horses, wearing helmets and shields. This trope of the strong warrior-women is one Maria Grazia Chiuri has always sought to introduce and harks back to her very first collection when she famously put the “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts on the runway. How did you seek to translate this aura of feminine strength into the installation?
When Maria Grazia came to my studio and we decided to go ahead with a Valkyrie, I told her that we would necessarily have to pay homage to a woman. As I have done in the past with Egeria for the Guggenheim Bilbao or Mumbet for Boston’s MassArt museum. I make it a point to pay homage to women who brought a difference to the world and lifted the spirits of their time. Given the history of the brand, it made perfect sense to choose Catherine Dior, a brave woman who was also her brother’s muse. She also inspired me to create this piece, which is invariably imbued with her spirit.
As you have mentioned, the Dior Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear collection was predominantly influenced by Catherine Dior, Édith Piaf and Juliette Gréco, all women who challenged stereotypes in their own impactful ways. How did these women and their legacies influence the set’s design, both in terms of its motifs and materials?
Catherine is at the heart of this project. Her legacy influences this Valkyrie so much that I even named it Miss Dior. So, knowing that Christian's younger sister, his model and muse, had worked as a florist and in the production of roses, the connection to the feminine, fluid and floral fabrics of this Dior collection is more than obvious.
The presentation was also staged at the Jardin des Tuileries, and Catherine Dior, whose moniker Miss Dior inspired the perfume by the same name, also cultivated flowers as a sign of hope in post-war France. Did this knowledge play its own role?
Obviously, Catherine's role in the French Resistance was taken into account. The fact that she was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and deported to the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp, and that she was forced to work in a military prison and in an aviation factory, were not ignored. This choice was not based exclusively on her gender or the influence she had on the brand's founder.
To me, the droplets, which hang suspended only a few feet from the floor, appear as flower bulbs, was this an intended effect?
This Valkyrie takes part in a kind of sculptural dance that I wanted to create for this show. Its various arms, drops, or bulbs, fall vertically and dialogue with the models on Dior’s runway. Despite being similar to the pieces that preceded it, in this series, I believe that the inclusion of these patterns will eventually influence new interpretations of it.
Whilst this was a collection which sought its ingenuity from Dior, Piaf and Gréco and endeavoured to paint a picture of life for women in the 1950s, the words which I have come to most associate with Valkyrie Miss Dior are perhaps more contemporary ones such as futuristic and extra-terrestrial. Can you speak on how you looked to find a balance between paying homage to the past and envisaging the future of Dior with this set?
In fact, I see it as a kind of magical forest or spaceship. The homage to Catherine Dior is particularly visible in the fabrics with which the Valkyrie was produced, recovering initial floral patterns by the House. On the other hand, the shine of the sequins and the craftsmanship of the crochet accentuate the contemporary revisitation of the past.
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