By Roisin Breen

For Maria Grazia Chiuri, each haute couture défilé is an opportunity to explore the complex thought processes connected to a garment constructed for a body. To Chiuri, the couture garment is a body-garment. A body-home. A body-manifesto.

The Dior Couture Spring/Summer 2023 collection was guided by Joséphine Baker, the African-American singer and dancer who arrived from the United States in the mid 1920s to the cosmopolitan city of Paris, which was a dream destination for artists, writers and fashion designers. A glamorous icon, she embodies the modernity of those years, the transgression of stereotypes and prejudices, the mixing of cultures and shared experiences that notably animated the vibrant world of cabaret. Having acquired French citizenship, she was acclaimed by post-war Europe and performed at the Strand Theatre and Carnegie Hall, New York, dressed in French fashion, such as the Dior creations that crowned her charisma and success.

The photographs of Joséphine Baker, whose energy is emphasized by their black and white tonality, compose a form of sartorial biography (capturing her as a dancer, entertainer, member of the French Resistance, civil rights activist for the African-Americans, humanist and universal benefactress), the exemplary story of a pioneer, a role-model. The cozy, intimate dressing room that precedes her entrance on stage is evoked by a series of coats, reminiscent of the bathrobe, which conceals and protects. Made of light velvet, crumpled and dynamic, or quilted, they open onto pieces of light satin underwear that transform into protagonists themselves, their powdered hues and black providing a contemporary interpretation of 1950’s classics.

In silk and crushed velvet, a syncopated rhythm, breathed vitality into the fabric. Embroidery was delicate: tiny silver studs and sequins occupy the space and absorb the runway lights to reflect them onto the audience. Fringes in shades of silver and gold accompany and magnify the choreography of the movements sketched by the body. Suits and coats were a nod to the masculine fabrics dear to Monsieur Dior. The length, always above the ankle, revealed shoes with heels and imposing soles.

The show’s staging by African-American artist Mickalene Thomas, celebrated black and mixed-race women, like Joséphine Baker, who evolved into powerful figureheads by breaking racial barriers and going against the grain. She unveiled the deep meaning of this collection and shook up the vision of haute couture, the essence of fashion that can become a radical gesture of awareness of its own value and strength.


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