n Monday night at the ruined palace of El Badi in Marrakech, Maria Grazia Chiuri showed a 113-look resort collection for Dior. On a runway contained within the remains of the palace, layers of carpet covered the floor, an errant duck and stray cat made their way across the path and fire pits emitting sparks of ash lit up the man-made venue in anticipation of what would present itself as a story on collaboration, culture and clothes as a force to perpetuate an ideal feminist vision.
The show notes opened with a quote from the 1998 book, Racism Explained to My Daughter by Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun: “Culture teaches us to live together, teaches us that we’re not alone in the world, that other people have different traditions and ways of living that are just as valid as our own.” In a video interview conducted with a member of the Dior team before the show, I was told that a central theme woven through the collection was “common ground.” How emblematic of this concept was Jelloun’s quote! His book is a meditation on discussing racism with children based on a half-glass-full supposition that they will understand better than adults, who maintain fixed mindsets, that man is not inherently racist. He becomes it. In such a divided America, this is easy to forget. But fundamentally, we are all human, right? And to be human (which is different from a human being) is to understand — I mean really understand — that there are other human beings. That is our common ground.
The greater half of the collection was rendered in various wax cotton prints, made specifically at one of the last remaining factories in Africa that employs mechanized artisanal techniques to produce their fabrics. The material really gets at the root of the philosophical necessity for clothes as a means of proclamation in that the prints symbolize different expressions through their disparate designs and have historically enabled communication among their wearers beyond that of the spoken word.
In between these garments, there were nods to suiting and petticoat skirts and evening gowns and the most exquisite velvet bar jacket (a mainstay of Dior’s DNA) featuring an entirely jewel-encrusted backside with a hat by Stephen Jones. But it’s always the shoes that stop me short — the raffia, round-toe riding boots, cage-top flat sandals and the best pair of lace-up, kitten heel thong mules I’ve seen since my search started. I’m not sure if this is because they are always wearable, and comfortable, or because they don’t exist for pure editorial purpose — they’re meant to be plucked from this runway and applied to the very real lives of the very lucky women who get to become their proprietors. But then again, I guess that’s the thing about Maria Grazia Chiuri and a female designer’s touch. In spite of the evening gowns and their majestic white lacework, the thick satin dresses and fringed sweetheart necklines, none of these clothes are impossible. None of them even futile.
I went to see Yves Saint Laurent’s museum after visiting the Majorelle gardens and the home he once occupied and as I walked through the historic moments from his collections dated 1959 to 1982, I noticed a time capsule quality about them. The way a pair of velvet, jewel-encrusted culottes styled under a gigantic taffeta apron skirt, or a feather trim robe or the original Smoking jacket could say so much about its heyday — the way clothes didn’t have to be practical, the way they were inadvertently political. As Dior’s show closed last night, and festivities that included a performance by the legendary Diana Ross commenced, I wondered whether 30 or 40 or 50 years from now, someone just like me would be standing at a museum, marveling in the simplicity of the way this designer created clothes into an ideal that really — I mean, really — acknowledged the women who wore them.
Feature photo by Stephane Cardinale via Getty Images; Slideshow photos via Vogue Runway.