Spain is hardly known for fashion, is it? Of course, Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of the masters of haute couture of the 20th century, but today the most famous clothing production in the country is Zara. Paris, I think it’s fair to say no. Instead, the answer to Spain’s sartorial heritage clearly lies in the past: the frills of flamenco dresses, the ostentation of matador jackets, the brandenburg of equestrian boxies. traje coto couture, and the rhythmic fringes of Manila shawls and the cheeky cliches of portable fans. For Dior’s latest traveling show, Cruise 2023, Maria Grazia Chiuri took the typically Parisian house to Seville, the former Andalusian capital known for its North African influences and… oranges! The result was a show that showcased the best the country has to offer, from dance to music, and yes, even clothes.
The show took place late last night (much cooler than 45 degree daylight) in front of the majestic Plaza d’Espana, built in 1929 from a dazzling display of colorful ceramic tiles. A local orchestra was led by composer Alberto Iglesias, who has worked closely with Pedro Almodóvar since 1995, and oscillated between traditional flamenco music and modern Rosalía bangers. Amidst thousands of red roses strewn on maypoles, a troupe of flamenco dancers dressed in diaphanous red dresses, just like this dancing woman emoji, were led by local gypsy dancers furiously clicking their heels faster than you could imagine. Music, dancing, costumes, colorful plates of Iberian ham going around… “I wanted it to look like a fiesta,” explains Maria Grazia. “I think craft fashion is a bit like performing art, so why not mix different types of art?”
His collection, too, was a celebration of all things Spanish like castanets. There was a lot of ripe tomato red, of course, the color of the lips of Almodóvar and flamenco dancers; chiaroscuro Goya black taffeta skirts; Esmeralda-style bohemian blouses and skirts; gold and silver ecclesiastical embroideries; locally made wide-brimmed straw and felt hats by Stephen Jones; and leather equestrian leggings with intricate openwork cutouts and boxy jackets with tasselled frogs, borrowed from traditional Andalusian dressage riders and peacock matadors. Behind the scenes, the MGC mood board was a visual encyclopedia of all things española – dramatically dark paintings by Velasquez and Goya; local Madonna statues in embroidered finery; old pictures of the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Alba; as well as the famous flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya who wore men’s suits instead of red ruffled dresses. Since this is a cruise show, there were also plenty of photos of the Dior original. cabin of models who toured the world in the burgeoning era of traveling cruise shows and a globalized fashion system.
The idea of ”nomadic and traveling objects” was important to Maria Grazia, who regularly travels the world in search of local craftsmanship and regularly builds a global network of artisans to offer a platform to, at Dior. The Manila shawl that opened the show, for example, is “an accessory that you think is 100% Spanish,” as she points out. “But actually, if you even start with his name, you realize he’s from Manila in the Philippines – and in fact it’s needlework that was produced in China and then exported through the ports of Manila, then through Mexico, via Acapulco, then finally arriving in Spain. It’s a complex story that speaks to the realities of what is considered European fashion and what is considered “ethnic”, and the way cultures, and therefore fashion, have been shaped by historical colonialism and trade routes.”The object moves like people, so it’s very difficult to understand where the reference can come from”, adds Maria Grazia: “It is difficult to speak of tradition, because whose is it tradition?
The tradition is certainly very present in Seville. Earlier in the day of the show, despite the oppressive heat, the streets of the city were flooded with its inhabitants in ceremonial dress for the annual feast of Corpus Christi. The men wore traditional costumes, the women wore their Sunday Best dresses – and the whole town came together to celebrate ancient religious rituals, dressing Madonna statuettes in embroidered garments worthy of Parisian haute couture ateliers. In fact, always one who traveled the world in search of local artisans, Maria Grazia was so blown away by Seville’s silver and gold embroiderers that she invited them – along with hatters, metalworkers , fan makers and shawl weavers – working on pieces from the show. Many embroiderers, she explained, survived thanks to the patronage of the church and its dressed statues – and the result of which were modern Madonnas, Catholic symbols reimagined as fabulous secular Mediterranean divas.
The collection was deliberately nostalgic, given that contemporary Spanish fashion is hardly distinctive. “There isn’t really any ‘street style’ here,” observes Maria Grazia. “You don’t see people going to festivals in jeans and t-shirts, and the clothes are used as an expression of Spanish culture, almost as part of the country’s history. They are more formal and traditional. Hence his collection, but with a handful of Dior monogrammed bombers and indigo denim ensembles.
During his tenure at Dior, by his side famous cause of capital-F feminism in the spotlight, Maria Grazia’s overriding mission has been to modernize Dior traditions. If she was a matadora, the Bar jacket would be her bull. She repeatedly sought to modernize and soften the wasp-waisted, corseted symbol of post-war femininity; to make it more wearable, and even sometimes, completely unrecognizable as a biker-inspired motorcycle jacket or even orthopedic structural support. Her work has been to take the once restrictive dress codes of old-school femininity and transpose them through Dior’s heritage – and in this case, through archetypes of Spain. In terms of a country’s clothing production, it couldn’t be further from the modern national reality of mass ready-to-wear, a truly global celebration of Spain’s unsung clothing heritage. To which we say: Ole!
All images courtesy of Dior