Brief Encounter with Maria Grazia Chiuri

Brief Encounter with Maria Grazia Chiuri

The Creative Director of Dior at the launch of a textile lab for women in Jaipur—and why strong-willed collaborations can kindle new hopes

It’s a sunny-cool afternoon in Jaipur. The sun glistens with its planetary self-confidence but doesn’t blind or scorch. It lights up accidental halos around people; making black as striking a colour to wear in the day as, colour itself. The guest list at this otherwise small event is symbolic of the diversity of people and personas that Jaipur beckons through its layered history. History overwritten by muchness, narrated through stories of princesses and kings, palaces and royal pride, old jewels, scintillating folk music, new literature and art festivals, crazy colour and dazzling craft. A melting pot constantly stirred by the ladle of curiosity.

Stop, stop, its reads like a Rajasthan tourism brochure. Cross that out. Start again.

On October 22, Alexander Ziegler, the French Ambassador to India, formally opened the Rajasthan bureau of the French Institute India (FII) in the Mansarovar area of Jaipur. The first bureau outside the Institute’s Delhi headquarters, this also saw the soft launch of a Textile Lab for Women jointly created by the FII and Maker’s Asylum, a makerspace-hackerspace in Delhi and Mumbai. While the bureau promises to be a “new space dedicated to strengthening France’s links with Rajasthan for innovation and mobility” (words from the press note), the Textile Lab for Women is described “from livelihood to métier d’art” (high-end master craftsmanship). Let’s take a needle and a thread to that in just a bit.


Women attending a workshop at the Textile Lab.

Because amidst us is a distinguished creator. The first female artistic director of the Parisian house of Dior—the words “first” and “female” emblazoned in our minds—through her work that has won wide recognition. It is her trip to India that has presumably spurred the hurried launch of The Textile Lab for Women, a potentially promising space for women karigars through mentors, market professionals and strategists—that, at the moment, seems to lack clear definition.

But here is a designer-couturier of heft, a thinking woman whose job is to reflect the mood of her company, the zeitgeist of the nation it is rooted in, the choices of the global clients of the brand and yet make sense to numerous fashion and market observers who see her as more than just a Post Raf Simons addition to Dior.

Chiuri is more than just the right chief guest at the Textile Lab. “They (the women karigars) should work with a big company. The labelling should be right, it should describe the work they do, the challenges they have, so that the pricing and the recognition be right. Else, their creations will be lost if they are not properly identified,” says Chiuri, as we walk with her in the premises.

Chiuri, who has had a long working experience at Fendi and then Valentino before Dior has opened provocative insights in her recent conversations. “Fashion is no longer a point of view but a dialogue,” (to British Vogue). The Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-inspired “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt that she used to open her first collection for Dior in 2017 was like opening a dialogue too. Her thoughts, clear and arresting have given her an additional business card. That of a design thinker. “I agree with the Ambassador: we must collaborate with multiple cultures without forgetting who we are and where we come from,” she says. Chiuri’s demeanour, the captivation in her eyes between thought and response reflects a collaborative openness that doesn’t for a moment dislodge the quiet power she wears.


Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Dior with Mr Alexander Ziegler, the French Ambassador to India.

Her appearance is striking. Goth eyes, platinum hair tied back in a severe, short ponytail, punk jewellery—chunky metallic rings on every finger, multiple necklaces—she has arrived smiling widely in a black diaphanous dress with a black cross body Dior bag. The strap of the bag—from her first collection for Dior we are told–looks like a fiery blend of tribal references—with metallic silver pieces and leather braided together. Chiuri has an orange tilak on her forehead—the typical Indian welcome, yet in her black flat sandals and the uniqueness with which she mixes tools of clothing, jewellery and self-assurance, I see something Roman in her mannerisms.

We spoke informally outside the script of a formal interview. Chiuri and her colleagues from Dior happily share that before she goes to Mumbai to receive the Vogue Woman of the Year Award, she plans to visit numerous embroidery ateliers in India. Embroidery moves Chiuri. “I am obsessed with embroidery and I am aware of the socio-economic realities of women artisans. I am from Milan so I understand family systems,” she says later when I ask her about her top takeaways from the testimonies she heard from the artisans at The Textile Lab. “We should do something together. It’s not only me who feels this personally but even Dior as a company believes in collaborations,” she says.


Issues raised by women at the workshop.

Potent words that may help the well-intentioned Textile Lab—too new, too raw to dissect, laud or dismiss—find a charter of goals. Goals, that have been long set by numerous public and private organisations in India, Weavers Service Centres across states included but remain barely or partially met. The vast, very vast distance between what loss means to karigars in the current working environment where India and Bharat battle every day and how that loss can be turned to gain is still waiting to be bridged. Symbolism will not help. It never has. Ask the government of India.

But if Chiuri with Dior and The French Institute can indeed design a simple and effective strategy with a sustainable business model for this Textile Lab, Jaipur will get another pink milestone. Or as Bertrand de Hartingh, Counsellor for Education, Science and Culture, Embassy of France in India and the Director of the FII said, “Women first, textiles later.”