With the eyes of the world on North Korea and Mike Pence country-crawling Asian allies this week, it might seem like a precarious time for Dior to bring their show to Japan. But if there's one thing politics will never limit it's the free spirit of fashion. And so, Maria Grazia Chiuri rang in last night's opening of Dior's sprawling new store in Tokyo's Ginza Six boutique complex with an extended runway presentation of her spring/summer 17 haute couture show, high atop the store's roof. It was part of an evening devoted to Dior, finishing with Kris Van Assche's Fall 17 presentation for Dior Homme and a subsequent rave. "I like Tokyo," Chiuri said in a preview at the Grand Hyatt on Monday where Dior had set up temporary ateliers, the house's much-loved première Florence Chehet keeping a watchful eye on things in the background. Chiuri, now nearly a year into the creative director position she accepted last summer after leaving Valentino, seemed perfectly at home. "This country is so close to tradition, but at the same time it's so modern," she reflected. The Harajuku girls? "Yes, and the kimonos. It's like the UK: on one side you have the queen and on the other you have punk. Here it's the same: a strong tradition, but a very modern attitude. That's what I like."
Building on the collection's original theme of enchanted forests, Chiuri added eight looks based on "le jardin japonais" - Japanese gardens - adopting floral elements native to the country such as the hypnotising pink cherry blossoms, which reached their season peak here in Japan last week. They were pictured in porcelain-like embroidery climbing up delicate tulle gowns, and adorned new headpieces by Stephen Jones, who joined Chiuri in Tokyo. Jackets and a floor-length skirt were virtually basketed in threading multiplied to resemble reed and rush, while the words "Jardin Japonais, Christian Dior, 1953" were stitched whimsically on to one of the garments. It referenced a dress in the founder's own haute couture collection from that year, which featured a motif of a bird in a cherry tree. Because, as Chiuri pointed out, the looks she'd added to her collection weren't just referential of Japan but of Christian Dior's own archive—a treasure trove that bears witness to the couturier's love of Japanese culture, which didn't just see him incorporate Japanese elements into his work, but take his shows to cities around the country in the 50s.
In 1959, following his death in 1957, his successor Yves Saint Laurent brought to life three dresses for the wedding of Princess Michiko to Crown Prince Akihito, created in Japan from sketches drawn by Christian Dior. "I discovered many references, because he was very fascinated with Japan," Chiuri explained, wearing a fencing jacket and the 'We should all be feminists' T-shirt from her debut Dior ready-to-wear collection for spring/summer 17. "The things I found cool was the sketch that you see there," she said, gesturing at Dior archive images on a mood board, "where he understood that the Japanese woman was very close to traditional dress. He did two coats, the first shaped so it could sit on top of traditional dress, and the other with an opening in the back so it could be used with traditional dress." Chiuri's archive references spoke volumes of Christian Dior's early understanding of a fashion world in constant conversation with the global community and the many different cultures to which trends and innovations are applied once they leave a designer's studio and make their way around the world.
Half a century on, at Chiuri's show on Wednesday evening at Ginza Six, Tokyo's fashion-forward locals were doing just that. Around the rooftop where gusts of wind added on-point drama to the haute couture experience, guests had styled themselves in her sporty fencing-themed ready-to-wear and princess-y transparent tulle skirts paired with kimono-like robes from the Japanese heritage wardrobe. At her super modern Dior, there's no such thing as designing for the market. This, earthlings, is for the global community. "I think there are two categories: fashion or no fashion. It's not about the market. If you are into fashion you can be American, you can be Japanese... If you are not into fashion, you are not interested in fashion. I don't believe there is a different category. I have many friends around the world; if they love fashion they know everything about it and that's it." Any other preconception, she said, is obsolete. "Especially now. They are so connected. If you are interested in fashion it's an international community. It's a global vision," Chiuri noted, glancing down at Tokyo's skyscraper cityscape through the window behind her.
"When I started working in fashion I remember marketing people saying to me, 'Oh no, in Japan it's important to use pastel colours.' I arrived in Japan and found all the fashion people dressed like me. When I went back to Rome, I said, 'Where did you see these pastel women?' I think that vision is just a little bit old-fashioned and before-the-internet." Maria Grazia Chiuri's show in Tokyo on Wednesday evening may have been a repeat of January's haute couture experience, but in taking her new vision for Dior to Japan - to Asia - she weaved more than a few new threads into the image the fashion industry is slowly but surely forming of her as an individual designer: a post-modern believer in a global society where a feminist mindset and a willingness for cross-cultural understanding are expected with an honest, no-nonsense approach, and it's as refreshing as it is infectious. When she takes her Dior Cruise 2018 show to Los Angeles next month, she'll bring that vision to yet another continent hot on political drama. In the sentiments Chiuri conveys through fashion, though, perhaps we can all find some common ground, all around the world.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Images courtesy of Dior