Christian Dior’s Mumbai Show Spotlights the Extraordinary Craftsmanship of India’s Artisans

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Inside Chanakya’s modern-built complex, Swali had laid on an exhibition of the antique textiles she’s collected from all over India and beyond; pieces which stimulate the kind of cross-cultural research that ends up—differently every time—in Dior collections. It was a chance perceive from two inches away that the 3-D beige roses on a filigree dress are actually made from crocheted raffia, or that the glinting lace of another is achieved through ancient Mughal-era zari silver and gold thread embroidery.

Downstairs, craftspeople were working at benches and looms, or sitting working on the floor collectively. In one zone, you saw how the reference of the tree of life, embroidered on an antique bed-covering, was echoed through the floral edging on a pair of 17th-century French silk waistcoats, and how an artisan was now satin-stitching garlands of miniature flowers on the makings of a Dior dress. Guides talked through each skill, and its roots in regional and tribal cultures. “We have artisans that are experts in everything. It’s a lot of hours, a lot of work, a lot of really technical stuff. These are artisans that can be 13th generation—in the sense that they’ve been passing down this craft for so many years. Now they’re the experts with regards to needle-making, with regards to lace work, to crochet, thread-work, fine-stitch sequencing,” one said, proudly concluding, “so there’s no chance of them getting it wrong.”

Chanakya has these different artisans from around the country, a workforce of 300 to 400, mostly men, whose skills have produced the vast tapestries that Chiuri began commissioning with the artist Judy Chicago’s installation for spring 2020. That’s an impressive achievement, yet even more so is the non-profit school that Swali has established and which is supported by Chiuri and Dior.

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