The Runway Rundown

A look from Dior’s Spring 2021 Haute Couture collection. Photo: Dior

Dior Couture Returns to Historical Roots


Perennial French fashion house Dior, now headed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, released its spring couture line last week, transporting lovers of all things sartorial back in time to a bygone era — a welcome escape from the torrid landscape of coronavirus-tinged modern life-as-we-know-it.

Look 32 from Dior’s Spring 2021 Haute Couture line. Photo: Dior

Chiuri’s latest design effort harkens back to the renaissance, featuring empire-dropped waists, square necklines (which came back in a big way thanks to fast fashion these past couple of years), brocade textile choices and golden tones throughout that would even make a (headless) Anne Boleyn turn green with envy.

The designs were partially inspired by Chiuru’s enchantment with tarot cards, with traditional decks like the Rider-Waithe invoking medieval and renaissance imagery, now found throughout Dior’s couture, on the faces of its cards. 

“What was nice for me about the tarot is that when you are in a difficult moment, something that is magical can help us, to help us think better,” Chiuri told Vogue Runway.

The set and styling of Dior’s lookbook unveiling the collection add an ethereal tone to the garments, elevating Chiuri’s magical fantasy. A hazy filter in front of the camera lens and a subtle smoke creeping in through the background turn Dior’s present-day designs into a believable classical daydream. 

Details from look 3 of Dior’s Spring 2021 couture line. Photo: Dior

Models are adorned in pearls throughout, the delicate stones dripping from their ears, draped in precious coils around necks, and adorning the crowns of the head in elegant, tiara-like headbands. The human-clothes-hangers pose in front of floor-length tapestries and interact with a noble, pure-white horse, invoking comparisons to the famed Unicorn Tapestries, continuing Chiuri’s fantastical vision.

Long time fans of the French label will know that this is far from Dior’s first foray into the fashion of yesteryear in its couture collections, which was previously popularized under Chiuri’s controversial predecessor and now-head of Maison Margiela, John Galliano.

Underneath Galliano, who helmed the brand from 1996 to 2011, Dior couture regularly featured whimsical interpretations of historical eras, delivered with an extra dose of camp that’s missing from its present-day designs.

Dior Spring 2004 Couture designed by John Galliano. Photo: Tumblr

Back in 2004, exactly 17 years before the current release, Dior’s spring couture collection was inspired by Egyptian deities and pharaohs. Models paraded down the runway almost encased in gold fabrics and covered in lapis-lazuli accents, featuring references to Egypt’s ancient hieroglyphics and mummified royalty. Galliano couturified his references with giant chiffon skirts and modern silhouettes Cleopatra wouldn’t dare to dream of, bringing the designs into the 21st century.

Galliano’s fall 2007 couture line continued his historical fantasy with a show held in the Palace of Versailles, transporting the models back into the extravagant Rococo era of Marie Antoinette. Elegant gloves past the elbow, fascinators plumed with feathers, heavy skirts and an assortment of pearls, coupled with powdered faces and tiers of curls, created a collection of luxurious garments the former aristocratic inhabitants of Versailles would have looked right at home wearing.

Amber Valletta at Dior Fall 2007 Couture. Photo: Tumblr

While Chiuri’s efforts for the famed fashion house are irrefutably more demure than those of Galliano, her restraint makes the couture all that more accessible to the present-day, allowing people the opportunity to project themselves into the designer’s reverie, versus his gaudier “Let them eat cake!”-esque collections. Regardless of your taste in fantasy, one thing is for certain: Dior’s haute couture is at its best when it embraces the past into the present.

…Feb. 2, 2021

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