Date 16 JUNE, 2022
Designer MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI Fashion Editor ELIN SVAHN
Hair GUIDO PALAU
Make-up PETER PHILIPS
Casting EDWARD KIM, MICHELLE LEE
Just before 7am on the morning of the Dior Cruise show, while most of my fellow guests are still sleeping after a lavish, late-night welcome dinner at the Royal Alcázar palace, I ease open the heavy, lacquered front door of our hotel and slip out on to a narrow, cobbled street.
Seville is in the grip of a June heatwave and even at this hour it is 23 degrees and rising fast. Following the peal of cathedral bells, I wind through squares where waiters are setting out chairs for pavement cafés and down alleyways where cats are making their way home for breakfast. Crossing the bridge over the Guadalquivir river, the streets begin to get busier. There are a few other tourists, in sandals and baseball caps, but we are outnumbered by smartly dressed locals. The local men are in suits, hair oiled, brogues polished; the women are in elegantly tailored dresses, heels, full make-up. Boys wear long tailored shorts with socks pulled up to the knee, little girls are in sashed dresses with matching bows in their hair.
Today is the Corpus Christi parade, a special day for the city, when the people of Seville line the streets to watch a stately four-hour procession. A figure of the Madonna, ornately dressed in lace finery, is carried at a genteel pace as the city pays its respects. In the days before the festival, the route is carpeted with sprigs of fresh rosemary, the scent of which is released as it is trodden underfoot by the procession, mingling with incense and the heady scent of freshly spritzed perfume. At La Canasta pasteleria I join the throng at the bar to knock back a quick café solo, where the ladies are crowding in front of the bathroom mirror to refresh their lipstick.
The Sevillian fiesta that fills the streets that morning is a moment of community, of culture – and of style. It is, in other words, the perfect scene-setter for tonight’s Dior Cruise extravaganza. Under Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior has been pushing the envelope on what a fashion show is about. From the moment a T-shirt reading We Should All Be Feminists hit the runway during Chiuri’s very first Dior catwalk show in 2016, she has made it clear that Dior is no longer just about clothes. Chiuri’s vision for today’s event in Seville is for the audience to see the collection in the context of a party, of a coming together of people, of life in all its glory. Later, she will tell me backstage that she wanted the show to “feel like one of those moments of communal celebration that are so strong in the lives of cities. A city is defined by those days when everyone comes together. Fashion is about both the everyday, and the extraordinary.”
For now, the show is still 10 hours away. It is almost noon, time to wind my way back to the hotel, where cars are waiting to whisk the assembled show guests out of the midday heat of the city. Our next stop is the Hacienda la Corchuela, a magical estate where King Felipe V once led wolf hunts, and where we arrive to find tables laid with champagne flutes in a courtyard thickly embroidered with bougainvillea, where storks nest high in the clocktowers. Since the 1980s, the estate has been owned by the Fernandez-Ordas family, founders of the Gesa Carburante petrol station empire, and a pre-lunch exploration of the gardens reveals an eclectic mix of family memorabilia, from polo trophies to vintage Rolls-Royces. The day is scorching hot and the Dior paper fans waiting in each hotel room are put to good use during a long lazy lunch in the gardens, and around a turquoise pool. Salt cod, summer vegetables and slivers of the local jamon – the kind that melts in the mouth like butter – are wolfed down as guests from all over the world catch up on fashion’s favourite delicacy: gossip. There is just time for a sun-dappled horse-and-carriage ride under the trees before we head back into Seville.
Back in the city, the temperature is nudging 35 degrees. Two hours before showtime, Chiuri is holding previews backstage in the cavernous city hall which backs onto the Plaza de España, the grand half-moon-shaped public square where the show is to be held. Along with my Cruise comrades Lisa Armstrong of the Telegraph and Anna Murphy of the Times, I am led through the backstage area – rubbernecking at the sumptuous dresses and exquisite suits which hang neatly, alongside their assigned accessories, next to the name and photo of the model who is to wear the look – to a small, unprepossessing meeting room where chairs have been pushed against the wall to make room for the line-up board. Chiuri’s close team, and her daughter, Rachele Regini, flit in and out of the room until Maria Grazia appears, wearing gold and black tile-pattern cargo pants from the collection with a simple black silk shirt and flat, black sandals.
“How am I? I am very hot,” she says. “And I am very tired. This collection is very intense. But it is very rewarding, as well.” An assistant pours iced water for everyone, while MG – as her team call her – talks us through her moodboard. The most significant muse for this collection is Carmen Amaya, a groundbreaking Spanish-Romani flamenco dancer who, in the 1950s, took the radical step of ditching the traditional flounced costume in favour of the one worn by male dancers: a jacket fitted tight to show the lines of the body but cropped short, for ease of movement, teamed with high-waisted trousers.
It is easy to see why Amaya’s story appeals to Chiuri. This is a story of female creativity, a theme she has constantly championed throughout her tenure at Dior, and collaborating with female artists in disciplines ranging from poetry to sculpture with each collection. It is also a story about female self-definition and women pushing against the narrow guard rails of femininity as laid down by a patriarchal society. This a touchstone for the first female creative director of Dior, who has made it her mission to engage her audience in a conversation about gender roles. And most of all, it is a story about the role played by clothes and how women navigate their way in society, and how they can be both constricted and empowered.
Like the lady says: this collection is intense. Also on the moodboard is a still from a Pedro Almodóvar film, a director whose tales of Spanish life spoke powerfully to Chiuri as a young woman, she says, when his films were the first representation she saw on screen of the strong, powerful women she knew from her own family life, growing up in Italy. (She had hoped to host Almodóvar at this show, but he’s shooting a film.) There are Goya and Velázquez paintings, paying respect to their influence on the colour palette of Spanish culture. There are images of Balenciaga, the Spanish designer who ranks alongside Christian Dior in the greatest couturiers of all time, and whose dramatic silhouettes and brooding colours have influenced designers from Yves Saint Laurent to John Galliano. There is a 1966 photograph of Jackie Kennedy, smiling on horseback in Seville, wearing a distinctive flat-brimmed Andalusian horseman’s hat.
Chiuri is a journalist’s dream because she loves to chat. She sees synergies and connections all around her. One moment she is extolling the virtues of the local Jesús Rosado atelier, an embroidery workshop which specialises in gold yarn work and to which falls the honour of dressing the Madonnas, who are a focal point of fiestas such as Corpus Christi; in the next, she is throwing her head back and laughing her deep, throaty chuckle as she remembers how, as a child, those glamorously dressed Madonnas were “like supermodels” in Mediterranean culture. When she is whisked away to deal with final show preparations, it is an hour till show time, so our little band of journalists join models, make-up artists and a troupe of local flamenco dancers in the makeshift backstage canteen. There are delicious wedges of frittata, miniature sandwiches, bowls of gazpacho, crispy chickpea salad – and, of course, more jamon.
According to the invitation, the show is at 9pm, but at 8.45pm most of the models are still lolling on the balcony smoking cigarettes and taking selfies. The show will start at 10pm, we are told; no, 10.15pm, so that the heat of the day will have evaporated, for the comfort of the models, dancers, musicians and audience. The square is decorated as for the chicest of street parties, festooned with lights and scattered with benches. As darkness falls, the audience take their seats, an insistent flamenco beat stirs the air and 40 dancers in tiered dresses take up their positions on steps beyond the catwalk. They move as a corps de ballet, accompanying two soloists, including the mesmerising principal dancer Belen who – like Carmen Amaya before her – chooses the traditionally male costume of jacket and trousers. López snaps her hips, drums her heels and swishes a ponytail that would make Ariana Grande jealous, while the models glide serenely along the catwalk. This is not just a catwalk show with entertainment on the side, it is a fiesta. “A real party, with music and dancing,” the kind that Seville does with such flair, was what Chiuri hoped for, and she got her wish.
If you ever want to get a party started, 40 flamenco dancers fired up on post-performance adrenaline will do it nicely. The women lead the way, a flock of scarlet Pied Pipers, and soon the on the square is bouncing to Madonna and Abba. Chiuri, relieved and beaming, greets friends with her proud husband, Paolo, at her side. Elle Macpherson chats to Chiara Ferragni, while waitstaff work at warp speed to satisfy demand for mouth tequila-chilli cocktails. When one of the performers leads the crowd in an impromptu rap in praise of Chiuri, I realise it is probably time for those of us with copy to file early in the morning to go home. Seville, you were spicy. And Dior, you were on fire.
Photography by Tierney Gearon. Taken from 10+ Issue 5 – WORLD IN MOTION – order your copy here.