All around Mumbai billboards proclaimed that the “Mother of Democracy is Proud to Host the G20 Summit [September 2023]”, while the usual city bumper-to-bumper traffic felt even more congested given the added injection of the global creative community descending into the centre. Not only was March 30th’s Dior Fall 2023 fashion show at the historic Gateway of India monument a major moment in the international fashion calendar for this year, but it had coincided with the opening of the first-of-its kind cultural temple, the Nita Mukesh Ambani Culture Centre, dedicated to showcasing the best in Indian and global art, theatre, fashion, music and more.  It was, to say the least, all eyes on Mumbai.

Dior’s Fall collection - one that pays homage to the Indian best-in-class excellence in embroidery craft- partnered with The Chanakya School of Craft as a main creative collaborator. Dior made great effort to highlight and celebrate the work of these artisans, most of the time behind closed doors with only their hand stitches visible. 
Dior's Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri has developed a deep and emotional connection to the Asian subcontinent for the past 30 years. Her fated meeting with Karishma Swali, now the artistic director of Chanakya Ateliers, in Mumbai in 1992 while she was working at Fendi gave rise to the Chanakya Foundation, which focuses on educating women in the skill of craftsmanship. Dior has also tapped the Chanakya team in the past to create artist-dreamt tapestries that have hung aloft as the backdrop to several of Maria Grazia’s couture shows.

Gujarat, India's textile hub in the 19th century, was famous for cotton production, and the presence of black soil and water from the Sabarmati river helped the industry flourish. Gujarat's textiles feature attentively designed geometrical patterns and powerful natural dyes, with the "Patola" sari made of precious silk, produced using the "double ikat" technique being a characteristic item of the region. Meanwhile, the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India is known for the hand-made looms of Kanjivaram, a unique resource for understanding the historical, social, and political transformations related to weaving in India.   
The Coromandel Coast, located in Tamil Nadu, India, was once part of the Chola Dynasty in the 13th century. In modern times, it became a significant area for textile and spice trade, with Coromandel fabrics becoming important in the international market. The East India Companies directed their market towards Coromandel fabrics, and it became an essential commodity for Indian trade. Interestingly, the term Coromandel has evolved to denote patterns that resemble South Indian designs in Italy, while the French associate it with wooden panels and the technique used to polish them. 

With techniques named Aari, Zardozi, Zari, Shisha, Patti, Rani Pink, and Kalamkari, it’s a veritable menu of skill and creative license that could fell a less confident Creative Director given the richness of choice.  The 99 looks featured a massive decorative toran embroidered by Chanakya artisans, which set the tone for the entire collection. Gold embroidery techniques such as zardozi and couching were used to create intricate patterns that resembled crystals and flowers. The collection featured Indian silhouettes such as saris and salwar kameezes, as well as elegant dresses gathered at the waistline. The designs were done with a modern flair while paying humble nods to their origins. While the outfits were not to typical standards for the extravagance of Bollywood glamour, Maria Grazia embued her chic ensembles with the flair and colour many of us love and associate with India.

Following on from the monumental Dior Fall’23 show was the inauguration of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Culture Centre, a three evening affair that garnered the Bollywood stars, to the global art heavyweights to the fashion rovers all in one large, newly finished convention-centre/theatre/exhibition area. Probably twice the size of the V&A, this is a building in the Bandra Kurla Complex, known for large corporate office headquarters with dashes of public art dotted around the neighbourhood. Powered by the matriarch of the Ambani family who has been a longtime devotee of Indian dance throughout her life, the new NMACC - as it is already known- is a new lifeline for the arts and crafts in India and Mumbai. Alongside the best new auditorium for musicians to play in is an exhibition space that now houses its inaugural show “India in Fashion”, curated by World of Interiors Editor in Chief Hamish Bowles, himself a longtime fashion collector and archivist. With over 140 outfits showcasing how Indian craft and colour have long influenced global brands such as Dior and Chanel (both with their own rooms of archive outfits), this is nirvana for anyone interested in the cross-contamination of culture and textiles in global fashion.

It is clear both Dior and the NMACC has galvanised attention on India as an important player in the global luxury fashion system, whereby intricate embroideries and staggering colour and intricacy have been a constant. At the heart of it all is a respect for, and tender nurturing of, traditional craft by artisans who bring breathtaking dreams to life. 
Because isn't it always about a reciprocal exchange of knowledge, experience and ambitious creativity that has fuelled artistic innvoation and wonder?  The last week in India proves it to be so.

Rewatch the entire show here (and currently on repeat here at the Because HQ because of its phenomenal soundtrack too! With live music composed and conducted by Oliver Coates. Tablas & Multi Percussions by Anuradha Pal. With the musicians of the Symphony Orchestra of India. Indian instruments by Imran Khan, Chetan Joshi , Sangeet Mishra, Tushar Raturi. Contains excerpts of 'Speaking In Tongues I’and 'Om Namaha Shiva’ by Sheila Chandra.)