Dior celebrates the virtuosity of Indian craft in new exhibitions

Coinciding with Dior’s recent Fall 2023 show in Mumbai, a trio of exhibitions in the city celebrate the centuries-old embroidery techniques of the Chanakya atelier and its non-profit School of Craft

A series of Dior dresses featuring work by the Chanakya atelier
A series of Dior gowns by Maria Grazia Chiuri featuring embroidery by Chanakya atelier, part of a new Mumbai exhibition
(Image credit: Photography by Sahiba Chawdhary, courtesy of Dior)

Maria Grazia Chiuri has taken Dior on flights both imaginative and physical during her tenure as womenswear creative director of the Parisian house; the Italian designer’s inspirations have spanned 16th-century monarchs, Greek mythology, and the female Surrealists of the 1930s, while shows have been held around the world, from Seville to Marrakech, Athens to Los Angeles. 

The latest stop on Chiuri’s grand tour is Mumbai, India, where the designer hosted the house’s Fall 2023 collection on March 30, 2023 at the city’s historic Gateway of India monument. An homage, in part, to Marc Bohan – former Dior creative director who hosted a show in 1962 in the country – it also celebrated the virtuosic craft of Mumbai’s Chanakya atelier and non-profit School of Craft, best known for its hand-embroidery which here adorned the richly embellished collection. Chanakya also contributed to the show’s dramatic set: an eight-metres-high work inspired by the Indian toran, a decorative fabric door hanging traditionally created by women to welcome guests into their homes (the monumental piece was created by 300 artisans in over 35,000 hours of work, featuring a variety of embroidery techniques and decorative motifs). 

Dior celebrates Chanakya atelier and School of Craft in Mumbai

Finale of Dior show in India

Dior Fall 2023 show in Mumbai, featuring a backdrop by Chanakya atelier and School of Craft

(Image credit: Courtesy of Dior)

Dior’s close links with the institution – first founded in the 1980s, adding the School of Craft in 2017 – is much down to Chiuri’s three-decades-long friendship with Karishma Swali, Chanakya’s current artistic director, having long utilised Indian craft within her work (prior to Dior, Chiuri worked at Italian houses Fendi and Valentino; at the latter, she became co-artistic director with Pierpaolo Piccioli). Collections like this, she says, are an attempt to preserve the historic art of embroidery – a link between the Mumbai workshops and the Dior haute couture atelier in Paris. ‘The plurality of the most excellent savoir-faire,’ say the house.

To coincide with the show, Chanakya’s work will be celebrated in three exhibitions in Mumbai, supported by Dior. The first, titled ‘The Private Collection of the Chanakya Collective’ is an immersive installation which highlights the centuries-old techniques used by the institution – ‘the know-how that has been forged and transmitted over generations and forms the basis of the ateliers’ contemporary creativity,’ say the house – alongside over 300 rare objects from the vast Chanakya archives (the archive itself holds over 10,000 objects, ‘shedding light on the wealth of cultural narratives and local specificities that textiles have woven across the world’).

A person stitching embroidery

A  craftsperson at Chanakya School of Craft

(Image credit: Photography by Sahiba Chawdhary, courtesy of Dior)

The second, ‘The Chanakya x Dior Retrospective’, will look more closely at Chanakya’s links with Dior under Chiuri’s tenure, comprising ‘samples and silhouettes’ that the artisans have created for the house. Alongside garments, Chanakya has contributed to some of Chiuri’s immersive show sets, created in collaboration with women artists like Judy Chicago (a series of 22 hand-embroidered panels for the S/S 2020 haute couture show) and Mickalene Thomas (sequin and rhinestone portraits of exceptional female figures from history, backdropping the S/S 2023 haute couture collection). Both exhibitions take place in central Mumbai’s Byculla neighbourhood, currently open only by private appointment.

The third exhibition – ‘Mūḷ Māthī: From The Root’ – is open to the public at Mumbai’s Snowball Studio (April 1-22, 2023), inaugurated by Dior in partnership with Chanakya and celebrating the work of Indian artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh. The duo created an elaborate show set for Dior utilising Chanakya embroidery for the house’s S/S 2022 haute couture show; here, the artists have ‘reinterpreted’ their works using embroidery. ‘Between innovation and heritage, the artisans have deployed impressive ancestral techniques to capture colour, tonal variation and the movement of brushstrokes,’ say the house. The exhibition is curated by the Asia Society India Centre.

Historical pieces of embroidery

Historical examples of traditional Indian embroidery and fabrics

(Image credit: Photography by Sahiba Chawdhary, courtesy of Dior)

Chiuri, who brings a distinctly feminist lens to her work at Dior, says she is drawn to Chanakya for its work with women artisans; since the school opened in 2017, over 1000 women have graduated in the field of embroidery, a craft traditionally undertaken by men in the country. Several of these artisans end up working for the Chanakya atelier, while others start their own independent businesses. ‘[For women], the Chanakya School of Craft offers a new autonomy in local communities and promotes priceless processes,’ say Dior, who plan to continue to foster this close relationship, ‘an exchange more than ever exalted by the excellent savoir-faire that has breathed life into to the Dior Fall 2023 collection.’

‘Mūḷ Māthī: From The Root’ takes place at Mumbai’s Snowball Studio from April 1-22, 2023


Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.