Dior kicked off Paris Fashion Week with its autumn/winter 2023 show, and while guests may have come for the clothes, they left mesmerised by a twinkling, floating, floral installation that filled the inside of the show venue. Created by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, the dreamlike work—titled Valkyrie Miss Dior—took six months to design and build.
The fabric installation was created site-specific, to precisely fit the dimensions of “the box” as Vasconcelos calls it, referring to the vast show space that Dior erected specifically for the occasion in the Jardin des Tuilleries. A feat of architectural engineering, the work required extensive planning and was woven, crocheted and sewn in separate parts before being assembled together in situ, the fabrics fitting over the top of giant inflatables that gently swayed when brushed against.
The sprawling, hovering centrepiece was crafted from archive Dior fabrics, and inspired by flowers—a theme which was also present throughout Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection.
“It’s like the jewel in the box,” Vasconcelos tells us of her set design. “It’s also related to Catherine Dior, who was the sister of Christian Dior, and who was part of the beginning of the brand.” Grazia Chiuri also cited Catherine Dior as a muse for her designs this season, referring to her as an “extraordinary woman” with an “independent spirit”, who famously grew and sold flowers as a sign of hope in post-war France.
“We wanted to pay homage to her,” Vasconcelos continues. “To create this idea of a floral world, a natural world, but at the same time a technological one," the latter achieved through thousands of twinkling LED lights which were woven into the fabrics, glowing and dimming throughout the show. “They are like magical flowers from another dimension.” She designed floral benches to sit underneath the installation, allowing ticket holders to feel a part of the piece, while the models weaved around them and it on the catwalk. (“It’s like its coming alive,” she says, of the human-artwork interaction).
While a master of many artistic mediums, Vasconcelos has been practicing this large-scale woven art style for more than 15 years. “It’s a body of work within my work,” she explains. “It’s related to fabric, to fashion, to craft… I’ve been working with fashion (brands and designers) since the beginning of my career but to create something that’s so intimately connected with the collection is very unique. It's a once in a lifetime experience. You don’t ever repeat something like this.”
The artist describes herself as being part of the Dior family, having collaborated with the house on previous – far smaller in scale – projects, and says that this project was a natural fit. “I’m connected to this family,” she tells me. “I adapted to (Maria Grazia Chiuri’s) way of thinking—keeping her concept—but it was my interpretation of it. I hope (it makes people feel) happy.”
With fashion brands increasingly experimenting with the digital—when it comes to showing, selling and marketing their designs—the relevance of catwalk shows has been questioned, and whether there is a place for them in a post-pandemic world. But Vasconcelos argues that nothing compares to the immersive experience of seeing a show (whether art or fashion) live; there is no substitute for creating that electric sense of theatre. “Of course it’s wonderful to see it on screen and in pictures, but to be here, to have the experience…it’s a magical moment.”
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar UK.