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France has always been the ultimate home of fashion. The sound of stilettos striking the cobblestoned streets and the sight of the couture-filled windows along Avenue Montaigne make Paris in particular the beating heart of the industry. Forget the mechanisation of the fast-fashion industry and think of the likes of Maison Montex, home of Chanel’s seamstresses who work for months on a single piece of couture. One of the birthplaces of artisan fashion, France will forever be immortalised in brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and of course, Dior.

The aftermath of World War II was catastrophic for the citizens of France and the vast majority of her industries, as people struggled to recuperate after such extreme loss. Before the war, over 70 couture houses were in business across the country, but occupying forces wanted to replace Paris as the leading fashion force in Europe with Berlin. Following the Allied victory, textiles became scarce, and there was no way to resume production in a time of crisis. Thus in 1945, the Théâtre de la Mode was born, presenting itself as a creative solution.

"The sound of stilettos striking the cobblestoned streets and the sight of the couture-filled windows along Avenue Montaigne make Paris the beating heart of the industry"

After the liberation of Paris, Robert Ricci (son of famed designer Nina Ricci) saw the depletion of materials, and conceptualised the miniature theatre of fashion. Ricci believed that if he were to use tiny mannequins (only 27.5 inches tall and made of wire), he would be able to minimise the production effort of couture by using scrap materials. The exhibit received the backing of major labels from Balenciaga to Pierre Balmain, who contributed labour and materials to the project. Even renowned jeweller Cartier contributed miniature accessories to the collaborative effort. Opening at the Louvre on 28th March 1945, the Théâtre de la Mode drew in 100,000 visitors and generated 1,000,000 francs for the recovery of France post-war. 237 tiny mannequins presented 15 collections across the continent, travelling to Vienna, Copenhagen and London. 

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The Théâtre de la Mode lies at the heart of Dior’s latest venture. Paris Couture Week was opened with a visual spectacle that’s never been seen before, courtesy of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s creative direction and Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s vision. The pandemic has made regular runway shows an near-on impossibility, thus allowing creative directors the opportunity to unconventionally exhibit their collections. Chiuri and the Dior team took this to new heights, and she said “it’s our first couture presentation online, so it’s something very unusual”. Something ‘very unusual’ did indeed grace our eyes, in the format of a short film titled Le Mythe Dior. Paying homage to the 1945 concept, Chiuri drastically reduced her couture gowns in size, presenting them on a Zoom call to her team in a trunk. “Seeing the first prototype, there was a strong spirit of community”, she remarked, as the project posed a new and enjoyable challenge. 

A highlight of the short film is that the work of artisan seamstresses is exhibited. We see experienced women intricately crafting both the miniature and life-sized gowns, delicately sewing beads and stitching silhouettes together. It reveals a side of fashion that feels neglected in favour of the high-pace production and consumption that’s typical of fast-fashion brands. Chiuri takes fashion back to its roots, and the dedication and commitment of the workers is truly translated on screen by Garrone. 


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Garrone brings to life a fairytale fantasy: the small-scale dresses are transformed into life-sized gowns that fit the nymph-like creatures. Even an unmoving statue is unable to resist the allure of wearing a Dior creation. The magic and excitement is brought back to fashion in a way that models storming a runway one after the other, wearing often stoic expressions, can’t achieve. Chiuri believes that “in couture, it’s so important to be able to touch, feel and see the craftsmanship,” and this sentiment undeniably rings true in this virtual showcase. Whilst we may not be able to tangibly see the dresses, the intrigued and mesmerised expressions of the actresses certainly offer a visual representation of what it would be like to come into contact with these bespoke creations. 

It was only recently that Yves Saint Laurent announced that they will no longer showcase their collections at Paris Fashion Week, as “the brand will lead its own rhythm” and develop its schedule according to when collections are ready to be seen. Chiuri’s cinematic runway experience is another development that marks both the move away from traditional runway shows, and the call for fashion to slow down.