Dior‘s men’s artistic director Kim Jones has 1017 Alyx 9SM‘s Matthew Williams, and we all know how well that fared for his inaugural season, Spring/ Summer ’19. Their collaboration on a range of accessories—such as the house’s recently revived Saddle bag—resulted in a sell-out (and then waitlisted) release. By now, it’s become somewhat of an M.O. for Jones to invite the design sensibilities of other labels into his maison’s ateliers. At the top of mind, Supreme for Louis Vuitton. For Dior Cruise 2020, Maria Grazia Chiuri took a leaf from this book that her previous partner, Valentino‘s Pierpaolo Piccioli had too done so recently with Doublet and Undercover collabs—but not quite in the same manner as the two gentlemen.
The 113-exit collection was a love letter to cultural exchange, aptly executed in Morocco for its metaphorical significance; the place a fountain of inspiration over the years to many artists, poets and Dior predecessor Yves Saint Laurent. Literally and geographically, it proved a seamless fit, for it’s nestled between Europe, Asia and Africa.
Chiuri went to the horse’s mouth in matters of the garments, utilising Wax fabric that’s historically culturally diverse, roping in African designer Pathé Ouédraogo for an exclusively designed shirt, and calling on African-American artist Mickalene Thomas for an interpretation of the New Look ensemble. So where does the young London-based, British-Jamaican fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner fit in here?
Rather than tapping on a buzzy fashion name to trade in the cool currency our generation thrives on, Chiuri’s choice to have Bonner—despite being the winner of 2016’s LVMH Prize and 2019’s BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund, is relatively unknown in the mainstream—seems more synergistic than skewed to make sales (or headlines and Instagram fodder). The latter has always been explicit about her clothing as a conduit for what goes on in her curious mind. In her few years with the eponymous label Wales Bonner, she’s touched on topics the likes of black identity, heritage and spirituality, a characteristic she’s valued for as much as the actual garments she produces. If Chiuri’s big picture for Cruise is cultural exchange, then what better fashion mind to form an ally with than this bright young thing whose second nature is to ruminate, distill and educate—while putting out a desirably louche take on tailoring?
Bonner told Vogue that her background in menswear led to her working on interpreting Dior’s Bar jacket for this collaboration, a key garment in Monsieur Dior’s New Look that electrified women’s fashion in the ’40s. The original is sensually form-flattering, tightly nipped at the waist and worn on skin for a flash of the décolletage. The young designer presented at Dior’s show in Marrakech a contemporarily less severe fit, the raffia trimmings on its sleeves, pockets and matching skirt a nod to Afro-Carribean craft techniques.
But there’s only so much she can do with one look. What’s certain is that with her finger on the pulse of today’s gender fluidity—evident in Wales Bonner’s stylistically unisex offerings—it would be interesting to see how she’d fare on a larger scale with the garment that was revolutionary for women in its time.
Chiuri positions Dior as the go-to brand for the modern intellectual. One that might’ve read, heard, or (at least) Googled post-haste about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s essay ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ before purchasing the commercial hotcake of a slogan T-shirt from her debut collection. In giving Bonner the opportunity to reach these women through a piece of heritage from the maison they love, perhaps more will come to buy by virtue of fashion’s ability to deep dive and reflect our times. Now more so than ever, having something to say triumphs over the sway of trends. And it’s cool that Chiuri is okay with that.