Should we consider the Dior Fall 2023 collection presentation in India a new age, soft-sell-with-a-big-bang marketing endeavour?


Text by Shirin Mehta and Asad Sheikh.

Models strike a pose at the Gateway of India, Mumbai — the venue of the Dior Fall 2023 show.
Photograph: Dolly Devi, © Dior

There is a buzz, long overdue, in South Mumbai, specifically around the magnificent arch of the Gateway of India. We imbibe the excitement even as we regret the partitioning off of large swathes, as we spy preparations underway for the Dior Fall 2023 collection to be presented here the following evening. Not to be outdone, the vendors and milling public stand just beyond the cordoned-off area, against the towering monument built to commemorate the visit in 1911 of King George V and Queen Mary.

The pre-show preparations create a buzz at the Gateway of India well before the commencement of the event.
Photographs: Naomi Shah

The curious crowd presses against the closed gates, against the chowkidar who forbids photography, to capture themselves and their families on mobile phone cameras. Of particular interest is the archway of embroidery created against the stone entrance of the monument, erected as a toran to welcome models and high-profile guests to the event. Unfinished, it seems to resemble a wedding mandap and has been created in patches of indigenous embroideries by the artisans of Mumbai’s Chanakya School of Craft.

Backstage details from the Dior Fall 2023 show.
Photographs: Prerna Nainwal, © Dior

The bustle at the bay invariably touches the Taj Mahal Palace hotel right across the street, where dozens of Dior delegates, models, photographers and clients, flown in from around the world especially for the event, are housed. There’s the energetic Dior team with their prominent white badges. The Ballroom, laden with props, stage equipment and other paraphernalia gleaming under its sparkling chandeliers, is getting ready for the afterparty. The Crystal Room has been transformed with lines of cubicles set up for hair and make-up, and trials are underway. Sadly, photography is not allowed. The editor of Vanity Fair walks past in the Taj corridor while a photographer friend informs us that she is covering the event for a prominent Chinese magazine.

The set design for the Dior Fall 2023 show.
Photographs: Niveditaa Gupta, © Dior

The show, on the following evening, seems strategically targeted to evoke a nostalgic image of Indian glamour, through a non-Indian lens. The Taj Palace facing the public venue helps, as models glide past each other, the Gateway behind them and the brightly lit Taj in front. You can’t help but feel the emphasis on the grandiosity of the setting, especially for the myriads watching the live stream, given the exclusivity of the event. It is almost as if Dior, which has made a fine art of transforming spaces and creating experiences, has designed the entire setting to look photogenic. Everything, in aerial view, appears perfectly aligned with the archway of the Gateway. And it is only from a distance that one can appreciate the remarkable symmetry that has been created.

Making of the set design, garments and toran at the Chanakya Ateliers.
Photographs: Sahiba Chawdhary, © Dior

Chuiri has repeatedly stated that the show is above all about showcasing Indian craftsmanship. It also reflects her over 25-year-old friendship with Karishma Swali, the artistic director of Chanakya Ateliers. This then is about two determined women coming together to empower the country’s women artisans, and more. And is it a mere coincidence that the orchestra highlights a tabla virtuoso Anuradha Pal, while the afterparty at the Ball Room features DJ Nina Shah on deck duty? Or that the photographers commissioned by Dior for the show are all women — Niveditaa Gupta, Dolly Devi, Madhu Akula, Sahiba Chawdhary, Prerna Nainwal? This is a French collection presented by a French luxury house, celebrating Indian inspiration and savoir faire.

Looks from the Dior Fall 2023 show highlighted Madras checks and handwoven silk brocades.
Photographs © Dior

Our chats with industry mavens reveal that the question uppermost on people’s minds at this time seems to be, ‘Why now?’ Why has Dior chosen this moment for its first major show in India? Are we being substituted for the collapse in other markets? Or is there an expectation that the wide coverage of the India show will result in a boost to dwindling markets? Anul Sareen, senior research analyst at the business intelligence firm Euromonitor said to CNN Style, “Luxury retailers (are) betting on the Indian market to maintain their growth, which is otherwise experiencing stagnation in Western markets and China. Many retailers are looking to increase their operations in the country.”

Of major consideration also is the Indian middle class which, while small, is growing rapidly across the nation. “It’s a hugely untapped market with middle class on the rise and lots more, by the year, millionaires,” Deborah Aitken, senior analyst for luxury goods at Bloomberg Intelligence said to Mint, adding, “It’s vibrant, it’s new design, new colour, new technologies into the luxury space, which is hugely needed.”

India, as the third largest economy in Asia with a healthy HNWI (high-net-worth individual) population on the rise, is a market in which luxury brands would want to create a firm footing. Our teeming billions do, in fact, represent rising aspirations. Happenings like the Russia-Ukraine War and sluggish markets have made it a logical decision for luxury brands to taper any potential over-reliance on their sales to just one region.

Fittings with Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s creative director for women’s lines, for the Fall 2023 show.
Photographs: Dolly Devi, © Dior

Can the Dior Fall 2023 collection show be considered then to be a masterpiece in new age, soft-sell-with-a-bang marketing? While Dior has only two stores in India, expanding the brand’s footprint and revenue stream beyond existing markets, would play in Dior’s favour. The guest list, the set location, and the build-up to the event perhaps signal a striving on Dior’s part, for a direct association with the term “luxury fashion” in an underexposed region.

Rekha’s statement-making red Kanjeevaram sari at the Dior Fall 2023 show.
Photograph: Getty Images

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the show is the concerted effort on Dior’s part to invite the silver screen icon Rekha who has great cultural capital and continues to dominate nostalgic Instagram accounts and Pinterest boards far beyond India. Incidentally, Rekha is the only major celebrity attending who did not wear Dior; she opted for a red Kanjeevaram sari.

In her Kanjeevaram saris, she is an image closer to the late Elizabeth Taylor and her diamonds. Both megastars are quintessential to the equation of what makes an icon, an icon. And this is an icon Dior opted not to tweak or tamper with. The sheer association between Rekha and Dior implies a presence of Dior inside the idea of high-brow culture, and this was deemed so important that the show apparently did not begin until she made her appearance.

The finale.
Photograph: Niveditaa Gupta, © Dior

Chatter and speculation have been rife following the Dior show. If anything, the show will have at least served the role of a far-flung location for the brand. And if this was also due to a strategic business decision, will it perhaps help to establish Dior as a familiar household name — like Liril, Nirma and Hamara Bajaj — for an audience of almost 1.4 billion people?

Mera wala Lady Dior?


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