In the deep recesses of Marrakesh, the enigmatic intersection between Europe and Africa, holds a dazzling grace that pervades the locality. Venturing through the sandy remains of the 16th century Palais El Badi, its terracotta colonnades enjoined by fastidiously sculpted entablatures, the horizon broadens at the courtyard’s epic pool. There, models— draped in the exotic amalgamation of African wax print and Dior’s haute couture—sauntered with great equanimity, their moxie manifested through their penetrating gaze was matched by the zestful bonfire in the background.
African wax print is totemic of African fashion; its striking patterns and colour speak a desire for empowerment and pride in the African culture. Notably, the Dior Cruise 2020 collection partnered with Pathé Ouédraogo—a leading designer in Africa who champions 100% made in Africa—to pay a sartorial tribute to Nelson Mandela and his vision of a strong and progressive African identity. Under Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s creative director, Dior collaborated with Grace Wales Bonner, 2016 winner of the LVMH prize, to courageously explore the viability of African wax prints with haute couture to shed light on cross-cultural fashion.
Underlying the exquisite collection is the Homeric task of blending the bold patterns of wax print with Dior’s characteristic tarot and toile de joey motifs. The former exudes pure unbridled passion; the latter exudes an air of nuanced sophistication, typical of Parisian ateliers. Surely, this discrepancy begets an explanation. The striking colour pattern of African wax prints is a subliminal manifestation of their soulful longing for a better age after centuries of exploitation. On the other hand, Parisian fashion, its provenance not particularly subjugated by adversaries, pursues a chic, pursues that of a modern and refined persona who has luxuriated in centuries of opulence. The seamless coalescence of the two disparate motifs in Cruise 2020 only further affirms Maria’s team’s savoir faire in traversing the equivocal subtexts.
Dior’s bold attempt at interweaving African and Parisian fashion has not been spared the vitriol. African wax print, critics claim, belongs to Africans and Dior Cruise 2020 is a testament to western avarice. Historically speaking, the wax print evolved from the Indonesian ‘Batik prints’ before Dutch and Scottish trading vessels hauled it to African shores during the 1880s. The wax print, despite its colonial subtext, is in fact a shared human heritage rather than an exclusive African heritage. In addition, Dior had selected several non-Africans models to present this collection to further promulgate the quintessence of Cruise 2020: appreciating cross-cultural interactions while revelling in the awe-inspiring chemistry between them.
Besides the ravishing models who glamorise the medieval setting, the characteristic potteries and craft works that intersperse the backdrop conjure the mystical aura of Moroccan art. Sadly, cultural homogenisation, a product of globalisation, renders these Moroccan artisans increasingly obsolete. Acknowledging this depressing prospect, Dior teamed up with Uniwax, an African company specialising in authentic high quality wax prints, to increase awareness about cultural diversity because it is what instils vitality in the human race; the world devoid of its heterogeneity is one that is monotonous and lifeless.
Perhaps, there is merits in the metaphor that wax prints are ‘melting-pot fabrics’. Apart from how hot wax from the cauldron is used to create the distinctive patterns, this metaphor speaks volume about how culture, politics and history is visibly intertwined on the fabric. Every weave is infused with centuries-old traditions; every pattern conveys an unspoken story of Africa; every artisan, passionate about their art, longs for the betterment of their embattled nation. In Cruise 2020, Dior has perceptively assimilated the intricacies of African art with the sophistication of Parisian haute couture to curate a bespoke collection that accentuates: the vitality of the African people, the allure of cross-cultural fashion and the vision of a tolerant, plural society.