By Eric Wilson
May 26, 2018 @ 8:45 am
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Unfortunately, it rained. And rained and rained. And this was a problem on Friday night for Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior's artistic director, who designed an open-air runway in the stables of the Chantilly castle outside Paris for her cruise show, which featured a fascinating performance by a group of female rodeo riders from Mexico who inspired this collection. Weather was always a risk.

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Making things worse, traffic from Paris was a nightmare, causing the show to be delayed more than an hour as guests were shuttled in a fleet of 160-some black Mercedes to the surburbs.Beautiful cloth awnings had been constructed over the risers for the expected audience, with rows of seats forming a large square around a pit of sand, streamers rising above like a medieval fair. But the skies opened just as the guests began to arrive, soaking those in the front rows, where the awnings abruptly stopped. The celebrities had the worst of it. Billie Lourd, Charlie Heaton and Natalia Dyer, Alexandra Shipp, and Paris Jackson were escorted by attendants with umbrellas that only made the drips worsen into streams. Jackson eventually removed her shoes, which were drenched. Carine Roitfeld, the stylish French editor, sat down in her customary front row perch, then quickly climbed back into the second with the riffraff.

"I'm going to sit in the second row from now on," Roitfeld said. It makes me feel young again."

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As they say, the show must go on, and eventually, it did, starting with the escaramuzas--women who perform a traditional style of rodeo with roots in the Mexican Revolution, riding side saddle and wearing fanciful dresses and sombreros. They pounded onto the sand, white horses racing in circles and making hairpin turns in an elaborately choreographed dance. Grazia, who has incorporated strong feminist writers and artists in her work at Dior, was inspired by the sport after visiting Mexico and witnessing the fearlessness and beauty of the female riders, "who do something that is so macho--rodeo--in our vision," she told WWD. She did so knowing full well the risks she would face from critics of cultural appropriation, for embroidering the Christian Dior logo onto their belts and full-skirted dress. Advocates for animal welfare have also faulted certain elements of the rodeo, and, as the riders performed, Paris Jackson stood up and stormed out of the show, walking barefoot down the runway, followed moments by a friend.

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All this drama unfolded as the models backstage were preparing for a long march in the rain, protected only by broad straw hats by the milliner Stephen Jones. At the cruise shows, it's the little details that help tell a bigger story for a brand. This the prevailing philosophy of the four major collections that now take place every May, when Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton spend lavish sums entertaining editors, influencers, and clients with extravagant runway productions and immersive experiences all over the world. This year, by happenstance, all four houses decided to show their collection in France. After Chanel's impressive soiree earlier this month, with a set designed to look like an actual cruise ship, Dior left no detail chance with its event. Event the unpredictable moments--the storm and the protest--seemed to bring a charge of electricity to the show, which was easily one of Chiuri's best collections.

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In fact, she took the escaramuza inspiration, literally interpreting the outfits with their precise necklines, short puffy sleeves, and full-tiered skirts in an astonishing array of versions. It helped that the silhouette has much in common with Dior's New Look, with its nipped waist and full, womanly skirt. Chiuri combined the elements in different ways, pairing crisp white shirts with equestrian trousers, offering several wildly decorated skirts, and--lucky for her-- ruber boots. Another motif was a French toile print that depicted jungle animals, tigers and serpents, rendered in a darkened fabric that looked as if it were tea stained. In the rain, almost everything looked that way.

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For whatever you think about cultural appropriation or using horses for sports, it was hard to deny this was a beautiful collection, and a smart continuation of Chiuri's mission to present Dior as a powerful label for women (and one of the very few French luxury houses designed by a woman). It may help to know that Chiuri took pains to document her source material carefully, and also include the participation of the escaramuza riders, eight of whom were flown to Paris from Mexico and Phoenix to participate in the show. And for what it's worth, at a party after the show, Jones told me that the horses were locals, and that the women had trained them in two days for the production.