Apr 26, 2023

On Lake Como, Dior Unveils a “Couture Garden”

By Tina Isaac-Goizé

In her 28 years as creative director of Dior jewelry, Victoire de Castellane has plumbed Christian Dior's personal lexicon, transforming the lace, ribbons, fabrics, pleating, draping, silhouettes, and sundry other trappings of couture into gems. Often, she has revisited the founding couturier's loves, like architecture, the glories of 18th-century French style, and Versailles in particular. But Monsieur Dior's lifelong passion for gardens predated even his love for fashion and the decorative arts, having taken root at his childhood home in Granville, Normandy. (Later in the wake of his success it would flourish at his homes in Milly-la-Forêt and at the Chateau de la Colle Noire in the South of France.) Fast forward to 2023 and those onetime gardens returned as the theme for Castellane's biggest high jewelry outing to date—some 170 pieces in all, including three watches.

On the banks of Lake Como on Saturday night, her floral themes fused with fashion in a spectacular way, further blurring the lines between couture and high jewelry. Standing on the steps of the grandiose Villa Erba facing the water, new Dior CEO Delphine Arnault greeted guests including Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh and fellow actresses Elizabeth Debicki, Rosamund Pike, Anais Demoustier, and Aseel Omran; ambassadresses including Beatrice Borromeo and Yuma Kim; and dozens of VIP clients from all over the world.

"I think if Monsieur Dior were alive today, he would do exactly your creations and he would be so proud of you," Arnault said to Castellane in a welcome speech before a lavish sit-down dinner orchestrated by the multi-starred chef Enrico Bartolini. Tablescapes by Cordelia de Castellane of Dior Maison were designed thematically for each salon in a stately home once owned by the legendary filmmaker Luchino Visconti (more recently, its Rococo rooms served as a backdrop for Ocean's Twelve).

As last year, there followed a runway presentation featuring 41 looks and many of the whopping 300 creations from collections past and present, but this time the show came with a new twist. In lieu of understated foils in black and nude came what Monsieur Dior might have called "dancing dresses" designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior's women's collections, with colorful embroideries by Lesage and the Chanakya School of Craft. In counterpoint came minimalist, tailored white suits accessorized with diamond riviere necklaces and even belts.

"It's incredible because I think I showed Maria Grazia my sketches once, and then two weeks ago, out of the studio comes this extraordinary parade of dresses," Castellane told Vogue. "It's all very light, very precise, and very easy. Even I rediscovered details once they appeared on the runway." Among the highlights were the Mini Milly necklace, a naive figurative piece that editors instantly dubbed "the emoji necklace," with gems reprising rainbows, clouds, sunshine, trees, flowers, and little lacquered bees set into a mother-of-pearl base. For Castellane, that jewel was an imagined garden seen through the eyes of a child.

A look from the Christian Dior high jewelry show.

The opening look of the show features an emerald necklace that took 6,000 hours to make.

"When I was young, my mother had a black satin evening bag that Barbara Hutton had given her, and the frame and clasp were set with Japanese garden scenes with little clouds, which fascinated me. I remember saying at the time, ‘Someday I’m going to make little scenes like that,’" she recalled. "I think, as a designer, it's important to hold onto an element of childhood."

Other headliners included the Buisson Couture emerald necklace that opened the show—an important piece in yellow and white gold, with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, tsavorites, and pink sapphires and spinels, anchored by a nearly 17-carat emerald center stone. The emerald is removable and can be worn separately on a simpler companion necklace. That piece, like the "emoji" necklace and 80% of the Jardins de la Couture collection, were sold before lunchtime on Sunday, with four days of VIP events left to go, noted Christian Dior Couture managing director Charles Delapalme. One client even snapped up an entire look right off the runway—dress, jewels, and tutti quanti. Another, exasperated that her favorite necklace had sold, custom-ordered a similar one.

"Making a big and balanced statement with couture and high jewelry simultaneously can be a challenge and had never been done at this scale. But this where the magic of Dior operated once again," Delapalme said during an interview at the legendary hotel Villa d’Este, which Dior took over and reconfigured into a showcase for jewels, couture, and savoir-faire. Somewhere on the premises, loose stones—sapphires, emeralds, rubies and colored diamonds among them—also were being shown to VICs. Whether kept as is or mounted into unique creations by Castellane, those gems have helped to make jewelry Dior's fastest-growing category, with triple-digit gains, Delapalme noted. In recent months, the house sold a 101-carat flawless diamond, surpassing the splash it made last year with a 88.8-carat yellow diamond. "The largest transactions at Dior are being made in jewelry, including stones above 50 and even 100 carats," he said. "We’re also seeing a special interest in highest-quality colored stones, which aren't always that big. What excites collectors most is that those are extremely rare. Jewelry has a particular added quality as compared to couture because there's a special tie and emotion one feels for something that comes from the Earth."

Post-show, Yeoh admitted that she had been mentally shopping all the way through. "You find yourself going ‘I want that, I really need that. So bad,’" she laughed. "I really appreciated this because you have to make things come together in the best possible way. When I wore my Dior dress with a mosaic necklace, the necklace didn't fit with the collar line so I wore it in my hair. But it's like with handbags and shoes—the jewels and the dress and hair and makeup should be as one."

"It's like all the models were channeling the essence of Grace Kelly or something," offered Rosamund Pike. "It's like they were all characters: the perfect silhouette, the embroideries, the lightness and fluidity. I wanted to know more about all of them, from the double necklaces to the triple rings and ear cuffs. Who can ever afford it? We can still dream." Added house ambassador Beatrice Borromeo, "I’m lucky enough to have a lot of occasions to dress up for, so I can think of about 10 places where this is how I’d love to look. With the clothes and the jewelry, there's this whole fairy tale world going on. The amazing thing about Victoire is that she makes the stuff of dreams, but she stays modern."

The Mini Milly necklace.