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Behind the Scenes of Dior’s Desert Safari

Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri transforms the Santa Monica Mountains into the ultimate fashion escape for her Cruise 2018 collection

Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
Photography by ZOEY GROSSMAN
Fashion Direction by ALISON EDMOND

Across wide swaths of scrub brush in the expansive Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, a glamorous village built of burlap and rope—all secured by imposing metal tent stakes—arose one sun-drenched summer afternoon. As an international fashion coterie including Charlize Theron, Anjelica Huston, Rihanna, Freida Pinto, Laura Dern, Anna Dello Russo and Juno Temple assembled (with the assistance of well-positioned ATVs) to see Dior’s Cruise 2018 collection, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the house’s first female creative director, conjured up her vision of how women navigate the natural world.

Bags containing lace-up boots with no-nonsense rubber soles hung at the ready, an early indication that Chiuri’s women would glide through the elements, undeterred by a bit of dust or an errant tumbleweed. A second hint came from Peter Philips, creative director of Dior Makeup. His task—to reimagine the visage of a “sun-kissed girl who’s been hiking in nature”—required skillful manipulation of his trove of powders, creams and brushes. “It’s a very natural, very raw look,” he said, pointing to the autumnal tones that rendered each model “fresh-faced without being tan.” On this warm evening, as guests and creatives alike awaited sunset—L.A.’s golden hour—Philips toned up the already-present earthy glow on face after face. Brick-hued lipstick applied under cheekbones gave faces a subtle, flushed glint. “It’s almost an athletic look, like you’ve been running,” he said. Brows and lashes were left almost bare, “a bit more Georgia O’Keeffe,” he added, an apt reference given that the iconic artist was known for navigating the wilds of her New Mexico ranch in a monochromatic wardrobe.

O’Keeffe was a through line for Chiuri (born and raised in Rome), who sought out nomadic, powerful female figures while sketching looks for the show. The Dior creative director, who formerly co-helmed Valentino, had a firsthand look at the painter’s work and personal wardrobe—recently on display at the Brooklyn Museum—as she designed the texture- and pigment-rich resort collection. Befitting the sudden temperature drops and windstorms characteristic of the American West, Chiuri even devised subtle midi-length coats that take cues from O’Keeffe’s austere, sometimes handmade multilayered wardrobe. Chiuri cited images of the artist in the Southwest desert, photographed by her partner, Alfred Stieglitz, as a source of inspiration in the show notes.

Milliner Stephen Jones, also on hand awaiting the Calabasas show’s start, arranged the Parson’s hats he designed (reminiscent of O’Keeffe’s earnest sun-blocker) with earth-toned bandanas worn underneath. To accommodate both toppers, hairstylist Guido Palau curled locks before weaving them into loose braids and wrapping the ends with bits of leather. Errant strands framed faces while the lengths remained secure. The pragmatic riff on a pre-Raphaelite mainstay proved to be a thoroughly modern upgrade for prairie plaits. 

Other nods to nature figured prominently on the Las Virgenes preserve as models dressed and the sun descended. Chiuri, who is particularly entranced by female shamans, created T-shirts printed with illustrations from writer Vicki Noble’s feminist tarot cards and skirts with rough animal shapes inspired by the Lascaux cave paintings (first replicated on fabric by Monsieur Christian Dior in a 1951 collection). Then, just as the warm tones of the evening sunset blanketed the hills, the show, a riot of rich tone-on-tone color, began. dior.com

This story originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of C Magazine.

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