In September 1995, France’s First Lady, Bernadette Chirac, gifted a bag to Princess Diana. Made by French fashion house Dior, the top-handle bag in black patent leather became such a favourite of the Princess of Wales that she ordered more versions of it in different colours, including one in navy blue to match her eyes.
In a string of appearances that followed, Princess Diana, the world’s most photographed woman at the time, stayed faithful to the Dior design, pairing it with an orange skirt suit in Liverpool, a powder pink shift dress in Buenos Aires and a midnight blue slip dress at the Met Gala, all but cementing the bag’s stratospheric rise to fashion’s hall of fame. The bag was christened the Lady Dior, in honour of the woman who birthed an icon.
Coveted to this day for its eternally elegant design, the Lady Dior carries the integral codes of the maison, from the signature Cannage topstitching inspired by the Napoleon III chairs on which Christian Dior seated guests at his shows to the hardware charms that spell out D-I-O-R, evoking the lucky charms so beloved by Monsieur Dior himself.
What has made the bag so everlasting is undoubtedly the couture spirit of its construction. Composed of 144 pieces in total, the bag is made entirely by hand, with expert artisans meticulously selecting the leathers, marking off any imperfections with a fingertip, assembling the manually cut pieces around a wooden form made in exact proportions to ensure a perfect shape and sewing it all together with razor-sharp precision, finishing off with the charms, also shaped by hand, and other metal elements.
This month, experience the handbag in a whole new light with a dedicated pop-up store at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, in a space designed in the shape of an XXL version of the Lady D-Lite, a contemporary update of the Lady Dior created by creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri in 2019. An extensive range of the bags will be on display, including the micro versions in punchy yellow and orange, as seen on the Spring/Summer ’22 runway. There is also an animation room, where visitors can interact on a touchscreen to digitally customise the Lady Dior, which can become a reality with the ABCDior personalisation service.
Also housed in the pop-up store is Dior’s travelling art exhibition, Lady Dior As Seen By. Collaborating with a host of major contemporary artists from all over the world, Dior offers up the Lady Dior as a canvas and artists have been deconstructing, reinventing and transforming the bag into veritable works of art since the exhibition first debuted in 2011 in Shanghai. It has now grown into a collection of more than 150 works, traversing the globe and finally landing on our shores.
Art is deeply rooted in Dior’s heritage, and it was a love affair that began even before the brand’s conception. Before Christian Dior became the legendary couturier that the world remembers him as, he was a gallerist who displayed artworks by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. Dior came to fashion via painting and art, so evident in the way he expressed lines and chose colours for his creations the way a painter would.
The house’s designers have consistently paid homage to Dior’s passion for art, from Raf Simons reproducing the abstract paintings of Sterling Ruby on the haute couture dresses from his debut Dior collection in July 2012 to Chiuri initiating the Dior Lady Art project in 2016 resulting in artist-designed handbags — works of art that you can actually buy and wear.
With these creative dialogues perpetuated by the house, we speak to Nini Ramlan, a celebrated local artist who was invited to the Lady Dior pop-up store preview, to get a perspective from the other side. “I love fashion and art collaborations because they give us [the artists] a reason to express ourselves differently,” Nini says. “In such collaborations, the artist will be challenged to create something that is out of their normal practice or a version of their ideas onto the fashion object. The results are usually pretty unique and the stories that are rendered can help expose the artist or the fashion to very different audiences.”
As for Nini’s favourite pieces from the exhibition, she says, “I love Kenny Dunkan’s whimsical take on the Lady Dior bag called Do You Believe in Lucky Charms, where he packs the bag full of Eiffel Tower charms. It is quite a strong play on people’s belief systems and values. I was also captivated by the paper sculpture called The Wandaful Bag by Wanda. The construction is exquisite and it invites me to reflect on the structural beauty of the Lady Dior bag itself as I pause with it and appreciate the precision and care taken to create the piece.”
Whether you want to see these works of art up close or walk away with the inspiration behind them on your arm, head over to the Lady Dior pop-up store to discover this style icon for yourself.
This article first appeared on Mar 7, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.