Christian Dior once joked that if his couture career floundered, he would venture into food. For a consummate gourmand who abided by the philosophy of extending one’s taste beyond what you wear to other areas in your life, the distinction between cuisinier and couturier does not seem that stark after all. Aspects that govern both disciplines, such as the nobility of raw ingredients or the dexterity of the hand, were one and the same for the eminent designer.
His twin obsessions have percolated through the House of Dior in myriad ways, leading the French maison to register a trademark for wine and spirits in 1956 and, in recent years, launch experiential eateries around the world that appeal to younger style mavens who prefer doing to owning. Extravagantly decorated pop-up Dior cafés, which are essentially cathedrals to the label, have become the easiest way to sample a sliver of the brand’s aesthetic and heritage without spending a fortune.
Malaysians had their chance when co-working space Colony Star Boulevard, including its sun-kissed rooftop overlooking a coveted Petronas Twin Towers view, was turned into a five-day showcase to honour the brand’s storied past while simultaneously promoting its future. The café’s interior seemed to echo Monsieur Dior’s botanical devotion, as lavish floral arrangements radiated their sweet colours against gold-accented walls while a scattering of lemons on the floor evoked the romance of an overgrown Mediterranean garden. These minutiae but meticulous details set the stage for the main agenda on display in another room — the Dior Cruise 2022 collection, dedicated to the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, Athena.
Lucky diners, who managed to snag a spot before reservations were all snatched up within an hour after the news broke, set sail on a culinary voyage curated by Beta KL’s chef Raymond Tham before viewing the collection. Referencing the interwoven link between food and fashion, Tham balanced the practical with the decadent, and traversed far from the safety of the familiar. The small pleasure of watching a golden yolk spill out under our knife never grows old, but here, the elevated breakfast staple was perched on a nest of kataifi pastry, showered with shavings of autumn truffles. If Monsieur Dior’s soufflé-like Poached Eggs Fürstenberg (from his cookbook La Cuisine Cousu-Main) is a temperamental dish that requires the delicate finesse of a harp player, Tham’s version struck a distinctive note with a delicious gush of earthy flavours.
Crafting an all-encompassing menu that catered to a crowd that sashayed into the premises at different times of the day was a challenge for Tham, who mainly advocates local ingredients at his Malaysian-leaning restaurant. But inspiration struck when he read up on Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s vision behind the cruise collection.
“Madame Maria was rearranging the furniture in her Paris apartment on a whim during lockdown to make space for her sports equipment. The idea of walking around her building gave her a sense of moving her body. Clothes, similar to sports, are a way of giving freedom to movement. I wanted the same liberating sensation to permeate the dishes I put out,” he said while quoting the brand’s ethos, which has long thrived on smashing the stereotypes and totalitarianism of couture.
Like Dior, Tham delights in subversion, but not without leaving crumbs of fashion nods in his menu. Spheres of translucent lime jelly, which juxtaposed against firm slices of Hokkaido scallop with caviar, were emblematic of the collection’s sheer blouse crafted in white silk organza or the iridescence of a loosely draped Peplos dress. Particularly striking too, was the Pain de Gênes dessert crowned with a Greek coffee cream quenelle and supersized chocolate circle that resembled an outré beach hat. Surrounded by the sound of clinking champagne glasses, the perfume of citrus oil wafting from the dishes, and bouquets of olive branches dotting each table, the café conjured up a bucolic fantasy that abuts the sea, away from modern quandaries and urgent agendas.
Having said that, nothing spurs travellers in search of that idyllic Mediterranean getaway they have been yearning for than donning the clothes that will put them in a vacation mood. Customers need not dine at the Dior Café to visit the showcase, bedecked in imported furniture and cavernous changing rooms with personalised fitting service. A gilded pathway opened up to the display of the house’s signature codes, in which gold dialogues with white; functionality with comfort; and long pleats with loud prints. Notions of feminism have always been a point of convergence for Chiuri’s designs — the unconstructed and voluminous silhouettes in this collection, which deliver a sartorial manifestation of freedom, convey that women can live and create freely as they choose.
It would be remiss to discuss this collection without mentioning Chiuri’s ultimate muse: The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. Just as how this iconic monument unified sports and culture in the 4th century, the creative bigwig behind Dior deftly bridged the spirit of sportswear with couture-informed craftsmanship. Drawstrings, zips and hoods were grafted onto garments to punctuate an otherwise prosaic jumpsuit or jacket while oversized ensembles fan our desires to include sporty cuts into our everyday wardrobe. Dior’s gravitational pull in the accessories department will also make you fall hard for its eye-catching weekender bag in cannage motif and lace-up leather sneakers with metallic highlights.
As noteworthy as Dior Café and other establishments that have diversified into food are, there could be a more salient commercial reason behind this strategic move: dwell time. More luxury brands are turning to hospitality spaces and industry crossovers in the hope that customers will stay longer and develop deeper brand connections. An adjoining eatery is a conduit for fashion success as it softens the rigidity of a big-box store, making it less about shopping and more about experiencing a bespoke service that cannot be replicated.
In an era when memories — both the ones you biologically own and those you pay for — are valuable commodities, consumers will only continue to seek indelible multi-sensory exclusivity and distance themselves from walking into yet another bricks and mortar advert. The unlikely alliance between food and fashion extends well beyond its catchy alliteration: They tell a story, connect the consumer to artisan and tradition and, most enjoyably, linger in the imagination.
This article first appeared on Nov 29, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.