Anne Grosfilley on Dior’s revolutionary linkup with Uniwax and African printing
One of the key elements in Christian Dior’s Marrakech cruise show was the innovative use of wax printed fabrics in the collection. Dior’s designer Maria Grazia Chiuri first got the idea after reading Wax & Co, a brilliant history of the material written by Anne Grosfilley.
A doctor of anthropology, Grosfilley is a specialist in African textiles and fashions, and a noted curator. Grosfilley has published, among other works, African Wax Print Textiles (Edisud, 2004), Textiles d’Afrique, entre tradition et modernité (Point de vues, 2006), L'abécédaire du wax (Grandir, 2015), and Wax, 500 tissus (La Martinière, 2019), due out later this month.
Thanks to Grosfilley, Chiuri was able to connect with authentic wax printers in Africa. The pair travelled together to Abidjan, on the Ivory Coast, where the French author introduced the Italian designer to Jean-Louis Menudier and Uniwax, the only company that does wax printing with the traditional methods and using local African cotton.
Grosfilley’s work underlines the language of patterns in wax printing. Thanks to her, Dior was able to take its classical fabrics like toile de jouy into a new dimension. So, we caught up with Grosfilley for a discussion on this novel partnership between African and European designs and designers.
FashionNetwork.com: How did you become obsessed with African prints?
Anne Grosfilley: Personally, the starting point was realizing that this fabric was a global fabric. It has a unique origin at the end of the 19th century – involving Asia, Europe and Africa. A perfect starting point for an anthropologist to study the connection between cultures and how different cultures alternate and can mix together to become new elements of languages. Historically, it evolved from Indonesian batik techniques. That was the inspiration, which was brought to Europe and industrialized by Dutch merchants, before being then developed in Africa, where it became an element of local language.
FNW: In your book, Wax & Co, the prints seem remarkably diverse?
AG: Yes, they echo their own cultures. The patterns can vary from tabouret to tartan, alphabet, wild animal and indigo. Originally, the first fabrics were woven on cotton in Uganda and Central Africa, where they even used raffia. In fact, it was missionaries who brought the first sewing machines mid 19th century. The basic idea is often a top and wrapped skirt to cover legs and ankles. The Muslim style is more like tunic. In Ghana, they are more like a Roman toga!
FNW: What makes wax prints so special?
AG: They have such a peculiar history for a fabric, no? They began in Indonesia, were modernized in Holland and then received far more African influences in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
FNW: How did Uniwax react to this idea of working with Dior?
AG: I think they were tremendously flattered and grateful to use the prestige of a maison like Dior to let a light shine on their talents in textiles; and on African designers. It’s a dialogue between Dior’s heritage and their designs. An introduction to wax culture with a lot of freedom to combine both elements. Dior did not just provide work – they allowed Uniwax to display talents. Plus, there were many different collaborations and not just fabrics but also designers like Pathé'O. All the talents of Africa and of its crafts people are on display. It’s a very powerful message to say that Dior is not afraid to wok with Africa. Before Africa was essentially just a source of inspiration and design. What’s unique about Maria Grazia Chiuri is she is not trying to make an African-looking collection but to make a collection that celebrates the Dior style with African talents. It’s really amazing. From Marrakech, to West African printing; to beading with references to its role in the cultures of the Aruba in Nigeria; Masai in Tanzania and Zulus in South Africa. The whole of the Africa Continent is celebrated! And the whole continent will really feel proud about this link with Dior.
FNW: How did you first meet?
AG: Through my book. I have written many but Wax & Co was released in Italian. Maria Grazia liked that it was written by a woman and we met and clicked.
FNW: What did you enjoy most about working with Maria Grazia?
AG: She is an amazing lady, as she reads so much and listens a lot and hears different points of view – and that’s pretty rare for people to be so attentive. She’s a very sensitive person and creator! Using her talent and the great resources of Dior, she didn’t hesitate a single second to make something completely different!
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