Artist Isabella Ducrot’s installation, Big Aura, adorns the walls of the room hosting the presentation of the Dior haute couture collections in the Rodin Museum gardens. For the set design of this Dior haute couture spring-summer 2024 show, twenty-three oversized dresses, some five meters high, are arranged on a composition of irregular black stripes reminiscent of weft and warp. They echo the dresses of Ottoman sultans studied by Isabella Ducrot. An abstract symbolization of the garment, which emblemizes a power that transcends the body.
During her travels, Isabella Ducrot developed a particular interest in fabrics from China, India, Turkey and Central Asia, to the point of making them not only the object of her collection and study, but also of her personal artistic quest. Whether ancient and precious or contemporary and quite standard, the fabrics and cloth are the privileged matter with which the artist produces her works, the material quality of which oscillates between solidity and lightness, textile’s primary characteristics.
"My creative work goes hand in hand with the search for new fabric uses. Its aesthetic qualities continue to inspire me, as does its historical importance within human civilization. I have dedicated my work to textiles."
—Speech by Isabella Ducrot at the closing of the academic year at the Faculty of Women’s History, Institute of Philosophical Studies in Naples (2002)
For the staging of the Dior spring-summer 2024 haute couture collection, Isabella Ducrot has conceived a monumental installation entitled Big Aura, composed of twenty-three dresses – about five meters high – the dimensions of which are deliberately disproportionate to the body of an ordinary human.
The aura is that subtle field of luminous radiation, normally invisible and imperceptible, surrounding all living beings (humans, animals and plants) like a halo capable of reflecting the soul of the individual to whom the aura belongs. Gigantic in this case, it accompanies the oversized garments of these superhuman beings precisely to elevate the wearer to a semi-divine level, through its imposing and fascinating presence.
Isabella Ducrot recounts: "I remember the first time I saw the ceremonial garments of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire on display in the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul; I was deeply struck by their size, they were out of proportion and revealed the sovereign indifference of the court tailors: they had taken no account of the normal anatomy of the human being. It seemed to me that this excessive side, this disproportionate spatial exuberance was there to magnify and reflect the immense power of the sultans. And all this had been achieved without recourse to precious fabrics: no brocade, no pearls, no precious stones, just disproportionate dimensions. Unlike the proverb 'clothes don’t make the man', I was convinced the opposite was true: these exaggerated dimensions had ensured grandeur, dignity and sacredness for those who had worn them over the centuries, even when they had fallen from grace."
Constituting the installation’s support is a pattern of black lines on a white background, forming a kind of gigantic grid on which twenty-three dresses are placed. The use of this particular, intentionally irregular and imperfect square pattern, obtained using the ancient artisanal technique of block printing, bears the artist’s signature of sorts. She often uses this type of geometric pattern not only for aesthetic purposes, for the simple pleasure of getting lost in the weave of vertical and horizontal lines, but also with the political intention of honoring the checkered fabric, considered lowly in the history of Western fashion, mainly used and worn as it was by workers, such as farmers, pruners and masons, doing manual labor outdoors. When the squares were small, this fabric was used to make aprons and children’s clothing.
In her book La vita femminile, Isabella Ducrot writes on this subject: "Could it be because of its suggested rusticity that checked fabric has been confined to places of first necessity, such as the kitchen and bathroom, and kept away from spaces of representation where these necessities must be temporarily forgotten? A general or a lady is unlikely to wear a checkered garment to a ceremony, whereas checks abound where food is prepared, cooked and washed, where the most vulnerable are swaddled, cared for and covered. In fact, it’s women and children who most often wear checkered smocks and aprons."
In contrast with the elaboration of the most precious fabrics, squares do not hide the nakedness of the structure required for its existence; on the contrary, they exalt it, declaring in a striking manner that fabric is a conciliation between elements in extreme opposition. The square refers to warp and weft, the two elements that intersect and become the place of all possibilities. An artwork in itself celebrating the plurality of savoir-faire: embroidery, block printing and weaving. Carried out by the Chanakya ateliers and the Chanakya School of Craft, it spotlights exceptional textiles thanks to ancestral looms specially reassembled for the Dior spring-summer 2024 haute couture show.