An Artist’s Fierce Exoskeleton Warriors Storm Dior’s Runway

The Mumbai-based artist Shakuntala Kulkarni made a resounding and powerful feminist statement with her scenography for Dior's Fall 2024 show.

Shakuntala Kulkami's sculptures served as the backdrop for Dior's Fall 2024 collection. Photo: Adrien Dirand. Courtesy of Dior.

Fashion can be a battlefield. Since her appointment as Dior Creative Director eight years ago, Maria Grazia Chiuri has made each runway presentation just as much about clarion feminist messaging as it is about fashion. For Tuesday’s Fall 2024 show, the catwalk was punctuated with Mumbai-based multimedia artist Shakuntala Kulkarni’s wearable sculptures of mighty warrior women. Models navigated around the nine austere and foreboding exoskeleton sentries built from cane.

An empty stage depicts three sculptures and a mural depicting female warriors.

Shakuntala Kulkami’s scenography pre-show. Photo: Adrien Dirand. Courtesy of Dior.

“My main concern for the last couple of years have been body politics,” said Kulkarni before the show. “How do you look at the female body?” The sculptures seen on the Dior runway originated as part of a 2012 series called “Of Bodies, Armour and Cages.” Like fashion, armor serves to protect as well as restrict, Kulkarni explained. “I did it as a metaphor,” she said. “It’s protecting the body, but at the same time trapping the body.”

A mural depicts a group of marching female warriors wearing helmets.

An installation view of one of Shakuntala Kulkami’s backdrop murals. Photo: Adrien Dirand. Courtesy of Dior.

Kulkarni further fleshed out the event space with dramatic murals on canvas. In an artist’s statement, she explained: “My work has been an enquiry into the lives of urban women and their spaces, like the home, work, cultural and social spaces within society, which is essentially patriarchal.”

Marching in step with these feminist artworks, Chiurri sent out her own fierce foot soldiers to a syncopated drumbeat. “Miss Dior” was printed on some of the garments, in the style of the fat marker graffiti scrawl often seen on protest signs, but it was a double-sided reference.

Models walk in Dior's fall 2024 show wearing camel -colored outfits and leopard print outerwear.

Three looks from Fall 2024. Courtesy of Dior.

Miss Dior refers to Catherine Dior, the sister of the fashion house’s founder Christian Dior, and a French resistance fighter during World War II. After the war, she became a flower grower in Provence, and her brother is believed to have named the brand’s famous perfume after her.

The archival hand-drawn script on this season’s line also references Dior’s short-lived 1967 ready-to-wear boutique from the Marc Bohan-era, an ahead-of-its-time moment of off-the-rack liberation in the age of couture. Chiuri channeled this sense of upheaval and passion with wearable but regal neutral tones, punctuated by pops of ferocious leopard-patterned outerwear and glittering evening dresses. A demand for reform never looked so good.

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