A lone figure emerges from the dunes of Giza, the dark outline of the pyramids imprinted behind him in the Egyptian night. As he crosses the landscape, each ancient edifice illuminates: first the smaller three, and then the larger tombs of the pharaohs burst into LED lights. A procession of figures follows, the line arcing around to an awed crowd of luminaries from the fashion world to the drumbeat of techno music.
This was "Guided by the Stars," Dior's presentation of its Fall Men's 2023 collection in December. It was a spectacle by design: the last surviving Wonder of the Ancient World, the Pyramid of Khufu, floating above a line deeply inspired by futurism. The models, swathed in flowing grays with pops of sunset fire, seem to have been transported from a Dune-esque planet. Celestial coats, reflective visors, and what appeared to be oxygen masks enhanced the sci-fi surrealism. Stars of the human variety also gazed from the assembly: Robert Pattinson, Cha Eun-woo, Daniel Kaluuya, an ageless Naomi Campbell. This visual link between past, present, and future was of course the intent from Kim Jones, Dior Men's creative director.
"My interest in ancient Egypt is about the stars and the sky. It's that fascination with the ancient world and the parallels with what we look at today; what we inherited from them and what we are still learning from the past," Jones says. "In both the collection and the show there is an idea of 'guided by the stars' and what that can entail in many ways. It's about how the past shapes the future or an idea of the future from the past."
And 2022 was a historic year for the House of Dior, which marked its 75th anniversary. The label itself had a mystic founding, which occurred when Christian Dior, a believer in astrology, tripped over his "lucky star," an object on Paris's Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. He took the stumble as a sign to launch a house of haute couture, which reoriented the fashion world toward Paris after World War II and is now one of the glowing gems in LVMH's diadem.
The genealogy of this legacy was imprinted in the Fall Men's collection. A wool demi-kilt traces its ancestry to a '50s dress dubbed Bonne Fortune, a clear example that the "traditional" lines between gender in fashion are blurring. But rather than a piece that seems a la mode, however, the backdrop of ancient Egypt recalls that in the vast history of human events, men too wore dresses.
To wit, a visit to the nearby Egyptian Museum, where the golden accessories of King Tutankhamun gleam on display, as well as the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which shows the kohl eye makeup tools employed by men and women alike, further underscored that it is the modern-day sartorial division between the sexes that is the aberration. Not to be upstaged by the pharaohs, the Dior male models were treated to their own "luminous" makeup routine from the brand's Capture Totale skincare line, reports Dior Makeup's creative and image director, Peter Philips. Their eyebrows were "disciplined" with the Diorshow On Set Brow gel, and in some cases, bleached.
Beyond the clouding of gender, the earliest depictions of same-sex love can also be traced to ancient Egypt. Notably, two hieroglyphic illustrations of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, royal manicurists from the 25th century B.C., show the pair embracing and touching noses, an act akin to a romantic kiss. (Viewers of Bros will remember this couple, as Billy Eichner's character Bobby, the founder of an LGBTQ+ history museum, cites to them as a prime example of queer love's immortality.)
Of course, being queer in Egypt today is much more complicated. LGBTQ+ Egyptians face societal stigma and legal threats from morality laws, which could result in deportation or imprisonment. This has made Dior's staging of the show in Giza a point of contention among some LGBTQ+ critics. Is it tone-deaf for a (very) queer-inclusive company to showcase a gender-defying collection there? A veiled act of protest? Whatever the intent, Egypt must reckon with the cultural impact of courting global tourism and gatherings like the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference and the Cairo International Film Festival, both held just prior to the Dior show.
Humans must all reckon with the past, which as Kim noted shapes the future. The pyramids, the love of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, the stumble on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore: Here we are today, mortals contemplating eternity, guided by their stars.