Since 2016, Dior has been inviting artists from around the world to reimagine its Lady Dior bag through their own artistic lens.
For the sixth instalment of the Dior Lady Art programme, Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan’s vision for the bag pushes the boundaries of both art and fashion. AlDowayan explains how the collaborative process began with a single design and expanded from there.
“I am the type of person who likes to give options to myself and when I saw the design, I wondered: ‘Is this the bag that I truly wanted to make?’”
So she came up with another two designs and when she presented them to the Dior team, they welcomed them all, even though one was not even a Lady Dior. “It’s a testament to Dior and their openness to creative processes from artists,” she says.
The bags not only bear AlDowayan’s artworks from over the years, but also an imprint of her extremely detailed approach to her craft. One such nuance was the translation of the Dior letters into Arabic, something that had never been done before. AlDowayan had initially sent samples of the letters in classic calligraphic style, before deciding to change them to versions she had personally written, as she felt this would be closer to her vision.
The photography on the bags is deeply personal. The first bag, The Boys, depicts three young boys and a Land Cruiser set against a graffiti-emblazoned wall, a combination of two artworks she had created for collections in 2010 and 2016.
“My father had photographed these three boys in northern Saudi Arabia in 1962 before going off to study in the United States,” she says.
The images evoke nostalgia, documenting a young man bidding adieu to his country as he goes off to explore his dreams, while the car symbolises a pivotal moment of transformation in Saudi Arabia.
The second bag features an image from her Landscapes Of The Mind collection. This series of images captures the oil facilities near her home, but she “plants” palm trees in the oil tankers to remind us that while oil has radically transformed lives in Saudi Arabia, there is also a reality of how damaging fossil fuels are for the environment.
The bag contains other symbols representing transformation: two doves, for example, with birds being a recurring motif in her work. A short Arabic statement is stitched into the back of the bag, also taken from one of her artworks, and reads: “I live in the eye for the moment.”
“I felt it was very relevant vis-a-vis transformation, things we didn’t understand then and more today, whether it be the pandemic or the contemporary understanding of the effects of fossil fuels,” she says.
It is the third bag that most strongly embodies the meshing of art and function – a sculpted piece inspired by the forms of the desert rose crystal, which AlDowayan has been increasingly exploring in her art. This rare crystal forms in arid conditions following heavy rainfall, and AlDowayan had encountered it in her immediate surroundings since childhood.
“People historically believed that the rocks carried spirits that spoke to the desert traveller,” she says.
She perceives it as being very feminine, and loves its form and ephemeral quality, for it doesn’t last for long, dissolving within a few years.
“We had to figure out the medium we wanted to use,” she says about bringing her bag to reality. “I sent [the Dior team] crystals from Arabia, they scanned and 3D-printed them before casting them in gold metallic fibreglass with a bit of metal frame. It’s a new digital way of producing bags, unlike the old-school leather-making technique,” she says.
AlDowayan talks about how her four sisters helped her design the bags and encouraged her to take on the project; it became a bonding experience for them during the pandemic.
“We would meet once a week on Zoom to discuss the project and discuss every single detail about the bags,” she says. It would have otherwise been a lonely process while navigating the pandemic and lockdown in London.
“I enjoyed being taken out of my comfort zone as an artist, the challenge was unexpected and the result was absolutely unexpected,” she says. “When attending the Riyadh and Dubai launches, I saw that Saudi women were very emotional and excited to encounter the bags. Having imbibed these iconic brands their whole life, it was a proud and personal moment to see images by a designer from their country on a brand like Dior."