In my early thirties, I bought my first pair of Dior pumps. I remember clearly trying on the pair at Saks Fifth Avenue on 5th avenue in New York comparing them with another well-known brand. As I looked in the mirror, an astute sales person passed me by and said, “Dior darling. Get the Dior”. And so I did, and I wear that pair of silver stilettos with gold tips to any big interview or event because they are indeed magical.
Cut to years later, when having a shopping adventure in Paris, I landed on a pair of black embellished espadrilles. After my purchase I found that the box was sprayed with a subtle scent that travelled home and stayed with the shoe box years later. Between those two events, it really solidified for me that Dior was not just a designer brand, but an experience.
And what an experience indeed. While, I have had the experience of owning a few pairs of shoes, I have yet to purchase a bag. The Lady Dior handbag is the House’s iconic treasure. From the Cannage topstitching (a nod to the seats of the first runway show in 1947), the ‘D.I.O.R.’ charm and structured silhouette in lambskin leather, the design has been refurbished each season, with the help from the Creative Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
To help bring modern art to high fashion, for the last 5 years, the House of Dior has opened their doors to 10 contemporary worldwide artists. Along with Dior artisans, these artists are given free rein to reinterpret the iconic bag using their own mediums creating exclusive limited-edition pieces. One of these artists is Johannesburg’s 26-year-old Chris Soal.
Soal’s medium is abstract sculptural mode, taking common everyday materials and giving them a new life beyond their usual purpose. “My practice stems from daily lived experience. Attentiveness is a cornerstone for trying to make sense of the world around me. I follow my intrigues and try my best to notice what I fiddle with, in many cases literally,” says Chris.
Dior meets Soal’s artistic vision in his use of toothpicks and beer bottle caps, elevating the Lady Dior bag into true works of art. “While I draw many inspirations from objects, forms and situations in my environment, I have noticed that many of my works are born from other works, Chris explains. To that point, Soal’s earlier works like, Lament (We thought the good times would never end), 2019 and ISeeYouSeeMeSeeYou (2017), among others use the same each medium over a larger scale.
“I first began working with the bent beer bottle cap when noticing how I would fidget and bend the work while having a drink a social setting. The bent cap with the “Teeth” facing inwards suggested to me a cowrie shell, which has significance culturally, economically and spiritually in much of Africa and across numerous cultures globally.”
For two of his Lady Dior bags, Chris covered them with bent beer bottle caps, a nod to the use of early currency. Each cap also has a subtle “Dior” engraved on it. The stunning caps reflect the light, almost mimicking the use of embellished sequins. Tying the use of bottle caps with the functionality of a bag, Soal even replaces the “O” hanging Charm with a bottle opener.
Each Lady Dior bag is handcrafted; from choosing the leather, to the stitching involved and the hand shaping on the wooden form. To bring his unique vision to life, Chris worked intimately with the Dior Leatherworking atelier to hand paint, sew and assemble each limited-edition piece. Only 100 of each bag are available globally with a price tag equivalent to a fine piece of art.
Curious to see more of Chris Soal’s work? He recently launched his first solo show at WhatIfTheWorld gallery in Cape Town, As below So Above which will be running until April 2021. Chris will also be unveiling a large-scale sculpture at NIROX, an outdoor sculpture park 45 minutes outside of Johannesburg, in Spring 2021.