Haute Tarot

How the House of Dior made Tarot a fashion icon

To be honest — I did not see this coming.

And that’s because I failed to notice when the Dior/Tarot convergence got started in 2016. And as turns out, much has happened since.

But let’s start with a genuine milestone in Tarot history: the 2018 resort collection, in which Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri collaborated with Tarot legend Vicki Noble, co-creator of the pathbreaking Motherpeace Tarot.

Here’s how the New York Times led off the story on October 26, 2017:

Vicki Noble, who with Karen Vogel created the Motherpeace Tarot Deck in the late 1970s, hasn’t really kept up with the latest happenings in the community of divinatory playing cards. But when Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Christian Dior, called and said she wanted to incorporate the Motherpeace into a fashion line, she and Ms. Vogel agreed. Both felt that it could breathe new life into their 40-year-old deck.

And it did! According to U. S. Games, sales of the Motherpeace deck increased by more than 250% in the months after its distinctive designs were featured in a Dior collection. You can read more about the show in this Vogue story — and better still, you can visit Vicki Noble’s own journal of the “Dior Adventure.”

If you’d like more context around the Motherpeace deck and its unique place in Tarot history, catch up at Transforming Tarot: “A New Revolution.” And if you’d like to see what this pathbreaking deck looks like — here’s a glimpse:

Not only were the round cards a provocative variation on traditional Tarot, the imagery introduced a new, multicultural vision of the Tarot archetypes. And the accompanying book — originally subtitled A Way to the Goddess through Myth, Art, and Tarot — laid out a feminist interpretation that differed significantly from the historically male-dominated approach to Tarot history and interpretation.

It turns out that Chiuri’s Tarot-inspired fashion designs are something of a homage to founder Christian Dior’s well-known interest in esoteric ideas, and the Motherpeace collection is not her only venture into haute Tarot. In fact, the Spring 2021 show was themed “Le Château du Tarot” — and you can see the luxurious designs in this surprisingly substantive Harper’s Bazaar article.

As explained there, the collection was presented in a short film shot at the Castello di Sammezzano in Tuscany . . . .

It begins with a young woman sitting for a tarot reading in a classic Dior Bar Jacket, before taking a voyage of the mind through the arabesque halls of a Moorish Revival palazzo. There, she encounters characters drawn from the deck, brought to life via majestic Dior couture outfits.

She meets Justice, The Fool, The Moon, The Hierophant, and Death — who wears a periwinkle-blue sequined dress with a chain-mail veil — along with The Devil, who according to Chiuri “represents seduction in some way, actions that could be dangerous to your life.”

The dream-like story has a happy ending, of course. “She’s just a little bit confused,” Chiuri explains. “But then, she finds the right balance for life.”

Does all this trivialize Tarot? That’s an interesting question.

My first thought is that the earliest Tarot cards we have were created to be deliberately artistic, and to please the nobility — just as these Dior fashions are created for wealthy connoisseurs who want to wear something artful. So I count that as “full circle.”

My second thought is that the history of Tarot has always been shaped by creative impulses. Sometimes fanciful, sometimes intellectual, sometimes artful, but always off the beaten track. Why not add experiments in fashion to the mix?

Finally — printed Tarots were widely popular in the 18th century. We don’t exactly know why, but we do know that various artists competed to produce the most appealing designs. And centuries later, there are literally hundreds of Tarot decks created every year by artists and illustrators who have found inspiration in the images.

So today, I’m looking at the Dior collections as three-dimensional, moving, wearable Tarot art. I just wish they had done a whole deck!