pomp and circumstance at Blenheim palace, while the search for a designer continues

Christian Dior's 2017 Cruise collection, shown at Blenheim Palace (Getty)

After a jaunt to Rio de Janeiro for Louis Vuitton’s 2017 Cruise show, the international fashion press were brought to Blighty, under appropriately Dior-grey skies, for that august label’s latest outing. Cruise, or resort, is the name affixed to the current season underway, a relative newcomer to the catwalk calendar that sits between autumn/winter and spring/summer. It came across those monikers for the simple reason that it drops into stores around November, when the suitably well-dressed and deep-pocketed are thinking not of winter coats but of winter coasts for December vacations. The travel theme has stuck with many designers’ interpretations – never mind the fact these interim collections now account for 60 per cent or more of labels’ incomes, making these clothes a bedrock of designer fashion brands today.

The commercial reality of the importance of Cruise explains why houses – such as Dior – are lavishing money on the presentation of these lines. Vuitton flew press to Rio, Dior to London, renting suites at the Ritz (for favoured clients) and chartering the Orient Express (unofficially renamed the ”Dior Express”) to ferry 600 of said clients and a smattering of press to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. It was picturesque – the same way Vuitton organised helicopter rides over Rio and trips to the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain. It’s odd when you’re from the locale, of course, to see it used as the backdrop to a high-octane, higher-cost fashion spectacle.

That’s especially odd for Dior, too, given the current status of the house. Following the departure of creative director Raf Simons last October, Dior has been relying on a design team headed by two former assistants to the latter, Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier. Yet this show was staged with the pomp, circumstance and budget characteristic of Dior. Perhaps that was the message: that the might of Dior outstrips the impact of any singular designer? And that the history of the house not only deserves, but perhaps necessitates shows on such a grand scale. Back in 1949, Dior counted for 75 per cent of France’s fashion exports, and 5 per cent of all exports, full stop. Today, its annual revenues total around £3.8 billion.

Before the Dior show, guests milled around an exhibition of dresses – Dior’s 1954 “H” line (he had an affinity for alphabetised fashion – he also pioneered the “Y” and “A” lines). He presented that show to Princess Margaret at Blenheim the same year; in 1958, following Dior’s untimely death, his successor Yves Saint Laurent showed another collection here. That’s the grounding for Dior’s cruise excursion – beside the fact they were opening a shop, the largest outside of Paris, where you can buy pale rose-pink tumblers for £130 and pale rose-pink mink coats, for a pre-teen girl, for £12,500.

A hunting-scene Jacquard from the Dior 2017 Cruise collection (Getty)
A hunting-scene Jacquard from the Dior 2017 Cruise collection (Getty)

The clothes presented by Dior, lead by Ruffieux and Meier’s team, were fine. Inspired by interwar English eccentrics, they had swags of drapery across the hips and scribbled embroidery, both of which were reminiscent of the work of Elsa Schiaparelli. Her broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped silhouette was the antithesis of Dior’s fecund, hourglass-waist New Look – in fact the popularity of that look in part sent Schiap out of business the same year Dior staged his triumphal show at Blenheim. The inspiration generally for these clothes was travel – the wanderlust of that eccentric Englishwoman, layering clothes influenced by the various locales they cruise through (geddit?).

Pulled apart, the pieces were good – ruched thirties-ish tea dresses dribbled with sequins, jackets knotted closed with slim foulard scarves drawn through eyelets, others with those puckered Schiaparelli hips layered over slender trousers. There were a few Asiatic prints and other fusing chintzy florals with figures from a traditional English hunting scene, like those painted by Stubbs. That ran riot across a few jacquard knits, and served to carpet the entire 183-foot floor of Blenheim’s famously long library. There were lots of the all-important bags and shoes too, tricked out with sparkles and gold heels and a revival of Dior’s logo canvas, in case you forgot which house you were at, though it was all, unmistakably, in the vein of Simons, with a hint of current trends of current designers (JW Anderson has recently puffed sleeves like these, for instance; Phoebe Philo cuts her Céline trousers similarly short with the same kick in the hem).

This show offered plenty to buy, but not a new vision to buy into – which is what the fashion press are longing for, even if clients purchasing the clothes don’t seem quite so fussed. It also underlines the unenviable, possibly unassailable position of Meier and Ruffieux, to steer Dior’s ship safely, but in circles, until a new creative director is appointed. Meaning this cruise looked like it took hard work, but didn’t take us to waters fresh.

A logo canvas handbag by Christian Dior, Cruise 2017 (Getty)
A logo canvas handbag by Christian Dior, Cruise 2017 (Getty)

Regarding the all-important and ever-imminent new Dior designer, the leading names plumped for the roles are Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen and Maria Grazia Chiuri, one half of the winning team currently heading the Valentino label – if either are appointed, they will be the first woman to ever head Dior, as the house reaches the all-important anniversary of its first spring/summer 1947 collection, the aforementioned New Look. Rumour has it that an appointment will be announced in days. Then again, similar rumours – around those names, and others – have been voiced since Simons’ departure (and, in some quarters, even before), with deadlines for said announcements coming and going.

So Dior is on cruise control. Waiting for someone to captain, and make it look new once more.

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