The major luxury brands’ big cruise shows are for clients, and it’s no secret that this is where brands make an enormous amount of their money. They’re selling more than the clothes, however; they’re selling the lifestyle the clothes represent. To do that, they have to create an experience. And while editors, journalists and influencers are by no means the clients (though most may aspire to be), we are integral to the brands in helping create this exclusive experience. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the cruise shows for Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, my first such outing in my new reality as a fashion freelancer and aspiring influencer.
So, for seven days, one of the most coveted vacation destinations in the world became my playground, as editors, clients and influencers were whisked to Paris and the South of France. Instead of movie stars walking the red carpet, models walked the runways as we were treated to a whirlwind of meals, festivities and, of course, the main events: the shows themselves. Here, one lucky insider’s guide to the major cruise circuit.
I board my business-class flight to Paris. It’s 10 p.m. so I should probably get some sleep. Instead, I accept a Champagne and settle in to watch “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” How does Kate Hudson always get herself into these messes? A Mercedes S-Class is waiting for me at the airport, and a driver physically helps me into the car. At first, I’m offended that he thinks I need assistance, but by the time I pull up to the Hôtel de Crillon I wait patiently for him to help me out of my seat. How did I ever get out of a car on my own before?
I am whisked to the hotel restaurant, L’Écrin, for a lunch of salmon tartare, charcuterie, king crab and avocado and, yes, more Champagne. After, I am treated to a massage, which I follow with a light nap to sleep off the stress of the day. A mini fleet of Mercedes is once again lined up to take us to dinner at Chez Dior. You’ve never heard of it? That’s because Dior built it for one night only, below the stunning Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. I mingle with celebs like Paris Jackson and Alexandra Shipp, while artists paint our portraits (who knew watercolor was my color?) and Dior-clad waiters serve us hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. The next day, on the way to lunch on a boat docked on the Seine, I walk through the Tuileries where I’m inspired to try my hand at influencing (840 likes, 10,257 impressions). At lunch, I sit with Daria Strokous, model and Dior ambassador. I listen patiently while she bemoans the difficulties of age…she’s 25. (Instagram post: 1,365 views)
That evening, it’s on to the historic Chantilly stables, the oldest horse stables in Paris. It’s pouring rain, but this stops no one. The show opens with eight escaramuzas, a group of fierce Mexican women who ride side-saddle while wearing ensembles created by Maria Grazia Chiuri. The whole event is exceptional, and as Maria Grazia Chiuri takes her long runway walk in the rain, Bernard Arnault, the chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, stands in applause. Meanwhile, the muscular horses and riders take a bow as well. The after party is next door and, once again, the rain has stopped no one. We are indulged with mounds of parmesan, prosciutto and mozzarella and endless cocktails while we party late into the night. (Instagram story: 684 likes, 9,235 impressions)
The following morning, I board my flight to Cannes for Louis Vuitton, where I am shuttled off to the Majestic Hotel on the French Riviera. My key card comes in a Louis Vuitton-monogrammed cardholder, and inside the room is a cornucopia of Cannes necessities, including a mini-monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag and sunglasses. I meet Grace Coddington for lunch at the legendary Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes. Next to us, Sienna Miller dines on a club sandwich and fries while Laura Harrier takes in rays at the infinity pool. My cream T-shirt with navy stripes is the same as the waiters’, which I only realize when I’m asked for an Aperol spritz. I am unbothered; the waiters are young and gorgeous. I must look devastating.
The rain, our unwanted travel companion, has followed us south. But it turns out that Louis Vuitton has hired a secret weapon, a shaman, to sway the weather, and the main event will take place outdoors. I am dubious; they are not.
The show is held at the Fondation Maeght, the museum of modern art in the medieval town of Saint Paul de Vence, where editors and Vuitton clients mingle, drinking rosé and admiring sculptures by [Joan] Miró, [Alexander] Calder and [Alberto] Giacometti. Grace looks like the cat’s pajamas, literally; she wears a Louis Vuitton pair adorned with her own illustrations of her cat and Nicolas Ghesquière’s dog. Her outfit provides a peek at a collaboration by the two old friends. Guests make a fuss over Grace as she coyly pretends not to care for the attention. (Instagram post: 981 likes, 11,337 impressions)
The show is spectacular. Nicolas flexes his creative muscles and proves to everyone, following tepid reviews of his fall collection, that he’s still got it. (He signed his contract days earlier following much anticipation.) Just as the last model steps off the white gravel runway, the first drops of rain start, as if the clouds had been urging Nicolas to have his moment, or were perhaps just obeying the shaman’s commands. After-party-goers are treated to a dance party for the ages at the Cap-Eden-Roc. Mark Ronson takes to the decks as guests including Emma Stone, Justin Theroux and Miller dance uninhibited.
The next day we attend a farewell brunch. Kate Lanphear and I manage to sneak in a last-minute ride on a banana boat before our Louis Vuitton driver picks us up, hair still wet from the sea, to drop us off in Gordes for Gucci and the next leg of our adventure.
We arrive at the Hotel Les Bories, which is surrounded by lavender and cherry trees high in the hills of Gordes. The hotel is a spa, so we must decide whether to luxuriate or walk into town. We are aware enough to realize that we’ve done enough of the former and opt for the walk (and book a massage for the morning). I explore the petite town and spend 30 minutes creating a 10-second Instagram story, with the help of three fellow editors. For any eye rolls I might have made about this in the past, I take them back. Influencing is hard work. (Instagram story: 1,453 views)
The next day, we have another decadent lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Baumanière Hotel before returning to our rooms. At 5 p.m., our unwanted travel companion returns. The skies open, and thunder and lightning threaten to derail the open-air show. The Gucci p.r. team is unflappable. They promise us no rain with such authority that I believe them and let it slip from my mind. An hour before the show starts the clouds retreat, making way for the beginning of a beautiful sunset. A Gucci spokesman turns to me and says cheekily, “We don’t need a shaman. We have Alessandro Michele.” (Instagram story: 1,641 views)
The show is perhaps his best yet. A truly special moment in fashion, making you remember why you started in this business in the first place. (If I don’t have a Chateau Marmont sweatshirt for fall I will just die!) As if the show weren’t enough, the crowd is also treated to a mini concert by Sir Elton John. Sir Elton dedicates his first song, “Tiny Dancer,” to actress and guest Saoirse Ronan. I can only assume she had told him she loves the song, but if it is for her, no one can tell. Alessandro sits opposite the piano, facing Sir Elton, who beams a prideful smile. It’s as if we are just voyeurs of a private and special moment between two very good friends.
When Elton starts, my hand flies up instinctively, phone camera ready to capture the moment. On my screen my view of an icon singing his heart out is partially blocked by a bunch of other phones. I wish I could say I immediately put mine down, but I just have to maneuver to get that photo first. That finally done, I can sing along and enjoy a legend. I’m done influencing, at least for tonight. (Instagram story: 1,276 views)
Editor’s Note: Michael Carl was invited to attend the cruise shows at the expense of the brands and independent of WWD. In order to get an insider’s view of that phenomenon, WWD later commissioned Carl to write this article. WWD’s policy remains that it pays all transportation, accommodation and other expenses for its correspondents.