Transporting: It’s the ultimate ambition of a great fashion show — to make the audience dream and carry them all to heights of fantasy.
For the cruise megaproductions mounted by Europe’s biggest luxury brands, transport often gets them at least halfway there. Over the past months, editors, clients and VIPs boarded planes, trains and automobiles to travel to Cuba, Brazil and England to witness fashion spectacles that rarely fail to impress, occasionally flirting with historical significance.
Consider Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel, pioneers in itinerant fashion, which arrived in Havana just as the isolated, frozen-in-the-Fifties island nation is opening up to the world, its May 3 show coinciding with the arrival of the first American cruise ship in decades. The open-air event not only dazzled guests, but attracted the attention of many mainstream TV networks — and hundreds of locals.
“Since I put cruise on the road, they all feel they have to do it,” Lagerfeld says of his competitors. He and Chanel have ventured to Singapore, Saint-Tropez and Dubai for cruise — not forgetting the Métiers d’Art collections for pre-fall that have been unveiled in such places as Salzburg, Edinburgh and Shanghai.
Fashion brands are learning that such events, scheduled outside of crammed fashion weeks, garner fuller attention, generate more online impressions — and allow them to spin narratives and create compelling content around the collection, and for social media channels.
To be sure, itinerant cruise shows represent a colossal riposte to the see-now-buy-now juggernaut.
So says Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Vuitton, whose women’s designer Nicolas Ghesquière chose the groovy, otherworldly Niterói Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Niemeyer in Rio as a backdrop.
Eighteen months in the making, showcasing clothes that hang in the stores from November to June, cruise represents Vuitton’s largest and most important delivery, which is why it flew in 300 of its best clients, a sizable international press contingent and celebrities including Alicia Vikander, Catherine Deneuve and Jaden Smith.
“We try to slow down the clock in this day when everything is speeding up,” Burke says. “Instead of seeing 12 shows a day, you see one show and you get to enter into the whole story.”
The executive explains that people now rely on smartphones and other devices to remember phone numbers and record experiences. “We’ve outsourced our memory to the cloud,” he says. “These moments conquer that. These moments allow you to create memories. It happens when you have a conjunction of time, place and vision.”
Ghesquière, who favors midcentury architectural marvels as a cruise venue, concurs.
“I think people love to see the clothes in a different context than a fashion show, as there are so many fashion shows,” he says. “When we travel, we integrate the landscape of the country we are visiting and I think it’s quite strong.”
Beyond a compelling communication tool, such shows become a “cultural event” in the destination, he adds.
Dior’s cruise showing at Blenheim Palace, amid the green and pleasant land of Oxfordshire, dotted with sheep, was a mega-homecoming the French house embellished with a slew of side events.
The late founder had shown there in 1954; his successor Yves Saint Laurent in 1958, and the present fashion flock was duly impressed to arrive at the monumental country residence, one of the biggest in England. The journey alone was indulgent and unforgettable as Dior privatized an Orient Express train, decked it out in branding and served wild Scottish salmon, chicken drenched in mushroom cream and blackberry-apricot crumble to the likes of Kate Mara, Riley Keough and Emma Roberts. Ruinart flowed as freely as the rain fell.
The wining and dining had started the night before as Dior re-branded the Audley pub in London’s Mayfair with the image of an elegant lady in all her New Look splendor raising a pint of beer. Mirrors, coasters and the bunting over the bar all bore the humorous Lady Dior logo, as did the muscled arms of the waiters who were serving trays of Champagne.
Next stop was a tour of Dior’s art-stuffed new flagship on New Bond Street. It shelters a slew of exclusive home wares and Lady Dior bags reimagined by Marc Quinn, one of those buzzy Young British Artists.
Ceo Sidney Toledano notes that the company accelerated renovations of the four-story boutique so the palatial store, its biggest in Europe, could open in tandem with the cruise event, which sprawled over three days and ended with a farewell brunch at the Chiltern Firehouse.
Gucci’s coup was to win permission from Westminster Abbey, one of the holiest places in Britain, to parade Alessandro Michele’s collection under the stone arches of the cloisters, the audience seated on embroidered pillows to protect their pampered bottoms from the chilly stone pews.
Alexa Chung says she was smitten not only with the choir music, “but especially that naughty feeling of doing something you shouldn’t be: Being in a church, but being there for fun. It was kind of like gossiping in the chapel at school.”
Michele filled his runway with a cast of eccentric English characters, from punks in studded jeans jackets to frumpy church ladies with headscarves toting boxy purses in the crooks of their arms.
Later, Michele and company let their hair down at the after party, staged in an 18th-century mansion on Piccadilly with a performance by Annie Lennox and a host of DJs.
Gucci president and ceo Marco Bizzarri says itinerant cruise spectacle helps the brand amplify its new design direction, with Michele scarcely 18 months into the job and having made a U-turn from its jet-set, Capri sensibility to unhinged eccentricity and androgyny.
“We wanted the cruise show to keep maintaining the momentum and to keep communicating what we are doing,” he says. “At the beginning of change, the more you communicate the different position and the different aesthetic, the better it’s going to be because you’re shortening the period in which the consumer understands what you’re doing.”
Who knew long trips could be a shortcut?