CANNES, France — With shape one of the essential ingredients of fashion, Raf Simons and Dior sent home an unforgettable message for the cruise 2016 season, parading an architectural, yet frothy collection at Pierre Cardin’s otherworldly Bubble Palace, whose interlocking spheres cling to the rocky hills above the Bay of Cannes.
In the latest itinerant fashion spectacle, Dior staged a trio of shows at the sprawling home, with models parading in front of the house’s reddish-brown protrusions wearing checked neo-Bar suits, smock dresses and knitted rompers.
“Look at this view. The most amazing place in the south of France,” Simons said during a terrace preview as water trickled over red marble infinity pools, and now and then a camera-equipped drone bobbed into view.
The designer said he poured the legacy of the south of France — a magnet for artists, the jet set and the film elite since the Twenties — into this perky collection, not forgetting the holiday spirit of the place. Flat, sock-lined booties and leather flip-flops gave everything a casual ease, as did a breeze wafting through the models’ hair as they negotiated around pools and through reception rooms flooded with natural light via portholes.
The Belgian designer first learned about the Bubble Palace when he was a student of industrial design, struck by its unusual, organic shape — all curves in a sea of boxy holiday homes.
“I find this architecture exceptional,” Simons said. “I find it very young, feminine and playful.”
One could say the same about his cruise lineup, full of kilts and gingham shorts that were a flirty foil to sculpted jackets with curving sleeves and pleated, peplum waists. More straightforward summer fare included sleek tennis dresses and cropped sailor pants paired with Lurex-striped tops.
Dior’s choice of venue telegraphed Simons’ modernist leanings, and nods to an historic link: Cardin, who purchased the palace in 1992, worked beside founder Christian Dior from 1946, in the very tailoring department that spawned the iconic Bar jacket, an integral part of the New Look that debuted on Feb. 12, 1947.
Conceived by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag, the house is prized for its Space-Age appearance and vistas of the famous Cote d’Azur. The fantastical, cave-like structure sprawls over about 12,900 square feet, 21,500 square feet if one counts the walkways. The reception room can seat 350 – on marble topped Perspex cylinders for the Dior event.
“Round shapes have always inspired me; cellular forms have for years seemed to me the physical expression of my ideal environment,” Cardin mused in a 2012 Assouline coffee table book about the house, to which he added an 500-seat amphitheater, in circular formation, of course.
For his cruise collection, Simons said he refreshed the founder’s legacy of architectural shapes — from the pinch-waisted, fan-skirted New Look that catapulted his international notoriety — by employing loads of mesh fabrics, tight pleats and homespun details, including crocheted flowers that lapped from the hems of mesh mini skirts.
“We tried to make it very, very light, and much younger, and therefore also more futurist and modernist,” he said, squinting into the azure waters sparkling below him.
The region’s seascapes and sun-kissed, natural colors all found their way into the collection, as did fur — cut into strips and knit into the mesh of slinky dance dresses — along with Simons’ first bias-cut gowns, which stood out in their plainness (but for the one on Julia Nobis, which had the word “Paradise” written in script up the spine). There were also cocktail dresses and knit rompers nearly as skimpy as swimsuits, reflecting that the French Riviera “became a very glamorous environment,” Simons noted.
“This is fabulous, and we feel like we’re in a James Bond movie,” said Jasmina Denner of Greenwich, Conn., one of more than 250 Dior clients who attended an afternoon showing, many of them shielding their eyes behind trendy Dior So Real mirrored sunglasses.
With actresses Marion Cotillard, Dakota Fanning and Zoe Kravitz among front-row guests at the finale evening show, the Dior event seemed an unofficial curtain-raiser for the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival, where among films in the official competition are Justin Kurcel’s “Macbeth,” in which Cotillard appears alongside Michael Fassbender. Cotillard is heading to Canada next to start filming Xavier Dolan’s “Juste la fin du monde,” or “Only the End of the World” in English.
“It’s insane, I can’t believe it’s a house,” said Fanning, who in June starts filming the lead role in “Brain on Fire,” produced by Charlize Theron.
“I wasn’t expecting this. This is like, I don’t know, futuristic cave people,” Kravitiz said as she stared up the fish-eyed structure, musing, “That sounds like the name of a band.”
Kravitz is heading to Cannes for her “Mad Max: Fury Road” film, and “Dope,” also premiering there. “It’s a coming of age film about a bunch of geeks growing up in Inglewood, Calif.,” she said, answering a reporter’s puzzled expression with the qualifier: “I don’t play one of the geeks, but it’s a really fun movie.”
The festival, which gets under way Wednesday and runs through May 24, put Dior in close proximity to the global film elite, and nodded to its legacy of dressing actresses ascending the steps of the Palais des Festivals, precursor to the modern-day red carpet, since the Fifties.
Dior’s links to the South of France extend back to the founding couturier, who discovered the region in his 20s, ultimately buying a majestic nine-bedroom home, La Colle Noire, in the village of Montauroux, where he entertained such friends as the painter Marc Chagall.
On Sunday night, Dior treated some early guests to a dinner at La Colombe d’Or, a restaurant in Saint-Paul de Vence frequented by famed artists, its walls dotted with works by Picasso, Matisse and Miró, among others.
Monday’s festivities kicked off at the nearby Café de la Place, where the likes of Odeya Rush and Olympia Scarry partook in pétanque, a game of boules involving metal balls pitched across a gravel patch, following by a lunch at the Maeght Foundation, a modern art museum in nearby Saint-Paul de Vence in a groovy building by Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert.
“I thought I was supposed to knock it,” Scarry cursed as her boule plowed over her jack. (The goal is to land your ball as close as possible.)
“This is the perfect outfit for pétanque,” Rush said wryly, glancing down at her cream-colored minidress and silver platform shoes embroidered with sparkles.
Dior’s spectacle was perfectly timed for the young actress, who recently wrapped the thriller “Hunter’s Prayer.”
“I turn 18 tomorrow,” she said. “I’m directing my first film in a few weeks. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s all written and cast. It’s a dark comedy.”
Australian actress Teresa Palmer said she just wrapped six movies, including “Message for the King,” in which she plays a single mother from an impoverished neighborhood opposite Luke Evans and Alfred Molina. She described the role as “very raw, stripped down, no makeup” as she chased after her infant son scrabbling over the gravel playing field.
Amelyne Valade, who spent part of her childhood in Montpellier, was in her element, and could identify every nibble spread out over the tables at Café de la Place, plucking a small morsel of pissaladiere, a pizza-like concoction made of onions, anchovy and grilled bread. The model and actress, who portrayed Betty Catroux in the recent Yves Saint Laurent biopic, said she would keep her hair blonde until she finds another worthy film project. “I’m very superstitious,” she explained.
Dior’s Riviera romp capped off a week of itinerant cruise shows that had editors jetting to Seoul for Chanel and Palm Springs, Calif., for Louis Vuitton. Sidney Toledano, chief executive officer of Dior, said such traveling shows inspire the French house’s creative teams, international editors and clients alike.
“They come to a Dior moment,” he said, noting that clients flew in from China, Russia, the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, some with their dedicated Dior salesperson in tow. “It’s not just about selling product. It’s really developing very strong relationships.”
While declining to discuss figures — word has it the palace alone rents for $30,000 a day for holidaymakers — the executive acknowledged that mounting such shows represents an “important investment” that nurtures the brand image, feeds social media with compelling imagery, and reflects that the pace of fashion has changed.
“We always need to show new products,” he said, flashing a big smile.
After the evening show, guests crowded on to the terraces for cocktails and a fireworks display. Later on, the party moved on to Silencio in Cannes, where Kravitz hit the decks.