A darker, more subversive Dior on show as 2017 cruise collection debuts in palatial setting

New creative team at French fashion house move on from Raf Simons’ angelic purity, marrying shapes and detailing from the Christian Dior archives with a contemporary, rebellious spirit in show at England’s Blenheim Palace

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 3:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 12:16pm

It was a quintessentially English welcome for a quintessentially French fashion brand: the rain poured down as a formal serenade by red-coated trumpeters announced the well-coiffed guests of Christian Dior at Blenheim Palace in central England, the 18th century residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Neither the dark clouds nor the rain-sodden fields could detract from the beauty of Blenheim, one of the country’s largest houses and set in a park amid Oxfordshire’s rolling hills – a classic English landscape.

Kate Beckinsale, Alexa Chung, Elizabeth Olsen and a crowd of Dior-clad VIP clients enjoyed old-world luxury aboard the Belmond British Pullman train (rebranded the Blenheim Dior Express for the day) from London, then were whisked by a fleet of black Mercedes-Benz limousines through quaint villages to watch the Dior 2017 cruise show.

It was a coming home of sorts for Christian Dior; the label has twice previously used Blenheim Palace as the backdrop for haute couture presentations – in 1954 with its eponymous founder and with a young Yves Saint Laurent at the helm in 1958.

The collection unveiled by Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, the in-house designers leading its creative team until a successor to Raf Simons is announced, showed some of the Swiss pair’s vision for Dior. They married shapes and detailing from the Dior archives with a contemporary, rebellious spirit. The accessories especially had a youthful, spunky look. There was a cleverly rendered blend of rustic tweeds, vivid jacquard that conjured 19th century paintings of horses and hounds, some very cool draped tea dresses and curvaceous bar jackets updated for the modern Dior woman.

This vision of Dior is darker and more subversive than the almost angelic purity espoused under Simons; it takes some getting used to, but has its merits. Intense clashing prints, rich colours and a more urban way of dressing have spiced up the Dior essence.

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Inspiration for the cruise show came from post-war high society wardrobes, and there was a distinctive prettiness to the English floral prints, their bolts of red and pink referencing hunting pink. Beautifully embellished peplum, dramatic full sleeves and svelte, close-fitting jackets looked striking.

And while some looks had an almost English reserve, others were more adventurous; rich devoré velvets and silks in Asian and African prints evoked an era when Europeans first travelled the world in numbers.

Christian Dior, minus Raf Simons, manages a fine ready-to-wear collection

The very opulence and exclusivity of destination cruise shows like Dior’s hark back to a different time in fashion, before weeks packed with ready-to-wear shows became so uncomfortably manic, with images from the catwalk flashing across the internet almost instantly. They are about the experience, rather than just the fashions on show. In this case there was the Dior-branded train journey with lunch and champagne, the Lady Dior Pub (the label took over a classic pub in Mayfair, London) and a cocktail party at Lulu’s – one of London’s plushest private-member clubs.

Prior to the Dior show, Chanel pulled off an epic cruise event in Cuba and Louis Vuitton did the same in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Following the Dior show, Gucci showed its 2017 cruise line in the cloisters of London’s Westminster Abbey. Competition is fierce among fashion’s mega brands to make the most of these mid-season shows to impress key clients.

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Dior made the most of its past shows at Blenheim, with an exhibition of looks from 1954 and 1958 and pictures of Princess Margaret with the eponymous label’s founder in 1954. With so much movement going on at the top of fashion houses, no wonder they are looking to their heritage to convey a sense of permanency. And with a history as distinguished as Dior’s, there’s plenty to mine for inspiration.