If Brexit is top of the agenda in politics, in fashion, it’s Anglophilia that is so hot right now. This week two European powerhouse brands landed in the UK to showcase their Cruise catwalk collections whilst simultaneously professing their love of all things British. On Tuesday, Parisian brand Christian Dior showed its newest collection within the baroque grandeur of the library rooms at Blenheim Palace, and on Thursday Italian brand Gucci will show its haute eccentric collection against the stained glass backdrop of Westminster Abbey. For billion-euro fashion houses, it seems that a love letter to English chic is best expressed with an excess of tweed, beading, glamour and English heritage buildings.
Ahead of Tuesday’s show Dior was keen to push a natural symbiosis between English and French style. The label’s chief executive Sidney Toledano is a declared anti-Brexiter who has just unveiled a refurbished retail temple filled with original works of modern art on Bond Street. But shop openings don’t make for a compelling narrative in fashion and so the emphasis from the brand was very much on history above commerce, and the strong romantic links between Christian Dior, royalty and British style.
This show, for the label’s Cruise 2017 collection (once literally holiday clothes for the wealthy, now integral to a brand’s bottom line) was the third time Blenheim has played host to Dior. In 1958 a young Yves Saint Laurent showed his Dior collection at the palace and before him in 1954 Christian Dior himself brought his rarified salon chic to Blenheim. Christian Dior was a self-proclaimed Anglophile who, after a period spent in the UK, was besotted enough with the country that he is on record, unexpectedly, declaring: “I love English traditions. English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking. I dote on yorkshire pudding.”
At the 1954 Dior show at Blenheim, Red Cross nurses, aristocrats and Princess Margaret were among the 1,000 guests. This time around Alexa Chung, Bianca Jagger and the like passed for royalty and if there were any nurses, they were skilfully disguised in extravagantly beaded Dior finery. At the show 60 years ago the mannequins were expected to curtsy to royalty and work the catwalk without turning their backs on Princess Margaret. On the 2017 catwalk models were not expected to do the same for Lady Kitty Spencer, the lone royal front row representative. Guests were transported to the Oxfordshire palace on a specially chartered Orient Express, but alas yorkshire pudding was not on the menu.
On the catwalk, which was hand-painted and depicted a hunt, the theme was English countryside meets Parisian couture style. Nineteenth century equestrian scenes were knitted into jackets and fused with English country florals. Crown jewel level embellishment was mixed in with the brand’s iconic Bar jacket, while equestrian silk scarves were contrasted against leather smock dresses. Fashion’s current fascination with mixing cropped trousers with clumpier ankle boots and floral dresses was also in evidence.
Not for the first time the brand found itself without a starry designer to take a bow at the end of the show. This season Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, joint heads of the studio, performed the honours together. Since the exit of Raf Simons seven months ago, Dior has relied on the design studio team to keep the sartorial show in the road. Rumours that either Hedi Slimane (was has recently departed Saint Laurent) or Mancunian born Sarah Burton the designer at Alexander McQueen might take over are persistent, but unconfirmed. Toledano himself has brushed off the significance of the lack of designer claiming that customers don’t care who designs the Dior clothes. The financial evidence suggests he is right. The brand has weathered the storm of the Galliano scandal when the label was left without a designer for a year and even managed to grow its sales in the same period.
Whil it may be true that ultimately customers do not care, the lack of designer does affect the momentum of the brand and like a football team without a starry overpaid manager, a little bit of the glamour and the game felt missing from this Dior at Blenheim chapter. In truth it may not matter for the Cruise collections – which are effectively powerful branding exercises indulged in a by only handful of superbrands – but once the focus returns to the clothes themselves that may change. At ready to wear, when the spectacle of the event becomes secondary to pushing the fashion conversation forward, Dior may find itself in more of a hurry to appoint a new designer.