the palace of dior
In a Franco-British alliance, yesterday Dior moved its cruise 17 collection into Blenheim Palace for the second collection designed by Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux.
Cultural appropriation has been a social media buzzword over the past year, thanks in no small part to Kylie Jenner's cornrows. Quickly moving on from that hot potato, looking at the fashion landscape right now and historically you can't help but smile at this currently so debated topic—which really isn't that current at all. In a brilliant cruise show production on Tuesday, this was elegantly proven by the house of Dior, who took the congregated international fashion press to Blenheim Palace in the English countryside of Oxfordshire: a structure built to reflect French baroque at the cusp of an 18th century where France would adopt English fashions, as Dior wrote in their show notes, "in a craze dubbed Anglomania". The cultural exchange came full circle in the 20th century when England once again looked to France for fashion advice, and fast-forward another few decades, there we were, at Blenheim Palace anno 2016, seeing a French cruise collection in those hallowed British halls where Winston Churchill himself was born: a 360-degree scope on cultural appropriation.
Of course, the phenomenon isn't quite as touchy when the exchange happens between two Western cultures, but around the cruise collections this season that hasn't been the sole case. Take Chanel, who paid tribute to Cuban culture in actual Cuba just weeks ago, or Louis Vuitton who channelled Brazilian architecture in Rio this weekend, or Erdem, who called his collection a "cross-cultural exchange between Japan and Old Hollywood". Tomorrow, Gucci presents its cruise show in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey—an Anglo-Italian fusion sure to provide plenty of material for cultural appropriation debates. Such is the nature of cruise collections, a phenomenon started by Chanel in a time of post-war prosperity where travel-starved customers needed bathing costumes for their new cultural adventures. It was essentially about enlightenment. Cultural appropriation is a thing so deeply rooted in fashion that we'd likely have to go naked without it, at least as far as history is concerned. At Blenheim Palace, Dior's current and very handsome Swiss designer duo, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, drew on the mid-century spirit that gave birth to these cruise shows.
"We looked at a post-war British lifestyle, and the curiosity to travel and explore the new," Meier told i-D backstage. "Countryside living—we got inspired by hunting scenes, art and that lifestyle." It wasn't Blenheim's first time at the Dior rodeo. In 1954, its famously chic resident the Duchess of Marlborough invited Christian Dior to show his winter collection at the palace. Princess Margaret attended. In 1958, a young Yves Saint Laurent showed another Dior collection in the grand library gallery, the longest in England. Meier and Ruffieux, who have been fronting Dior since Raf Simons left last season, didn't pick the location. It was, as Meier pointed out, a plan long in the making to mark the opening of Dior's fabulous new store in Bond Street, "so it made sense to come back". They took the obvious route for the collection, transforming the characteristics of British country attire into a Parisian collection, hunting motifs in tow, expressed in a patch-worked silhouette where contrasting tiers of garments covered in prints and embellishment made for a certain eclecticism, which was rather English in itself. After all, British culture is also a colonial mishmash.
The house, which is expected to announce a new creative director this year, had resisted the temptation to call the train that took guests to Blenheim the 'Diorient Express', a name already used by its former designer John Galliano for his autumn/winter 98 collection. Instead, it was simply the 'Dior Express' and it departed from Victoria Station in style. Porters in Dior-grey Dior uniforms assisted the boarding process, and inside the 1925 Pullman coaches - once the preferred form of transportation for those popping out to their place in the country - a three-course lunch was served before black cars took guests from the end destination to the sprawling palace where trumpeters fanfared us upon arrival. (If it sounds like the infamous Kardashian-West rehearsal dinner at Versailles, it was far from. This, Madame, was Blenheim!) As a grand fashion production in a perhaps strange interim time for the house, the show was an interesting reminder that a brand like Dior is way more powerful than the creative director, who heads it up.
As important as the appointment of Raf Simons was for them, Dior has been in no rush to replace him and has wisely - and sympathetically - given the spotlight to his old team members Meier and Ruffieux while they stand in at the top post. In a fashion industry where Alessandro Michele, who worked on Gucci's design team for some fourteen years before being promoted to creative director, has had the kind of success most 'name designers' can only dream of, it wouldn't be out of the question for Meier and Ruffieux to continue the work they're doing at Dior. The last time a duo was promoted to creative directors from within a design team they were Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli—and this year they made Valentino its first-ever billion-euro revenue. Asked after the show how she felt about this moment in time, Meier was entirely diplomatic. "It's exciting. As sad it was to see Raf go because we worked together, at the end of the day it turned out quite positively for us." Was she excited for the time ahead? "Yes, absolutely." Future creative directors or not, Meier and Ruffieux are only reminding the industry that fashion is a team effort—collectively, and certainly culturally, too.
Texts Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Anabel Navarro Llorens