I’ve not yet written about the Dior collections by interim/stop-gap/supposedly temporary leaders of the in-house design team, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux on the blog. I have done for Dazed and my initial thoughts after their couture collection were that a house as big and prestigious as Dior felt hollow without the guidance of a visionary creative director. I’m not retracting that opinion but it has to be said that Dior are certainly doing their best to make a ‘hollow’ house feel full and happening. What to do when the narrative at a house doesn’t centre around the creative director and their output? You redirect that narrative so that the focus is on brand DNA and history instead.
It doesn’t get more historically significant for Dior than Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the lavish pile of the dukes of Marlborough in Oxford. Monsieur Christian Dior of course staged a spectacular haute couture show at Blenheim in 1954, in aid of the British Red Cross and in the presence of Princess Margaret and then in 1958, Dior’s successor Yves Saint Laurent returned to the palace with another haute couture collection. Unlike the more far-flung locations of cruise resort shows that we have seen over the years, the ties between England and Dior are veritable and believable.
And so regardless of creative direction – and whether there’s a starry designer or not – Dior’s jaunt in London and Oxford was always going to be stuffed to the brim with pomp, Brit-kitsch and on-theme touches that captures the hearts (and also the wallets) of the all-important clients. They’re the primary audience of these resort and pre collections seeing as they generate up to 60% of a brand’s retail business. Not that us journalist/editor stragglers aren’t immune to Dior’s charm tactics. How can you not smile when you see a pub made over as The Lady Dior, with themed bunting, beermats and lager glasses? Or coo at the New Look sculpted topiary underneath the canopy of Scott’s?
New Look topiary at Scott’s terrace in Mayfair
Outside The Lady Dior pub
That was just the warm-up action before the day of full-on Dior-ama. Or Dior’s version of Disneyland, as we began our journey in the newly revamped Dior Maison on 160 New Bond Street, peering at children’s haute couture (yes there is such a thing), Ron Arad sculptures and intricate porcelain. Then came the big Insta-squeal generator. We were to board a specially chartered Orient Express train from Victoria Statio , decked out so that it became the “Diorient Express” with branded table settings, menus and uniformed wait staff silver serving us custard and crumble. All the while, sitting in Poirot-appropriate upholstered chairs, watching lashings of rain outside, as we chugged past the lush green of the Cotswolds. It’s always interesting to see how international guests view these manifestations of ‘Englishness’. On home turf, you wind up being needlessly apologetic about the weather, the lumpy custard and the nan chairs, only to be met by choruses of “Nooooo… this is all so cuuuute and so English!” Little do they know…
Inside the newly revamped Dior flagship maison at 160 New Bond Street
The pomp increased substantially when we finally got to Blenheim Palace (true to National Rail form, our train was forty minutes late) as a brass band struck up with fanfare to greet arriving guests.
Inside the entrance hall were the roots of the Blenheim connection, as dresses from that first 1954 show, were on exhibition. There would be little to link the nipped in, A-shaped cocktail dresses to what Ruffieux and Meier would show. This resort collection was I think the least stiff of their output for Dior thus far. It was less about ticking off house codes or doing Raf Simons by numbers and more of a homage to where it was shown. In the Long Library, flanked by a statue of Queen Anne and under the contemporary word art by Lawrence Weiner, this was Ruffieux and Meier’s interpretation of ‘English Eccentricity’. Just as Brits up and down the country are contemplating our identity, possibly outside of Europe, we had Englishness refracted through the lens of two Swiss designers at a French house. That quintessential Englishness included a fox hunting scene jacquard, English country floral embroidered tea dresses, flailing scarves knotted up with D logo revival bags and a sense of layering and styling where you can draw parallels with Jonathan Anderson or Phoebe Philo at Celine. They wore stompy gold boots and their bar jackets were less structured with draped hips and basques. The eclectica was fleshed out with well-travelled prints and rich embroideries. I thought Meier and Ruffieux injected a bit more energy into what could have been a by-the-book English-themed collection. Though the general review consensus seems to be that innovation and directional design are still lacking. That’s down to the media salivating for a new creative director to come in (it is rumoured that the announcement will be imminent).
On the train, another journalist pondered the notion that houses like Dior might well carry on with a non-starry overarching creative director because the branding and history of a house is more powerful than any one talented individual. Dior is certainly one of the few houses in the world hat has an array of recognisable tropes, symbols and signatures to draw from. Even the typically English grey sky could be seen as Dior grey.
It’s still likely of course that Dior will bring in a named creative director but they have also proved that the boat doesn’t really get rocked in the absence of that central creative figure. Judging by the satisfied clients at the after party who queued up to have their fortunes read (with Dior-themed tarot cards), it seems Dior CEO Sidney Toledano might have a point when he said himself that customers don’t care who designs Dior’s clothes. If it’s a theme park experience of Dior complete with flower-trapped lollipops, novelty train rides and tea parties you’re after then Dior nailed it. Those that were searching for design-led heft in the actual collection might have to wait that bit longer. For now, the Dior train runs with full steam ahead.