There were one hundred and one puns that I could have come up with for the title of the post to deal with the fact that Dior showed their latest collection in a placed called Palais Bulles – aka Bubble Palace. Erm. Bubble Palace?! You’ll be pleased to know that my body did not in fact explode with excitement when I did physically enter this delightfully peculiar architectural wonder, built in 1989 by Antti Lovag and later bought by Pierre Cardin as his dream home. Weirdly long before I had even known the genesis of the name and the architect of the place, the image of its globular spheres and terracotta exterior had been on my private Tumblr page alongside Melvin Sokolsky’s 1963 series of bubble photographs. What can I say? My fixation on the physical as well as the metaphorical bubble knows no bounds.
It’s not the first time that Dior has chosen this part of the world to present their cruise collections as a way of showing the maison’s ties with the glamour of the French Riviera, but here on the cliffs of the Théoule-sur-Mer, the Palais Bulles correlates more with Raf Simons’ personal interest in architecture and the way visionaries of different disciplines can cross over with one another. You could say that by babbling on about the venue and the architecture, I seem to be forgetting the subject at hand – the collection and the clothes. But as we’ve discovered with the latest round of cruise shows, by impressing upon us architectural largesse, the point isn’t just to show the clothes but to surround them with an environment and a locale that allows us to dream and fantasise. We’re meant to connect the pleats and prints with palm trees, blue skies and an otherworldly backdrop . The type of customer that can regularly afford Dior is likely to be jetting off to such eternally sunny places littered with palm trees. And those that are aspiring with say a pair of Dior So Real sunglasses can bask under the sunshine anywhere in the world and fill their Pinterest board with pictures of otherworldly villas in palm-littered places.
And so my temporary far-removed dream began in the medieval town of Saint Paul-de-Vance at Cafe de la Place for a spot of ‘pétanque’ (French bowls) complete with a set of personalised boules. I wasn’t any good at it but it did set the slow leisured pace that befits this venue. At the lunch at the Fondation Maegt, surrounded by Miro and Giacometti sculptures, the area’s ability to attract artists like Picasso and Chagall was impressed upon us. We were being groomed to experience this languid way of life and a landscape that inspired the world’s greatest artists in order to piece together a puzzle of the collection we were about to see.
I had the opportunity to have a proper look around the Palais Bulles about an hour before the show. It was a rare chance to explore what felt like the mythical to me. It’s a strucutre that on paper shouldn’t exist. Raf Simons himself said that unlike Corbusier, it wasn’t linear or “mathematical”. The architect Antti Lovag coined the term “habitology” – the idea that living in ancestral cave-like dwellings would inspire a freedom of movement and creative expression. The curves of the Palais Bulles hits you from every angle, inside and out. When paired with the dusky terracotta pink and the elastoplast pink inside (eerily similar to Monsieur Dior’s favoured shade of pink) and the icy blue of the infinity pool and the sea beyond, this is where fun and frivolity took place (and continues to do so as the venue is freely available for hire). Simons took his playful cue from Lovag’s wit-ridden curvaceous lines.
Photograph by Pier Guido Grassano for Style.com – wearing Dior pink satin sleeveless coat, quilted shorts, neoprene trainer boots and tote worn with Alexander McQueen peplum and J.W. Anderson pink top
Pierre Cardin himself was present to enjoy the show in his bubble palace, bringing his connection to the maison full circle, as he once worked for Monsieur Dior as head of the tailleur atelier when the New Look was being crafted.
The result was perhaps Simons’ most fluid and multi-faceted collection yet. It twisted and turned in similar fashion to the house’s winding hallways and secret passages. As Scarlatti’s Sonatas oscillated to thumping ambient house, the clothes to-ed and fro-ed from checked artist’s smocks moulded to the body, sculpted 1920s bathing suits that might have swam the Côte d’Azur to 1930s bias cut evening gowns and stripped back tailoring, all worn with 18th century-inspired pointy court shoes and ankle boots. In the same way that artists would flock to this region to free their mind with sun, sky and sea, so too did Simons and the Dior atelier free up their approach with “homespun” fabrications that created movement and levity. Lattice knits with crochet pieces, entrapped pleats and geometric smocking bounced about with verve. Lurex-shot collaged fabrics resembled abstract paintings of the area’s landscape. I especially loved the knitted mesh dresses with tapestry like furry growths. Add a slew of bucket bags emblazoned with the word “Paradise” and you have yourself the sort of expressive sun-drenched wardrobe that will be a fun smorgasbord to pick and choose from. That might have read as unfocused to some but for a resort season that has a longer shelf life and has to answer to the trans-seasonal demands of a global customer, hitting back with everything from utilitarian bar jackets to furry stoles to flippy summer dresses seems canny. As the sun set behind the models with palm fronds casting shadows on the ground, this anything-goes, mix-it-up attitude was especially fitting.
A precisely orchestrated fireworks display finished off the evening at the Bubble Palace. People were reluctant to leave as night fell on the glass globules. With Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin and The Orb in the background and purely silver and gold palette, the fireworks seemed to be as exacting as the way Simons has chosen to reshape Dior. It was an on-point end to a cruise jaunt that once again proves why the emphasis has shifted so dramatically to an increasingly busy month of May in high end fashion. It’s where time and consideration can be afforded to experience a designer’s inspiration, vision and collection in a completely scaled up environment. In this instance, Dior’s bubble can’t be burst. It is after all made out of plexiglass and concrete.