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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

High Society: Dior Goes to Blenheim Palace

13 Июня 2016

Inside the library, with a statue of Queen Anne at the end of the hall

"There is no such thing as society," said Margaret Thatcher 35 years ago. The famous statement from Britain's "Iron Lady" Prime Minister about a changing world, built on an old system of class and deference, was mirrored this week by fashion.

The French house of Dior brought its international attitude and worldwide clients to a setting that defined Olde England: Blenheim Palace, famous for its connection to Britain's wartime leader, Winston Churchill, and to the family of Princess Diana.


The Dior Cruise collection was shown at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire

The Dior Cruise collection was shown at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire

The Dior Cruise collection was shown at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire

Rain-soaked lawns dotted with frisky lambs led up to the mighty building, even bigger than Versailles, with a library of ten thousand books, a larger-than-life statue of Queen Anne, and portraits by Joshua Reynolds and John Singer Sargent marking the family whose descendants were attending this exceptional fashion event.


The long gallery at Blenheim, where the audience for the show was seated

Inside the library, with a statue of Queen Anne at the end of the hall

And then, there was Dior's history, for it was here at Blenheim - named after Blindheim in Bavaria, where John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, triumphed over Louis XIV — that Christian Dior himself had staged a couture show in 1954 for the young Princess Margaret, sister of the new Queen Elizabeth. And here too that Yves Saint Laurent, Dior's protégé and ultimately inheritor of the house, came back four years later to show his work. 

Inside the library, with a statue of Queen Anne at the end of the hall

At yesterday's event, the mighty entrance hall was filled with those memories: ultra-feminine, curvy dresses in Dior's signature dove-grey and smart black-and-white polka dots from the 1950s, displayed together with historic records of Dior's recognition by British court circles, with the events portrayed in magazine articles and photographs on display. 

The gardens at Blenheim

Sidney Toledano, CEO of Dior, said that a member of the host family had been surprised at the speed of this modern, inter-season show. But another guest, Serena Linley, whose husband David Linley is the son of the late Princess Margaret, told me that she found the collection, with its sharp cutting and tailoring, more modern, approachable and desirable than she had expected. She was referring to the jackets that were intermingled with embellished pieces offered by designer duo Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux.

An installation from the Dior archives in the hall at Blenheim

Dior's current story is that it is supposedly waiting for a new star designer who will fill the empty space left by the recent resignation of modernist designer Raf Simons and by the more brutal earlier departure of out-of-control, arch-romantic John Galliano. But that saga has been going on for so long that it seemed almost irrelevant to this show of clothes with a contemporary look and local inspiration in the "a-hunting-we-will-go" prints. Those hunt images were also used as decoration on the long runway that linked the grand rooms. 

Dior’s design duo, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, take a bow at the end of the Cruise 2017 presentation at Blenheim

This Cruise show was heavy with embellishment — but in numbers, not spirit. The clothes were mostly young-girl short-and-cute, full in the sleeves, and quirky, rather than elegant. That meant that a scoop top illuminated with embroidery and teamed with a softly patterned skirt looked much less polite and timid than in this duo's earlier collections. The shoes alone, with their square-heeled bootee effect, were in contrast to the high-heeled glamour of most of the clients.


Dior Cruise 2017

Dior Cruise 2017

Dior Cruise 2017

One ankle-length red dress with a bright pattern showed where the designers might have developed further a romantic summer evening look.

How much do these inter-season collections matter, for all that the mega-brands are competing for far-flung show spots, from Chanel's Cuba to Louis Vuitton's Rio?
According to Toledano, the Cruise shows are extremely valuable, as much for their long period on sale as for their importance to a six-part offering to clients.


Dior Cruise 2017

Dior Cruise 2017

Dior Cruise 2017

"The Cruise collection is delivered earliest, so mathematically it is very important," said the executive. "With Spring/Summer and the interim collections we have six moments. Every two months we have newness. For the tourist business, they come only once. But for our clients they want new things. It's question of pace. And you have to get the pace right." 


Dior Cruise 2017

Dior Cruise 2017

Serge and Lucie said that they had visited Blenheim for the first time only in mid-March, which meant that they had produced the entire collection in just two months. "We had too see it to take it in — the size of it, arriving and seeing such grandeur is so impressive, but we also saw a lot of small things that had been collected and accumulated over the years," said Lucie.

Actress Kate Mara, wearing Dior, at the Cruise 2017 show at Blenheim

All credit to the designers not to let the grandeur overwhelm them. But surely it is also important to re-work each season the existing codes of the house? While Chanel unfailingly makes over the familiar symbols such as tweeds, pearls, Mademoiselle's hats and camellias, I don't see that same definition at Dior, although there is always an interpretation of the shapely "Bar" jacket, sometimes transformed with a peplum or bisected into a different shape or even wrapped into soft drapes.

Dior childrenswear for Spring/Summer 2016

But what the designers called a "conversation between France and England" I did not see as, for example, a mutual love of flowerbeds and roses.

Nor did I feel that the duo captured what the French call "l'air du temps" — something in the air. This is a nervy moment politically, with Great Britain deciding in three weeks whether to leave the European Union, and France struggling with strikes and social unrest - just those very societal issues that Margaret Thatcher took on and won in the United Kingdom four decades ago.

Guests were whisked from London to Blenheim on the "Dior Express" train

For this Dior show, the accent was on the past, as celebrities and fashion editors from across the world boarded the Orient Express, which chugged its way up to Blenheim. High-speed trains may be something that the French do far better than the British these days, but this slow-mo travel was a romantic journey that transported Kate Beckinsale and many other celebrities into a painterly vision of green fields and cosy cottages. The previous evening, the same crowd had attended a make-believe pub, transformed for one night only into "The Lady Dior" on London's elegant Mount Street. And after the Blenheim event, guests were invited to a party at Loulou's at 5 Hertford Street - a Mayfair club with a British upper-crust society heritage.


The Dior picnic basket, designed by Lucie de la Falaise

The atrium of the new Dior store in London

Architect Peter Marino explained to me that this epicentre of style had been five years in the making and that it carries an exceptional range of products.

Apart from the vast area devoted to clothes, streamlined, artistic, but nothing that would frighten Blenheim's horses, there are new areas in which the super-rich can now invest.

A generous part is devoted to streamlined interiors and tablewear, including a lavish picnic basket designed by Lucie de la Falaise. Then there is a two-storey "house", similar to what might be found in the Oxfordshire countryside. It is dedicated to childrenswear and among the rooms I found one that seemed to sum up the grandeur and glamour of the mega-wealthy. It is devoted entirely to haute kiddy couture.


A Mayfair pub was transformed into "The Lady Dior" for the evening

The new Dior store in London - the exterior belies the enormous retail area inside

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