Sports, surf, music, art, architecture, politics, the Olympics, an impeachment, and the Zika virus — that is a lot of information to process in one moment, let alone while sitting at a runway show.
Luxury fashion's latest fixation, destination events that showcase designer resort and cruise collections where editors and celebrities are flown around the world to attend parties in extraordinary, hedonistic locations, has taken an even more decadent turn in 2016. That is, with the world in such a state of disorder and danger, the spectacle of global fashion and media events taking place in these exotic locations is now beginning to overshadow the news of the clothes.
Three weeks ago there was Chanel in Havana, Cuba, a provocative and challenging choice of location for an event that brought designer clothes to a political hotspot, but ultimately a successful exchange that was generally well received by the two cultures. On Saturday afternoon came Louis Vuitton in Rio de Janeiro, where artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière showed his cruise collection at the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, an Oscar Niemeyer landmark that looks like a spaceship floating above the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay (pictured above). As far as these events go, and judging by comparison between the deep pockets of Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, and Gucci, the Brazil excursion was over the top both in respect to the festivities and the perception that the company was taking a great risk given the challenges that are being faced here: a political crisis with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, a severe economic downturn, and fears over the spread of the Zika virus in advance of the Olympic Games here in August.
Even as athletes and world health officials debate the propriety of moving forward with the games, and the potential for spreading the virus elsewhere, Vuitton brought editors, models, and, of course, celebrities (Catherine Deneuve, Alicia Vikander, Jaden Smith, Zendaya) from several nations and continents. The main event, the outdoor runway show, began at just about 4 p.m. on Saturday, actually about 45 minutes before it had originally been planned, because the designer concluded that the light would be better at that moment, about an hour before sunset. Models walked down the twin ramps that descend from the museum like ribbons onto a plaza where seating had been constructed from metallic cubes and ribbed benches, winding through multiple rings of guests. As with Ghesquière's previous cruise collections for Vuitton (shown in Monaco and Palm Springs), the designs ambled from sports, surf, athletic, punk, and street references, ultimately pointing to a younger, social media savvy customer who would be enticed by, say, a handbag constructed in the stiff frame of a boom box, or graphic prints on scuba-inspired dresses that reflected the colorful airbrushed decals of surfboards.
“You know how much I love urban clothes and what women are wearing in the city, which is what I have done for Vuitton for a few seasons now,” Ghesquière said just after the show. “With this collection, the big stories are the tropicalism and the urbanity at the same time. Brazil reflects this incredible mix of big cities with amazing buildings and architecture with a nature that is so strong. I'm a foreigner, I'm French, I bring dark clothes to a city that is all about exoticism and color.” (Watch a video of the show below.)
The impending Olympics, and sports in general, played a stronger role in this collection, with sketched prints of soccer players and scuba-tight dresses that peeled off the body, one worn like a surfer's bodysuit, half unwrapped after a dip in the ocean (below). And it was the Brazilian editors who seemed most enthusiastic in their response to the collection, citing their pride in Vuitton's choice of their country to showcase during a particularly turbulent moment.
As journalists made their way to speak to Ghesquière, a large crowd had gathered outside the museum, screaming for the attention of the models and celebrities. The designer typically gives his post-show comments to editors in groups from each country, and during his chat with the American contingent, he was asked by Jenny Barchfield, the AP correspondent for Rio, about the the political context of presenting a luxury collection against this backdrop. This was something the designer had clearly considered. In the months leading up to the show, there had been much discussion within the company and without about the wisdom of moving forward with the event.
Ultimately, Ghesquière said, “It's good to give a strong message to people and to say we are not scared. We are able to travel with our ideas. It's an economical consideration to do a show in a country like Brazil, but it's also a cultural proposition.”
To an extent, both Vuitton in Brazil and Chanel in Cuba have served to showcase the culture of their host countries while furthering their cause of global consumerism. That can result in spectacular displays of fashion as well as uncomfortable contrasts of extravagance against hardship and suffering. But here, the message seemed to be one of mutual embrace. Walking out of the show, Zendaya, wearing a bold and body-con knit Vuitton dress that made her look like a tall tropical flower (below), said she would remember her first visit to Brazil at least for the warmth of the people.
“There is not one person I have met here who hasn't hugged or kissed me,” she said.