Le Palais Bulles – the Bubble Palace, as it is known in English, a big mauve-ish fantasy mansion that looks like a child’s bubble bath set in stone atop a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean – is accessed through a large round hole in the wall. A staircase set inside it descends into a narrow tube, where every few steps comes a circular door that leads to another tube, curving up, down, or sideways. Entering this whale of a house, which has belonged to the designer Pierre Cardin for the last 20-some years, feels a lot like being swallowed whole and, if you will pardon the imagery, processed through a large intestine.
It’s not hard to imagine that Raf Simons, the artistic director of Christian Dior since 2012, would be fascinated by this house, an example of organic “habitology” created by the Hungarian architect Antti Lovag, who was inspired by early human dwellings that were spherical in shape. Simons has been a scholar of architecture since his early days as an industrial designer. And during a season in which the world’s richest luxury brands, by coincidence or by competition, are staging their resort collections in extraordinary buildings (Chanel in a Zaha Hadid plaza in Seoul; Louis Vuitton in a John Lautner house in Palm Springs), the Bubble House, in Théoule-sur-Mer, outside Cannes, would set the high bar in terms of spectacle and, quite possibly, cost.
To a degree that was a little more obvious than the others, the house also had a more logical connection to the collection that Simons had in mind, an expression of his memories of the South of France – the colors of its sunsets, the extremes of its casual beachwear and glamorous nightlife (you can encounter bikinis and ball gowns at any time here), and general craziness. When the models appeared at the Dior show on Monday night, walking through the tubes of the Bubble Palace in traditional bathing costumes made modern in glittery knits, marvelous skirts made of both techno netting and homespun crochet, and a gorgeous ivory bias-cut evening dress worn with flats (pictured below, from L-R), you could actually imagine them living there.
On Monday afternoon, just after a showing of the collection for Dior clients, I met Simons on an outdoor terrace with a round wooden table that was built into one of the walls, with a half-dome of plastic that swiveled on an axis, creating a retractable bubble around us. The entire seating area was able to rotate, too, so that if it rained, we could be indoors just by turning around.
“It is an exceptional way of dealing with architecture differently from what we know,” Simons said. “When the opportunity came up, this was a chance I thought we had to grab, because you don’t know if it will be possible in the future.”
The Bubble House has long inspired architects and designers. Cardin, who was present at the show on Monday, said he bought it mostly as a showcase for his own futuristic work. In fact, as the owner of dozens of homes around the world, he rarely spends any time here himself, visiting perhaps one or two days per year. In a book about the house published by Assouline, Cardin said, “In the nomadic life I lead, in my search for the absolute, as crazy as it is marvelous, no other place offers me the depth of sustenance and support that I feel in the Palais Bulles.”
To Simons, it was a metaphor for his own feelings about the French Riviera.
“I’ve always been attracted by this environment very much,” Simons said, citing the contrast of the roughness of the region’s nature, and also of the work that was created here by artists like Matisse and Picasso, with the very glamorous scene of movie stars who invade Cannes for the film festival at this time of year. Translating that contrast into clothes for his Dior cruise collection resulted in his lightest, most colorful work yet, with a distinctly younger attitude.
The audience reflected that shift as well. Zoë Kravitz, Teresa Palmer, Odeya Rush, and Dakota Fanning (pictured, below) joined Dior’s campaign star Marion Cotillard for the show, along with the hundreds of editors and Dior clients who were flown into Cannes for three days or more of entertainment. All of this was capped with an incredible display of Dior-inspired fireworks over the Bay of Cannes, featuring gold-white blossoms at the beginning, with staccato blasts of pale-pink bursts at the end, so that if anyone didn't know that Dior was the king of the resort season before, they certainly do now.