According to Chanel folklore, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel created the world’s first cruise collection in 1919 with a collection designed for holiday resorts, Biarritz in particular. I have no reason to doubt this bit of fashion trivia, but it seems like an odd claim to fame if true. That would mean cruise collections have been going on for nearly a century now, and still, no one has clue what they are really all about.
This much we know: Every May, a group of the most lucrative fashion houses in the world spend millions of dollars to fly clients, editors, and influencers around the world to witness extravagant runway shows celebrating clothes that will arrive in stores in November. In olden days, they were directed toward the international jet set – with mink mukluks and cashmere cardis for Gstaad, or bitsy bikinis and crochet caftans for St. Barts. In modern days, they are directed toward social media influencers – with just about anything likely to draw attention on Instagram. Long story short, if you have to ask the meaning of a cruise collection, you can’t afford it.
And yet here we are, at the beginning of the 2019 cruise season (also known as resort, if you must) and the four mega-houses of fashion – Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci – have all conspired to show their collections this month in France. Chanel went first on Thursday night with an extravagant production at the Grand Palais in Paris, which featured a giant construction of an ocean liner dubbed La Pausa, after Coco Chanel’s Mediterranean retreat in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. As usual, it was a magnificent production. The audience gaped at steam stacks spewing steam, and Kristen Stewart and Margot Robbie and Ralph Fiennes arriving as the sun set over the enormous glass ceiling, which called to mind everything from Titanic to the Good Ship Lollipop.
Karl Lagerfeld also claims ownership of the cruise season, having shown collections around the world for several decades, with memorable productions in Seoul, Cuba, Venice, and Los Angeles. He has remained closer to home in recent seasons, ostensibly to promote French tourism in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks.
Of course, there are also rumors about his future at the house, but nothing seems solid enough to report other than the facts that Lagerfeld, at 84, continues to design amazing collections and also continues to say politically incorrect things. (In the latest example, he expressed skepticism about the #MeToo movement in a recent interview in Numéro.) On one hand, the heavy symbolism on Thursday night of a ship about to sail was hard to miss. On the other, it was a super upbeat collection, filled with direct links to the heritage of Chanel, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
To begin, a crew of four male models stepped out of the ship wearing white knits that also bore the La Pausa logo to observe the start of the show. The real action on the runway was filled with mariner stripes, white knits, dresses in abstract navy wave prints, shredded denim, and big poufy berets. Meanwhile, the references to the archives were also vividly clear, from the bright sea blues to the history of La Pausa, Coco’s summerhouse that the Chanel company acquired a few years ago and plans to restore. In the end, it was a fairly seaworthy assortment – cruise wear, as Chanel notes, is intended to be more comfortable or commercial than your average ready-to-wear, and Lagerfeld is perhaps the only designer who could get away with tweeking the cruise concept quite so literally.