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The Cruise Off: Which Fashion Show Won The Most Applause?

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There are fashion shows, then there is the jaw-dropping, barn-storming spectacle that is the Cruise collections... So who won the battle of the big-hitters this time? Over to Grazia’s Rebecca Lowthorpe

The cruise shows have become renowned for being fashion’s most sumptuous in terms of location and one-upmanship. Last May, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci whisked their audiences out to California, Kyoto and Florence respectively – flexing their financial muscle with insanely spectacular shows and travel budgets that cost millions. But last week saw the fashion world’s heavy hitters come together for the first time in a joint collaboration to produce one almighty Cruise Week in France that began in Chantilly, via the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul de Vence, and ended in Antibes.

So instead of transporting its 675-strong audience to Mexico, Dior brought the escaramuzas – Mexico’s intrepid women rodeo riders – to the Great Stables of the Château of Chantilly, 30 miles north of Paris. Cue an electrical storm of biblical proportions bucketing down on the open-air arena. Had Dior not got the message about the shaman? (True fact: a shaman is employed by Louis Vuitton to ensure good weather for all its Cruise shows – of which more later). In fact, the sheets of rain only added to the drama of the escaramuzas who compete in Mexico’s charreada tournaments, performing death-defying stunts at full-pelt, all the while riding side-saddle in overtly pretty petticoats, flounced embroidered skirts and embellished sombreros.

Naturally, they had inspired both the look and message of this collection – femininity meets fearlessness – from Maria Grazia Chiuri, whose love of strong women is the red thread that has run through every one of her collections since she debuted as Dior’s first female creative director in 2016 with her ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ T-shirts. ‘What impressed me is how these women have changed rodeo culture. Rather than support their husbands and sons, they decided to do it for themselves. It was the idea that women can do what they want, that they don’t have to dress in a certain way or change who they are to fit in,’ said the designer backstage before the show.

Next stop: the Gucci graveyard. Or rather, Les Alyscamps, the ancient Roman necropolis just outside the walls of Arles in the heart of Provence. It was dark when we took our seats in the burial ground alongside the ancient sarcophagi, mist curling, the air full of the eerie sound of church bells. A fuse was lit and a line of fire shot down a narrow channel, setting the pathway ablaze. It was an epic opener, even by creative director Alessandro Michele’s standards – his last show in Milan turned Gucci’s HQ into an operating theatre with models carrying replicas of their own heads under their arms. But this was something else. Or as Millennials obsessed with Gucci like to put it: is was everything.

It was like watching a cliff-hanger episode of Michele’s Guccification series, a bone-chilling drama with mind-boggling, multi-faceted fashion that highlighted his awesomeness to the max. ‘The show’s characters are imagined through a mix of widows attending grave sites, kids playing rock stars, ladies who aren’t ladies. It’s a place that belongs to everyone and the idea that death is a fascination,’ said the show notes.

Peel back the layers – veils, trains, cloaks, headdresses, bouquets of flowers – and the commercial big hitters began to reveal themselves: a Chateau Marmont laundry bag, those neon-bright treble-soled sneakers, printed silk track suits, a perfectly polite form- fitting navy coat, a white Chanelified skirt suit, a giant oral printed puffer jacket, leggings, sweatshirts – you name it, all destined to sell up a storm. Even the dreamy gowns – including a ghostly white dress whose owing train came so dangerously close to the fire it had us all on tenterhooks ready to throw our jackets over the model who wore it, were the stuff of red carpets for the A-list individualist.

It’s incredible that of all the designers out there, Alessandro Michele has become fashion’s pied-piper-in-chief – where he leads, others have tried to follow because the true magic of it all is that it actually sells: Gucci sales soared 42% in 2017. But this designer is a true one-off – an unrepeatable authentic iconoclast. Only he could get Elton John to an ancient cemetery outside Arles to serenade us at the end of the night. Sitting at a grand piano, behind diamond-framed Gucci sunglasses, he dedicated Rocket Man to his friend Michele who sat with him on stage, as emotionally overwhelmed by the moment as the rest of us. As Cruise shows go, this will be hard to ever top. And the rain held off, too. Perhaps Gucci got hold of a shaman after all – his name? Alessandro Michele.