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Dior takes Parisian style to Britain’s countryside

WOODSTOCK, England (AFP) -- Dior staged a catwalk show of its “Cruise collection” at the majestic Blenheim Palace in the Oxfordshire countryside Tuesday, in a lavish event reflecting the growing importance of between-seasons collections.

The fashion event at the 18th-century stately home, the birthplace of Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, was a nod to the past for the French design house, which held events there twice in the 1950s.

The brand’s Swiss creative duo of designers, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, mixed references to classic Dior designs and eccentric English influences.

Models including new face of Dior, beauty Bella Hadid, strutted between the rows of gathered fashionistas in a pillared hall dressed in florals and demure jackets.

The styles mixed the modern and the conservative -- one print represented a foxhunt -- with a muted palette of beige, black and pastels.

Bags with complex pockets and straps were worn tossed over the shoulder or carried in the right hand, while models sported ankle boots with chunky metallic heels.

“We were thinking of a Dior Parisienne who goes to London and becomes more eccentric,” Ruffieux told AFP, describing the designs as a natural evolution from the duo’s last two collections since they stepped in after Raf Simons left in October.

No expense was spared as hundreds of clients and journalists were brought to the palace on a luxury train the “Dior Express.”

The brand has just opened a new flagship store in London, one of the largest in Europe.

It is keen to promote its cruise collection -- a holiday or resort collection produced between the traditional spring-summer and autumn-winter shows.

Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano said customers wanted “novelty.”

“These cruise collections have grown in importance in the public eye, and are as creative as the other collections,” he said.

Major fashion houses have been competing to hold the shows in ever more exotic locations.

Chanel recently staged a catwalk show in Havana, Louis Vuitton in Rio de Janeiro, while Gucci will present its cruise collection in London’s Westminster Abbey on Thursday.

Dior is due to present an haute couture collection in Paris in July, as it seeks an official successor to take over from Simons who resigned three years after the house took him on in 2012.

His successor will be appointed “soon” according to Toledano.

“The stakes are extremely important, it will have a bearing on what creative direction will be taken in the coming years,” he added.

Coming only weeks before Britain votes on whether to remain in the European Union in a June 23 referendum, some wondered if there was a political dimension to the show -- but Toledano refused to be drawn on the subject.

“I love England, it is a model of openness,” he said. “I see enterprising men and women. I’m sure they will make the right decision!”