It’s no secret that Calabasas is having a fashion moment. The Los Angeles suburb has played host to Kardashian fantasies, inspired the recent collections of Kanye West, and fascinated busloads of gawkers who drive the winding roads through the Santa Monica mountains for a glimpse of a celebrity’s mansion. But the Dior cruise show on Thursday night was something else.
In one of more than 400 luxury black SUVs making the hour-long journey to the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, our chauffeur pointed out the possible homes of LeAnn Rimes and Melissa Etheridge. He, too, seemed a little wary, or perhaps concerned, or maybe just starstruck, as hundreds of fabulous-looking people from around the world had come all the way here—what seemed the middle of nowhere—to see a fashion show set on top of a hill. Slowly we made our way there, inching up the hills past the mansions and gated communities, the magnificent vistas of stone and sagebrush painted yellow in the golden hour.
“Do not step in the tall grass,” the driver said, depositing his charges in what seemed an endless field of it. “Snakes.”
On the international fashion calendar, May is cruise season. This is when the world’s most successful fashion houses compete to outdo one another with extravagant runway productions in far-flung destinations around the world, spending millions in the process. Last year was Cuba, Rio, and London. This year, Paris, Los Angeles, Kyoto, and Florence.The show on Thursday was the first big cruise production for Dior’s new artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who chose to make her mark in spectacular fashion with a risky production that, once guests made their way through the Los Angeles traffic, up the very long hill, and past the snakes, looked something like a survival camp for fashion refugees from a zombie apocalypse. There were large tents in a circle, bonfires and metal trailers that were camouflage for full-service bars. Two hot-air balloons idled on the horizon, advertising Dior’s Sauvage cologne, with the sun setting precisely behind them. Charlize Theron and Demi Moore were ushered through the crowds, their boots and stilettos quickly caked in dust. Then came Rihanna, wearing army boots, jeans, and a lush fur coat.
Can you imagine all this would have been wasted if had it rained?
Well, Chiuri, as her work attests, believes in fate, astrology, tarot cards, and all that, so her stars must have been in line for this event as the weather was beautiful, if a bit chilly. Dior had placed blankets on the seat of every guest just in case, and most people wore them as scarves, skirts, pareos, even hats. Just as the sun began to dip, the show began, with a heavy soundtrack that called everyone to attention, an electronic dance rendition of a drum circle that suggested Dior was flicking at the land’s history as a home to Native Americans. Anna Dello Russo, the Italian editorial stylist and street-style heroine, was seated in the audience wearing a questionable feathered headdress. Meanwhile, Chiuri’s collection included many references that immediately drew comparisons to Native American iconography, although much of crude drawings of horses, bison, and hunters that appeared on her hand-painted chiffon dresses, or etched into suede separates, was drawn directly from the Paleolithic cave drawings discovered in the Lascaux cave of France in 1940.
This, too, is risky territory, although it seems unlikely that the prehistoric cavemen would be the first to object to a little cultural appropriation. And Chiuri most certainly did her homework in this collection, citing among her references not only the Lascaux cave, but also Christian Dior’s own use of those paintings in a print from 1951, as well as her personal interest in feminist literature. Specifically, she brought up Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Women Who Run With the Wolves, which delves into the ancient attributes of feminine energy and power.
That’s pretty deep for a cruise collection.
What’s more, this show was a major step by Chiuri to establish that her works stand not only for femininity and feminism but also for great design. While of course the cruise collections are meant to be commercial—these represent the biggest money making opportunity for designers and are thus celebrated with such extravagant shows—this one also had loads of personality and so many great pieces. There were the painted designs, which might have a limited audience, but also versions as knits, capes, and fringed coats, as well as a funnier version that depicted what looked like cave drawings of yoga poses. Those will be a natural for the Calabasas customer, at least.
Also of interest were beautiful knit furs, dresses made of patchworks of stars and mystical icons, and, quite cleverly, a series of black dresses and coats that paid homage to personal style of Georgia O’Keeffe, which balanced the play of wild motifs with an artistic, feminist slant. It’s a thorny path to test, to be sure, but Chiuri braved it wisely, and in this setting, quite spectacularly.