For anyone outside the inner workings of the fashion world, the recent round of super-spectacular fashion shows — Chanel in Seoul, Louis Vuitton in Palm Springs, Dior on the French Riviera — provoked as much bafflement as wonder. Fashion shows in May? Haven't we just had about a month of autumn collections? Has there been some seismic shift in the fashion calendar?
The answer — that the Cruise collections have raised their game — only added to the bafflement. Cruise? The stuff that used to be quaintly referred to as "resort-wear"? But yes. Though the name may still evoke images of 1950s jet-setters off on their winter sunshine break, Cruise is now huge, exciting and anything but dated. Today Cruise is less about holiday-wear and more about commerce. What it offers is a tempting selection of clothes that are often more wearer-friendly and better value than the concepts on the catwalks.
If the regular spring and autumn fashion weeks are frenetic trade shows with a critical audience of buyers, editors and celebrities, then Cruise is a brand-statement spectacular, where a fashion house can showcase its latest designs to an audience composed largely of clients.
Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, explains: "The fashion week caravan from New York to London to Milan — it is so hectic, it is extremely difficult to truly stand out from all that noise. So this is one reason why being in Palm Springs alone — nothing happening two days before and nothing happening two days later — allows us to be much more clear and focused."
Vuitton flew in 550 guests, and the show took place at the flying saucer of a house that used to belong to Bob Hope, which, with the sunny Californian desert hills behind it, made an extraordinarily beautiful space-age backdrop.
A few days later, the Dior Cruise show at the Palais Bulles, the futuristic "bubble house" just around the bay from Cannes, provided another breathtaking visual feast with the clothes and the glorious setting seized on with relish and scattered world-wide in seconds by Instagram.
Cruise may not be new but it is certainly much more visible than ever before, thanks to the internet, social media and our endless appetite for novelty. It is major league grandstanding, a power-play by the biggest fashion companies. Such an assertive display of a brand's DNA doesn't come cheap, and few can afford these major productions on a regular basis, though many brands are hosting one-off, off-schedule shows just to keep us interested. Burberry's recent one at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, celebrating its Britishness with a band of the Queens Guards, bearskins and all, was a cracker.
This recent rash of Cruise shows also helps to demonstrate what a non-stop juggernaut fashion has become. The year kicks off with men's collections in January, followed by Couture (only in Paris, it's the rules). Then come the "normal" fashion weeks, dancing from New York, via London, to Milan and back to Paris. Cruise whips around the globe during May, after which there is a brief lull until the June/July menswear and couture shows, and the September/October fashion weeks in autumn. And then, before Christmas, those that do Cruise will often pop in a Pre-Fall event — Cruise's winter counterpart. Shown off in winter, it arrives in stores in May, hanging on till the new collections ease it out. But that will be a whole other story.
If following fashion seems exhausting, spare a thought for the designers producing the goods at this pace. Karl Lagerfeld is known as the master-multitasker; he designs not only all Chanel's collections (two couture, four ready-to-wear, one Métiers d'Art, Cruise, Pre-Fall) but menswear, womenswear, shoes and fur for Fendi and his own Karl Lagerfeld line. How does he do it? "I don't ask myself too much how. The less you think, the more it becomes like a second habit."