Why This Season's Cruise Shows Are More Extravagant Than Ever

cruise show season 2023
Cruise Season Turns The Dial Up To 11PATRICK T. FALLON - Getty Images

Cruise, resort, pre-fall, ready-to-wear, haute couture; the fashion calendar is peppered with confusing instalments. While the industry revolves around the ready-to-wear spring/summer and autumn/winter collections - shown in New York, London, Milan and Paris in September and February - there are numerous that fall in between, including cruise. But what does ‘cruise’ actually mean?

Traditionally, it’s a collection made up of trans-seasonal, adaptable pieces that cater to jet-set clientele who travel for winter sun. It’s generally presented in May and goes on sale in November, bridging the gap between A/W and S/S. To make matters more confusing, some brands refer to this collection as ‘resort’, ‘pre-spring’ or ‘holiday’. Its origins are outdated - obviously, it’s no longer only the very wealthy who travel in the winter months - but, for fashion houses and customers, it remains a crucial component of the fashion calendar (more on that later). Pre-fall fulfils the same criteria, but lands in stores around June to bridge the gap between S/S and A/W. Put simply, both cruise and pre-fall are mid-season collections.

2023 cruise shows
The first cruise collection by Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, Calabasas, 2017.CHRIS DELMAS - Getty Images

Coco Chanel is said to have been the first designer to produce such a collection when, in 1919, she created an offering for well-heeled customers who traded the dreary winter weather for a cruise - hence the name - of the Mediterranean or Caribbean and wanted a new wardrobe in which to do so. (Side note: it was also Coco who popularised the sun tan, after accidentally getting sunburnt… on a Mediterranean cruise). But it was her successor at the house of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, who arguably transformed cruise into an event. Known for staging lavish shows, he treated every Chanel collection - be it RTW, couture, metiers d’art or cruise - as an opportunity to stage a spectacle. In 2014, he invited over 1,000 guests to view the latest cruise collection on a ‘Chanelified’ man-made island in Dubai, at a reported cost of £1.4 million. Other locations have included Cuba, the Venice Lido and the Palace of Versailles. Less than a year before his death, Lagerfeld’s final Chanel cruise show saw the construction of a 148-metre-long cruise liner, named La Pausa after Coco Chanel’s Côte d’Azur villa, inside Paris’ Grand Palais - complete with on-board piano bar and swimming pool.

chanel cruise show in 2014
Chanel Cruise show in Dubai, 2014Francois Nel - Getty Images
cruise fashion 2023
The 07/08 Chanel Cruise Show Presented By Karl Lagerfeld in Santa MonicaMarsaili McGrath - Getty Images

While cruise has long been an annual exercise in extravagance for Chanel, post-pandemic it’s become a bigger deal than ever before for many of the major fashion houses, with the presentation of the collection eclipsing the traditional S/S and A/W shows in terms of scale, spend, coverage and excitement. It’s a development diametrically opposed to what many industry experts were predicting during the pandemic - that the fashion show as we knew it was dead. But why? The answer is multi-pronged.

For brands, it’s the creative freedom that staging a show ‘off schedule’ - outside the confines of the traditional Fashion Week format - provides. 'They can stage a production wherever and whenever they choose, which in turn encourages bigger, more dynamic and more indulgent festivities,' explains Nabila Virani-Neriman, founder of communications consultancy Le Grey, who has over a decade of experience working with fashion brands. Indeed, an increasing number of major fashion brands are moving away from showing within the traditional - and restrictive - fashion calendar, which dictates date and location, and instead investing more resources in high-impact events they can tailor to their exact desires, like cruise. See Simon Porte Jacquemus’ now-iconic spring/summer 2020 show, held in June in a Lavender field in Provence, as the perfect example.

Post-pandemic and teetering on the brink of a global recession, we’re seeking escape from the mundane more than ever before, and we turn to social media to find it. It’s here that cruise shows have really taken flight. As Virani-Neriman points out, cruise shows are undeniably 'less about the clothes themselves, and more about the location, the staging and the power of the front row.' This heady concoction of A-list attendees and influencers, exotic settings and fantastical production makes for perfect social media fodder. Brands leverage this. Where a cruise collection was once about providing top-tier customers with the perfect winter vacation wardrobe, it’s now an opportunity to grab the attention - and therefore buying power - of consumers all over the world. 'In such a crowded market, brands are doing whatever they can to capture these lucrative eyes and clicks, and the pageantry and theatre of the cruise shows is a big part of this content delivery,' says Virani-Neriman. This, in turn, satiates our growing appetite for constant newness, another symptom of our social media overuse. With many contemporary brands now opting for a ‘drops’ system - a constant drip-feed of new product released throughout the year, as opposed to two seasonal collections - making a bigger deal of the cruise (and indeed pre-fall) collections allows storied fashion houses to appear more aligned with, and cater to, our constant pursuit of the new.

cruise fashion 2023
Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 Fashion Show at the Salk Institute in San Diego, held in 2022PATRICK T. FALLON - Getty Images

Of course, there’s also the financial incentive of cruise and pre-fall collections making a splash. Chanel has reported that cruise accounts for 30% of its brand revenue between the months of November and May, while it’s thought that for other brands this could be as high as 60%. It’s little surprise; for starters, the traditional autumn/winter collections of cold weather-wear have little appeal in the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America, so cruise collections are vital to keep customers buying in those regions.

cruise fashion 2023
Dior’s pre-fall show held in Mumbai, April 2023WWD - Getty Images

In March, Dior presented its pre-fall collection at Mumbai’s Gateway of India, the city’s most-visited attraction. The collection was centred around Indian craftsmanship and Dior’s long history with the country, which hugely inspired founder Christian Dior as well as his successors Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferre. It also celebrated current creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s decades-long collaborative relationship with the Chanakya School of Craft, a non-profit school that supports female embroiderers in a male-dominated field. The show was spectacular; the backdrop was an 8-metre-high toran (a traditional cloth of welcome that hangs at the door of Indian homes) that took 35,000 hours to make. The live soundtrack was provided by the Symphony Orchestra of India. The catwalk was lined with carpets of thousands of marigolds, and the models were cast from Indian agencies. The clothes were breathtakingly beautiful, but they weren’t the main attraction. Guests included Priyanka Chopra Jonas and husband Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Cara Delevingne and Bridgerton’s Simone Ashley, as well as big-name Indian stars such as actress Anushka Sharma and her cricketer husband Virat Kohli, who alone have a combined Instagram following of over 300 million. Thanks to these celebrities, the number of eyes on the show, and therefore Dior, was huge - beyond what any fashion brand could have imagined even a decade ago.

Similarly, in May 2022, Gucci’s then-creative director Alessandra Michele took over the 13th-century Castel del Monte in Puglia for the brand’s cruise 2023 show. In what turned out to be his penultimate presentation (he exited Gucci in November 2022), 101 models traversed a circular catwalk that surrounded the mediaeval hilltop castle, which was illuminated by projections of antique constellation maps and shooting stars. Entitled ‘Cosmogenie’, it was an ode to German philosopher Walter Benjamin and his ability to illuminate connections that would otherwise be invisible. 340 guests were in attendance, including Lana Del Rey, Paul Mescal, Elle Fanning, Dakota Johnson, and each was gifted a star named in their honour. Fortuitously, the castle was backdropped by a Super Blood Moon.

This year’s cruise roster begins with Chanel in Los Angeles on May 9. It’s the first time the brand has shown in California since Lagerfeld famously presented the cruise 2008 collection via models disembarking a Chanel-branded plane at Santa Monica Airport. Then onto Seoul for Gucci on May 15, Isola Bella - one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore in North Italy - for Louis Vuitton on May 24, Rio de Janeiro for Caroline Herrera on June 1, and Stockholm for Max Mara on June 11. Buckle up, you’re in for a ride.

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