It was pouring buckets when editors, clients and the odd celebrity boarded the Dior Blenheim Express (as the train was branded for the occasion) at the Victoria Station in London Tuesday afternoon. The destination: Blenheim Palace, a sprawling estate that still serves as the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, where Dior would later showcase its cruise 2017 collection. It was a homecoming of sorts for the brand — still without a formal creative director since Raf Simons departed in October — as both Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent had hosted charity shows there 62 and 58 years ago, respectively.
Guests — including an immaculately dressed and coiffed Kate Beckinsale, Kate Mara, Elizabeth Olsen and Emma Roberts — were treated to a three-course wine-and-champagne lunch once aboard, and the excitement was palpable, with British Fashion Council Chairman Natalie Massenet raising a glass and cheering, "J'adore Dior!" to the cabin as London's ordered streets gave way to mustard-covered (and rain-sodden) fields.
Some two hours and a short car ride later — picture a stretch of more than 100 black Mercedes-Benz vehicles leaving a quiet station and weaving their way through a picturesque English village — the assembly arrived, umbrellas out, making their way to assigned seats that started in the library and wound through a series of beautifully preserved rooms decorated with tapestries and family portraits. Panels printed with a painting of hunters and their hounds on a fox chase made for a temporary runway.
Some four hours after the original departure, the first model — hair slicked back, eyelids and brows moodily darkened — stepped out on the runway in a heavily styled ensemble: a navy cotton jacket over a yellow jacquard peplum top over navy cotton crop-flare trousers, an oyster-shaped necklace chained high on the neck, a red bag dangling from her right hand, a scarf threaded through the blazer. Stronger looks followed, combining signature Dior silhouettes and tailoring with quintessentially English fabrics, which yielded some beautiful combinations: peplum blouses printed in country florals, a Bar jacket in sky-blue tweed, an ankle-length red floral dress with ruched sleeves and ruffled waist. Interspersed were Asian- and African-inspired prints, patterns and embroideries, chosen to reflect the "restless and wanderlust" that infected the English in the years following World War II.
With all the build-up, it was somewhat startling when the show ended just seven minutes later. Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, who have been appointed to lead the womenswear team until Simons's successor is named, emerged to take their bow. The applause was warm, and well-deserved: The collection might have lacked the purity and directional force of Simons's (as well as Galliano's) for the house, but there were plenty of lovely, finely tailored pieces for clients (and there were plenty in attendance) to collect, and also a willingness to push the boundaries of what is quintessentially Dior, seen in the unusual, and somewhat Italianate, print-mixing and heavy jewel appliqué. If anything detracted from the show, it was the excessive styling: Dior seems intent on drawing attention to its accessories offering, and the many scarves, looped through blazers and knotted around wrists, as well as necklaces, bags and bracelets, were distracting at times. The shoes, many featuring an eye-catching gold and grooved columnar heel, were a very good addition, however, and a highlight for actress Kieran Shipka: When we caught up with her after the show, she enthused that they would "work well with so many different kinds of looks."
Afterwards, guests feasted on towering platters of macaroons and cupcakes, drank tea and champagne, and gathered in the front hall to admire a selection of dresses and coats Dior had shown at the Palace in 1954 — a chance to admire the house's history of craftsmanship, and to be thankful that women's clothes today are so much more fluid and flexible.
As evening set in, guests were ferried back to London to change before an after-show supper at Loulou’s in London’s slick Mayfair neighborhood. The rain, suddenly, had cleared away.