Sometimes called cruise, or pre-spring, or resort, or even holiday, this is the collection on everyone's lips. And with brands in the midst of showing their cruise 2019 collections, it seems like an ideal time to take a closer look at what all the fuss is about.
Cruise is a mid-season, mini-fashion collection, essentially designed for those who winter onboard a yacht. At least that’s how it all started, when, in 1919, Gabrielle Chanel realised that her wealthy clients were taking mid-winter holidays in the Mediterranean and required a new wardrobe for their travels. Chanel ran up a collection of lightweight, easy-to-wear pieces suitable for a trip on a steamship, and the world’s first cruise collection came into being.
“[Cruise collections] really did start as a small capsule collection of clothing for a cruise or resort style vacation somewhere warm and sunny,” Sass Brown, founding dean of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, says. “Inevitably, they were aimed at the high-end consumer who could afford to take a cruise outside of the usual summer vacation period.”
Fast-forward 100 years and the world is a very different place, with a crowded fashion market, online shopping and a new breed of informed, impatient and demanding consumer. To attract the modern shopper's attention, brands must deliver new and exciting products in fresh and engaging ways. The standard model of just two collections a year – spring/summer and autumn/winter – feels increasingly out of step with what customers actually want.Under the two-season model, the arrival of stock in-store is dictated more by production cycles than by when the customer might need it. "It used to be usual for a brand to deliver spring/summer in January and fall/winter in July; times of the year when much of the western hemisphere is not nearly ready to purchase them," Brown says.
Frustrated with such a disconnection, savvy consumers began looking to cruise, which, although still aimed at wealthy holidaymakers, offered a new approach that delivered a smaller range, but one that was less season-specific and more in tune with modern customers' lifestyles.
"With the speeding-up of the fashion cycle," Brown says, "there is a far greater expectation to continuously show something new, year-round, to consumers and media. It has become increasingly important for brands to fulfil that expectation to maintain exposure. The inevitable shortened attention span means brands have to keep pace and can no longer remain relevant with just two collections a year."
Cruise collections are now generally unveiled in May, to go into stores in November, after the main winter collection has arrived. Customers have found that this offering of lighter pieces folds seamlessly in with their already purchased winter items, while for markets like the Middle East, where autumn/winter collections are largely irrelevant, cruise is a perfect solution.
Snapped up by an ever-growing number of clients, resort collections have become increasingly important for business because “they enable the spread of cash flow across more than two main seasons”, says Brown. “With the globalisation of branding, a pre-collection also allows brands to appeal to a broader, more diverse global audience, who deal with a diversity of climates.”
Some brands report that cruise now represents 60 per cent of annual turnover, and with the global fashion industry worth an estimated $1.2 trillion (Dh4.4tn), the figures are potentially huge. As far back as 2011, Bruno Pavlovsky, the president of fashion for Chanel, explained to WWD that cruise “now represents Chanel’s biggest and most important delivery of the year”.
Unlike the ready-to-wear spring/summer or autumn/winter shows, which are so tightly bunched into fashion weeks it becomes almost claustrophobic, there are no such restrictions with cruise collections. Taking place outside of the regular schedule, this effectively gives labels far more freedom to do as they please. Which often translates into the use of glamorous and exotic locations that feel hip and of the moment.
For cruise 2016, Louis Vuitton showed at Bob Hope’s famous home in Palm Springs, followed by the spectacular Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for cruise 2017. For 2018, meanwhile, it headed to Kyoto. Christian Dior went to Blenheim Palace for 2017, and then Calabasas in America for 2018. Gucci, meanwhile, showed its cruise 2017 collection in Westminster Abbey, headed to Florence for 2018, and showed its latest line in Arles, France. Chanel journeyed to Seoul, South Korea, for resort 2016, and to Cuba for cruise 2017.
As Brown points out: “It is an opportunity for a brand to mix things up and keep things interesting, by doing shows in exciting and desirable locations. It also offers the brand an opportunity to differentiate the pieces from the main collection by showing them in a different location with a different flavour or style.”
The change of style often comes through as broader themed collections that are innovative but also highly wearable. From the brand’s side, while it costs money to stage these lavish shows (Business of Fashion estimates that larger houses are spending up to $10 million per event), it does mean that your best customers can be whisked away to a private location and guided through the new offering completely undistracted.
Since its inception, cruise has essentially been about grabbing attention, and the 2019 collections are proving to be no exception. For its show earlier this month, Chanel returned to the very nature of cruise, by building a life-size ship in Paris' Grand Palais, complete with a smoking funnel. Called La Pausa (after Gabrielle's famed summer home), the ship took four weeks to build off-site, and a further 15 days to construct in situ. The clothes continued the theme, offering a breezy take on boating sophistication with jaunty stripes and multiple shades of blue. It was resoundingly optimistic and, once the show was over, the whole audience was invited on board.Christian Dior, meanwhile, decamped from Paris to Chantilly, the French town famous for its lace. Despite being rained on at the open-air hippodrome, Maria Grazia Chiuri's collection was based on the style of dress of escaramuza riders, a band of famous female Mexican rodeo riders whose look of cinched waist over full skirts (a near doppelganger for Dior's own aesthetic) here came finished with riding hats and horse nose-bag sized holdalls. Peasant dresses were covered in traditional Mexican embroidery, and worn with Frida Kahlo-esque centre partings. Wide brimmed hats appeared alongside velvet riding jackets, while delicate vintage-looking prints were made into sweatshirts and full skirts, light as air.
Prada, meanwhile, upped sticks to New York for only its second cruise show, presenting an astonishing collection brimming with trademark retro-inspired patterns and unnerving colour combinations, all revisited and reconsidered. Brilliantly wearable, it seems Prada is making up for lost time.
Notably, after past seasons where cruise collections were shown in increasingly exotic global destinations, this season the focus seems very much on France, and all things French. “France has always been the home of luxury fashion, and the labels showing in France this year are predominately European and many are French. There is always greater cultural significance in the choice of location however, and France is definitely enjoying a moment right now,” says Brown.
“The young French president (Emmanuel Macron) signals positive change, and fashion is always about change,” she adds. “He is positioning France as an inclusive, forward-thinking country welcoming environmental scientists from around the world, and encouraging technology start-ups. Ian Rogers, the chief digital officer at LVMH, has compared Paris now to Shoreditch and Brooklyn in their heyday of creative explosion.”
Where better, then, to show the most significant collection of the year?