Le Palais Bulles is just that—a palace of terra-cotta bubbles set into a cliffside halfway between Cannes and Monaco. It’s one of the goofiest buildings you’ll ever see, like a condo from The Flintstones or a pile of Murakami eyeballs. Now the property of the legendary Pierre Cardin, it was the location for Dior’s Cruise presentation tonight, with Cardin, 92 years old, in the front row. And the atmosphere the house loaned to the evening was utterly appropriate. “Playful, sweet…childish, almost,” said Raf Simons, as he reflected on a venue he fell in love with five years ago, when he was first brought here. “The house is big but intimate, and it doesn’t behave like an authority,” he continued. “And Dior can do that sometimes, especially if you look at it from an architectural point of view.”
Check Simons’ trajectory at the house and you might think he’s been subtly subverting Dior’s authority, twisting it to his own ends, imposing his own personality. The iconic Bar jacket, for instance, has been backseated. Which made tonight’s show something of a surprise. The Bar silhouette was back, full-sleeved, nip-waisted. “I will always go back,” Simons insisted. “I don’t think that by going back I make it less mine.” And, yes, he did it his way, pairing that distinctive shape with taffeta shorts, or defusing the formality of a black Bar pantsuit with a pair of flip-flops. The Dior heritage was evoked throughout the show—the low-heeled, pointed shoes quoted Roger Vivier’s footwear, but, as Simons said, they were as much Siouxsie Sioux as Marie Antoinette. Dior’s classic femme fleur was abstracted in shimmering, crystal-strewn florals or, most spectacularly, in the net overdresses that restrained pleated underskirts. That was Simons’ artful way of addressing what he saw as the physically uncomfortable restriction of Dior’s original dresses. Here, there was shape, but there was also ease.
Antti Lovag, who designed the Palais Bulles, considered himself an anti-architect. “The straight line is an aggression against nature,” he once wrote, a sentiment that put him on a collision course with modern architecture’s Corbusier-influenced orthodoxy. He intended his work for “joueurs et aventuriers,” players and adventurers. Without wanting to make a meal of a metaphor, Lovag’s Palais Bulles spoke volumes about where Simons sits with Dior right now. The playfulness of the collection, with its abbreviated proportions and knit onesies, broadcast his confidence. The patchworking and crochet and mineral-like strata of Lurex added a thoroughly winning organic edge.
Simons talked about the presence of nature in the south of France, the huge sky, the big, brutal coastline that was such a turn-on for Picasso and Matisse, so far removed from the precise sobriety of his hometown, Antwerp. “Here, you look at the world differently,” he explained. “You look up, up at the sky.” And, as if to vindicate everything he’d said and presented, Dior punctuated the postshow drinks with a fireworks display as cloud-bustingly, heaven-rattingly grand as anything you’ve ever seen. From the terrace of the Palais Bulles, the magic looked like the very least you could expect from this place and this time.