Back in the 1920s and 30s, when the French Riviera was the holiday destination of choice for everyone from Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to le tout fashionable Europe, Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel, then at the glittering apex of the social scene in Biarritz, offered lightweight, eased clothing for yachting, promenading on the sea front or lounging on the beach: famously she is the woman who made naturally tanned skin not only sociably acceptable but desirable.
Since his arrival at the house of Chanel in 1983, Karl Lagerfeld, too, identified the value of a standalone Cruise collection, for chic winter travel to warmer climes, and each with its own distinct identity. Among many pioneering moves, from the year 2000 onwards, M Lagerfeld was the first of his profession to deem these worthy of their own catwalk presentation. Chanel Cruise collections have since travelled the world taking in iconic destinations including Café Marly, Paris, Grand Central Station, New York, Miami's Raleigh Hotel, the Venice Lido, Hangar 8 in Santa Monica airport, the hotel Eden Roc on the Cap d’Antibes, Chez Sénéquier in St Tropez, the gardens of Versailles and this season, DDP in Seoul.
"Bringing collections to other countries allows us to tell a story outside the main fashion weeks' calendar and cities," says Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Chanel Fashion and arguably the man with the best job in the world. Given that there are no less than eight complete Chanel collections produced each year – that’s one every six to eight weeks and more than any other brand – it’s also safe to assume that he is kept extremely busy. "With these shows presented abroad, we are able to share the vision of the brand through unique destinations and collections. Karl Lagerfeld chooses the different locations and decides the themes which are linked to cities that inspire him and are consistent with the brand."
The investment in such large scale far-flung productions is worth its weight in gold. "The Cruise collection has the longest life-span in boutiques – November to July – and its arrival is highly anticipated by our clients," Pavlovsky says. "As Karl Lagerfeld says Cruise is about going, being somewhere else, so the idea is to create a different mood from our ready-to-wear collections which are shown in Paris. Travelling is a way to feed the imagination about a brand, and to renew its vision."
Of course, not just any traditional runway show will do. For Seoul, Chanel has installed an entire 1,000 square metre funfair, open to the public and to celebrate Children’s Day in South Korea, complete with "merry-go-round, race car circuit, magic circus seating 20 people with multiple daily performances of pantomimes, clowns and magicians, ice cream truck and many more surprises."
It goes without saying that the collection itself is not created with a specific region in mind – that would be reductive. "The Cruise collection certainly appeals to our clients who live in warm climate countries such as Dubai or Singapore," Pavlovsky says. "Chanel is a global brand, and it is a priority for our teams in Paris to constantly be open to learning about local concerns and needs. However, we do not adapt the brand's vision. We are guided by our values of creativity, luxury, know-how, quality and service in everything we do. That vision is precisely why our clients come to Chanel, whether it's in Asia, the Middle East, in France or anywhere else in the world."