Models walk along wide paths either side of a narrow channel of water, with a yellow sunset behind them
Louis Vuitton models during the brand’s cruise show at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, San Diego © Phillip Faraone/WireImage

Before his catwalk show in Puglia this week — the heel of Italy’s boot, a fitting locale for a fashion presentation if ever there was one — Alessandro Michele of Gucci was musing. “A fashion show is like a constellation,” he said. “It’s about invisible connections.”

But in fact connections have been very visible across the season that fashion calls cruise. These shows unveil clothes that go into stores from roughly October to June and form the bulk of most labels’ turnover. Major fashion brands over the past decade or so have taken this season as an opportunity to traverse the globe, a travelling circus of wining, dining and entertainment for press and heavy-spending clients, a few flown from each territory for the occasion.

And the visible connections are forged between the locales and the clothes: Michele’s Gucci collection paraded Guinevere-esque velvet dresses embroidered with constellations in front of a Middle Ages citadel; last week, Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton commandeered a California sunset as a backdrop for a collection of gleaming Sun King metallics. And, earlier this month in Monaco, Virginie Viard showed a Chanel collection literally in the shadow of Karl Lagerfeld’s former home, La Vigie, a whipped-cream villa perched on a promontory overlooking her catwalk on Monte Carlo beach.

Of course, what each of these brands is doing is re-emphasising their individuality, a valuable commodity. That’s why, after a hiatus necessitated by the Covid pandemic, these shows are back with a vengeance. Gucci’s venue, the 13th-century fortress Castel del Monte, is a national landmark featured on the back of the Italian cent. Ghesquière has previously allied Louis Vuitton to progressive design through shows staged at Modernist architectural monuments designed by Oscar Niemeyer and John Lautner. This time it was the Salk Institute in La Jolla, San Diego, designed by Louis Kahn — a Brutalist backdrop for some savage-looking clothes.

Models walk down castle steps in elaborately embroidered gowns and leather coats and boots
For its latest show, Gucci invited 300 or so journalists and celebrities to Castel del Monte, a 13th-century fortress in Puglia, Italy © Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Gucci
A model wears a long dress in red and cream coloured squares
Gucci showed ‘half-and-half’ outfits that seemed to reference medieval heraldry . . .  © Alfredo Albertone
A model wears a sequinned red and silver gown
. . . and sequinned evening dresses accompanied by edgy jewellery © Alfredo Albertone

While Chanel is unmistakably French, Lagerfeld spent much of his professional life a Monégasque resident. He shot seminal 1990s Chanel campaigns there, with supermodels clad in glistening sequinned wetsuits on the balconies of his villa, as well as dressing Princess Caroline. She and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi were guests of honour at a dinner held for Viard after this Chanel show, which was a kind of homecoming. “We have lived so many happy moments there,” said Viard in a statement. “Monaco is inherent to the history of Chanel.” Well, maybe. It’s certainly full of rich people who are relevant to Chanel’s contemporary success.

What Viard is doing at Chanel is smart, not only embracing the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel herself but also that of Lagerfeld, whose early 1990s work is resonating loudly with a generation not even born when it debuted. Lagerfeld resolutely refused to look back at his own history, but Viard has no such qualms. She’s been at Chanel since 1987, and worked with Lagerfeld on one of his other gigs as creative director of Chloe for five years, so it’s part of her own heritage. Hence the models in brief swimsuits, sheer black tights and Louis-heeled satin stilettos, laden with costume jewellery — avatars of unapologetic ’90s glamour if ever you saw them.

A model in a dark blue belted coat dress
Virginie Viard’s Chanel cruise collection paid homage to the legacy of Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld . . . 
A model in short white dress and pink-and-white checkered jacket
. . . and included references to the grand prix, such as checked starter-flag prints

This was Chanel in the fast lane — excuse the grand prix pun — played out in bouclé tweed pit-crew jumpsuits, checked starter-flag prints and double-C logo racing helmets. Those won’t be for sale, but minaudière bags in the same shape will be. And you can’t buy stuff like that anywhere else.

When Ghesquière talked after his Vuitton collection, he was backdropped by a spectacular sunset over the Pacific coast, reminiscent of the ombré bottle of the brand’s newish City of Stars fragrance — a natural branding exercise. And as he spoke about the sun and nomads, both sources of inspiration for a collection of wrapped and swathed layers, sliced out around the body and glistening with sun-refracting shine, you were reminded that Louis was the name of the Sun King as well as Monsieur Vuitton, and that Vuitton is synonymous with trunks, hence with travel. Clever.

Indeed, his was a clever collection, uncompromising and fierce. It showed a designer supremely confident in his own abilities, and confident of a brand whose success never seems to flag and whose profit margins — north of 30 per cent — are enviable. The might of Vuitton allows Ghesquière the freedom to experiment — these clothes were glorious and forward-thinking, but didn’t strike you as supremely saleable. But great fashion often isn’t. What will shift are the accessories — the stack-heeled boots in gilded leather, the weapon-like studded bags, the hefty cuffed jewellery.

Models walk in a line along a Monte Carlo beach
Chanel’s cruise show was hosted at the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel © Boby
A model wears a metallic silver dress and draped scarf/headdress
Louis Vuitton’s collection presented plenty of layers and metallic accents . . . 
A model in a long skirt and criss-cross metallic top, with bare midriff
. . . including sequin chainmail criss-crossed on models’ torsos

And the clothes will shift fashion forwards. Designers will doubtless be swathing and draping, and criss-crossing chainmail over their clothes come next season. Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke also confirmed that the company has renewed Ghesquière’s contract.

Back to the heel of Italy, and Gucci, whose annual turnover of €9.7bn comprises more than half that of its parent group, Kering. A level of clout that drew 300 or so journalists and celebrities — Elle Fanning, Dakota Johnson, Lana Del Rey — to the remote Italian countryside to watch as Michele’s imagination unspooled in 101 looks. “I chose this place because it’s like a stargate, between the earth and the sky,” said Michele poetically. He projected constellations on the side of the castle as a blood moon hung heavy in the sky.

And the clothes were marvellous, with sequinned and beaded tulle evening gowns, billowing cloaks and a few half-and-half outfits, such as trousers with one leg black, one white, that seemed to reference medieval heraldry. The models toted handbags left tantalisingly open, with old-fashioned cosmetic accoutrements such as cut-glass containers and lipstick canisters. Gucci has a beauty line and those transparent dresses showed off thigh-high lace-front boots, because footwear is big too.

The beauty of Michele’s Gucci is that, powerfully product-laden as every one of his shows has been (proved by the fact that Gucci’s revenue in 2014, the year before he was given creative leadership, sat just under €3.5bn), they don’t feel creatively compromised. Indeed, sometimes they overwhelm with their abundance, their giddy creative ebullience. That’s a USP, right there.

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