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More than 60 years after it made its debut in Britain as a small couture house, Christian Dior returned to Blenheim Palace on Tuesday as a multibillion-pound enterprise.
“Paris came to Blenheim by air and rail . . . in a cloud of Dior perfume,” wrote a London newspaper in 1954, when the French designer arrived at the behest of the Duchess of Marlborough, who had invited the French couturier to stage the collection as a fundraiser for the Red Cross at her ancestral seat.
Since then, Dior’s affiliation with the stately homes and figures of England has persisted. The house was back at Blenheim in 1958, under the creative direction of Yves Saint Laurent, while Marc Bohan staged a collection at Warwick Castle in 1965.
In 1996, the house dedicated a bag, Lady Dior, to one of its most famous patrons, Diana, Princess of Wales, thus launching one of the most profitable accessories of modern times.
But the brand that returned to Blenheim on a wet day in May 2016 was a different creature to the one that first reached these shores. Today, Christian Dior is owned by LVMH, the luxury conglomerate to which it contributes around €5bn in annual revenues. Christian Dior couture, which includes all the ready-to-wear lines, contributed €1.7bn to that figure in 2015.
Instead of a charity fundraiser, the show was staged to publicise the vast redesign of Dior’s Bond Street flagship, a lavish multi-storied boutique containing every category of the house’s design.
Guests still arrived by train on a specially chartered “Diorient Express”, and still in a cloud of perfume, but the show was not couture but cruise — the huge commercial collection that props up the two seasonal runway shows and goes in store in December.
This cruise show was overseen by the studio heads Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, charged as caretakers at the brand since the sudden departure of Raf Simons last October. Maria Chiuri Grazia of Valentino is currently the hot tip to take on the creative director role.
They delivered a polyglot of global influences — pretty tea dresses with Asian and African prints, jacquards and bags depicting 19th century equestrian scenes, rustic tweeds and rich dévoré velvets, all shot through with scarlet details and tied with narrow scarfs.
There were Bar jackets, of course — the house classic — and heritage details, but this modern, sculptural yet deeply feminine collection eschewed the more obvious postwar references one might have expected. And the clothes were very wearable.
They need to be. Luxury markets have stagnated of late — in April, LVMH announced a 0 per cent increase in sales of fashion and leather goods for the first quarter of this year. Europe’s luxury stores have seen a steep decline in visitor numbers and woeful conversion figures after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.
But London remains an important centre of business. “London is still one of our key markets,” said Sidney Toledano, chief executive of Dior, “seeing double-digit growth in recent years and a huge melting pot of clients.”
A bright outlook on a gloomy day? “Look, even the rain is on message,” joked Mr Toledano. “Very Dior grey.”