Why the Catwalk Is Coming to Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival, which began on May 16 and runs through the 27th, has always turned the Croisette into something of a catwalk, ever since Elizabeth Taylor arrived in her tiara back in 1957. The red carpet premieres and seaside photo ops offer such a bounty of style statements that it’s hard to believe the festival hasn’t been crowned an honorary fashion week.

This year, however, may be the one to right that wrong. If the Riviera won’t come to the runway, the runway will come to the Riviera.

First, the Yves Saint Laurent company will make its producing debut with Pedro Almodóvar’s 30-minute short, “A Strange Way of Life,” which is the first project of its new film division, Saint Laurent Productions. Then two major fashion premieres will take place on May 23: the unveiling of a ballyhooed see-now-buy-now collaboration between Donatella Versace and Dua Lipa, and a new couture line from the jewelry house Chopard, involving just over 50 looks designed by Caroline Scheufele, its artistic director.

Johnny Depp’s re-emergence as the lead of “Jeanne du Barry,” the opening film, may have been the most news-making event of the week, but this phenomenon may have the more lasting impact.

Together, the three events blur the lines between film and fashion in a new way, reflecting the power of contemporary celebrity and the splintering of the show system in its ravenous maw. You meet your audience where its attention is. As Ms. Scheufele was happy to explain.

“It’s where these dresses belong,” she said when asked why she wanted to show her line at Cannes instead of during the regular couture season in Paris. “There are guests walking a red carpet every night. There are black tie dinners every night. And it is when we already have our biggest night.”

That biggest night involves a black tie party at the Hotel Martinez, one of the gravitational poles of Cannes, at which Chopard shows its Red Carpet high jewelry collection, a special line of one-off mega-jewels it has created since 2007 specifically to be worn by stars “mounting the steps” of the Palais des Festivals. This year, for example, 16 attendees, including Uma Thurman and Naomi Campbell, wore pieces from the collection during the opening ceremony.

Uma Thurman at the premiere of “Jeanne du Barry,” wearing Chopard Red Carpet jewelry. Credit…Scott Garfitt/Invision, via Associated Press
A look from Caroline’s Couture, Chopard’s new fashion line, designed with jewels in mind.Credit…Chopard

As it happens, the party is just one part of Chopard’s long history with Cannes, which stretches back to 1998, when Ms. Scheufele redesigned the Palme d’Or. This year the brand has created eight other awards, along with the Trophée Chopard, a prize for new talent inaugurated in 2001 that effectively gives Chopard first-out-of-the-gate access to stars in the making.

It also means that Ms. Scheufele has something of a captive audience, and market, for her new fashion line, which will be shown alongside the new Red Carpet collection. Indeed, it was designed with the jewels in mind: open necklines, bare shoulders, decoration concentrated below the waist so as not to compete with the stones. (An example of the sort of jewels involved: a ring featuring a 127-carat yellow sapphire.)

“Over the years I have worked with lots of good friends in fashion — Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli — and they make beautiful dresses,” Ms. Scheufele said. “But couture today involves so many sequins, so much Swarovski, the clothes end up taking attention from what is really the star — a $5 million necklace. They didn’t match the jewels.”

Her line, entitled Caroline’s Couture and created with a design team and ateliers in Milan, Paris and India, is meant to address that issue rather than to make a major fashion statement. And it is a territory marker of sorts.

“All these fashion houses are trying to get into our space,” Ms. Scheufele said, a reference to brands like Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci that have moved into fine jewelry, as well as rumors that Alessandro Michele, the former Gucci designer, was about to sign on as creative director of Bulgari, with an eye to starting a clothing line for the house.

If that’s happening, Ms. Scheufele said, “Why shouldn’t I get into theirs?”

Especially given the potential guest models involved. Like the jewels, the dresses will be available not just to order, but also to borrow for events during the remainder of the festival. The result could be free advertising of the most glamorously insider sort.

Dua Lipa and Donatella Versace, here at Milan Fashion Week in 2021, will unveil a fashion collaboration at Cannes. Credit…Marco Bertorello/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

That’s a strategy echoed by Ms. Versace, whose brand is a regular on the Cannes carpet (see Amal Clooney in 2016 and Bella Hadid in vintage in 2022) and who decided to bring her collaboration with Dua Lipa to Cannes because, she said, “it is a gathering place for the powerful, the creative and the great artists of the industry.”

After the decision to hold the last Versace ready-to-wear show in Los Angeles just before the Oscars, Cannes, Ms. Versace said, felt like a natural place to be. “Gianni used to say, ‘When a star wears a dress, a little of the stardust rubs off on us,’” she noted.

Versace and Chopard are not the first houses to hold fashion shows during the festival. All the way back in 2000, Victoria’s Secret brought its show (and its Angels) to the amfAR benefit, which still involves a charity catwalk presentation.And in 2017 Philipp Plein, the German designer known for his blingtastic showmanship, held his cruise show on the grounds of his 11-bedroom villa overlooking the Côte d’Azur.

Nor is Saint Laurent the first brand to try its hand at moviemaking. (That may have been Swarovski, which created Swarovski Entertainment in 2011.) But together they make a trend — one that may only grow in the coming years.

Indeed, while Ms. Scheufele said she would consider trying to be part of the couture show schedule come January, she said she would definitely return to Cannes in May 2024. “It’s a must, really, to show here,” she proclaimed.

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