CAIRO, Egypt — Visitors to Cairo over the weekend could be forgiven for thinking they had landed on another planet.
A city of almost 22 million people with no traffic lights, the Egyptian capital is studded with crumbling apartment blocks that bring to mind a set from “Blade Runner 2049.” Dior’s Kim Jones, who brought the fashion caravan to town for his pre-fall menswear show, had another sci-fi classic in mind: Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”
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The French fashion house unveiled the collection after sunset in front of the pyramids of Giza, in a spectacular display that set a new bar for destination shows in the post-pandemic period. As models emerged like spectral dots on a lit-up strip of runway on the horizon, the three pyramids successively lit up, their edges outlined in white against the pitch-dark sky.
Guests including Robert Pattinson, Naomi Campbell, Daniel Kaluuya, Lewis Hamilton, Sehun and Cha Eunwoo attended the show, which was followed by a live concert by British composer Max Richter.
With his peroxide blonde hair, 1980s casual tailoring and moon boots, the first model brought to mind Sting in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of “Dune” — a critical disaster at the time that has since gained cult status. Younger audiences will connect the lineup’s swirling capes, 3D-printed breastplates and space helmets to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 version, starring Timothée Chalamet.
Jones said he was most inspired by the storyboards for cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unsuccessful attempt to bring the novel to the screen in the mid-1970s. Thousands of preparatory sketches were made by artists Moebius and H.R. Giger.
“The costumes are too full-on to really reference, but that was a film that was never made that would have been incredible,” the designer told WWD in a preview. “I have a Frank Herbert-signed edition of each one of the seven ‘Dune’ books in my library and I’ve been obsessed by it for years.”
What does interplanetary travel have to do with Egypt? To be sure, the pharaohs left behind enough mysteries to fuel theories that their civilization was founded by aliens.
“There’s so many questions not known about ancient Egypt that that alien question always comes in,” Jones said, pointing to the eerily precise geographic location of the Giza necropolis. “The Great Pyramid was at the center of the whole landmass of the globe at the time. How did they know that?”
The son of a hydrogeologist, Jones first visited Egypt as a child and has returned several times, most recently in 2019, when he took a cruise down the Nile River.
The designer decided to connect Dior’s 75th anniversary celebrations to the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by British archaeologist Howard Carter, at a time when Egypt is ramping up its drive to bring back tourists in the wake of COVID-19.
“We were looking at the idea of the explorer, and the fact they were doing it all in suits, so that’s why tailoring is the underpinning of everything, which is very Dior anyway, but then we sort of layered on top of it, so to speak,” he explained.
Keen to sidestep potential accusations of cultural appropriation, Jones grounded his 75 looks in the Dior women’s archives. His key takeaway was a wool demi-kilt inspired by the bias-pleated skirt of a 1950s dress called Bonne Fortune — neatly tying the collection to founder Christian Dior’s penchant for superstition and love of astrology.
Gusts of wind whipped up the detachable knee-length or mid-calf panels that came attached to slouchy tailored pants in neutral tones. They were paired with crisp sweatshirt-style tops with open buttons in the back, gauzy jackets with protective hoods and billowy trapeze coats.
Jones’ collections strike a neat balance between comfort and opulence. Tank tops were embellished with scalloped panels edged in sequins, in a nod to one of the house’s most famous creations, the 1949 Junon dress. A dusty gray crocodile jacket and its flashier alternative, in holographic python, will speak to the brand’s most exclusive clients.
But the show also had plenty of street currency, courtesy of items like a safety orange bomber jacket with a built-in backpack and utility pockets across the back, and it tapped into the current craze for space exploration with windbreakers printed with NASA telescope images of distant galaxies.
Milliner Stephen Jones, who is celebrating 25 years at Dior, said the Giger-esque helmets were 3D-printed, while caps with slanted peaks were copied from a design that Jones first produced shortly after graduating from Central Saint Martins.
“The whole thing was very Dior, but it’s very modern as well, and it’s in this most extraordinary space,” the hat designer marveled. “Anybody growing up wherever around the world, as a child, has a picture book with the pyramids in it — all of us. That is culture. It’s global culture, and that’s the lovely thing about it.”
As green laser beams criss-crossed the night sky, Richter and his orchestra performed his recomposed version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” capping off an evening of unprecedented events in the prestigious location.
“I think it’s a first, so like a lot of creative work, what’s exciting about it is the unknown,” Richter said, explaining that he was stimulated by “the feeling of being inside history. Creativity is about making those kinds of vertical connections between the present day and what’s come before. It’s a very exciting creative moment.”
The event was a tour de force for Pietro Beccari, chairman and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, and his teams. Hurdles facing organizers range from endemic bureaucracy to security concerns, spotty internet access and a lack of qualified personnel, such as English-speaking drivers. (Guests quickly learned to make requests in Arabic using Google Translate.)
“It takes goodwill, it takes good relationships,” Beccari said ahead of the show.
“It’s been a challenge for the teams, and they’re all destroyed at the end of this adventure, but I think that we leave behind us more professional teams,” he added. “The show has been completely produced here. We worked with local workers. I think they’ve never been treated so well in their life. There was a canteen and a work inspector, etc, etc, so we did put a little drop of professionality.”
Beccari started laying the groundwork for the show more than a year ago at the first edition of “Forever Is Now,” an exhibition of large-scale works near the Giza pyramids organized by consultancy Art d’Égypte, which aims to democratize art and promote cultural tourism in Egypt with public exhibitons of contemporary art.
“I was told by the Minister of Culture and the Minister of Archaeology and Tourism that they want to give a hint of modernity and freshness to this incredible monument,” Beccari recalled. “There were incredible artists, it was a fantastic evening, and during that evening, we started talking with the parties and they thought Dior would fit perfectly into their purpose.”
It’s the latest of a series of grandiose events backed by the Egyptian authorities, including the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, held last year to mark the transfer of 22 royal mummies from the Egyptian Museum to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, and the 50th anniversary show of Italian fashion brand Stefano Ricci, held at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor in October.
Dior was also granted exclusive access to the brand-new Grand Egyptian Museum, where it staged a presentation on Friday for the Dior Tears capsule collection guest designed by Denim Tears creative director Tremaine Emory. The soaring building, designed by Heneghan Peng Architects, does not yet have a public opening date.
Nonetheless, the French luxury house does not plan to open a store in Egypt anytime soon.
“Egypt I don’t think is yet ready for business,” Beccari said. “We always observe. We have some distributors, for sure we have some clients in our database, some very big clients actually, but it’s not yet ready for luxury in the Dior sense of the word.”
By contrast, the rest of the Middle East is thriving. “We are in the podium of the top three brands, and I think we are closer to number one than to number three in the Middle East,” the executive said.
“We have been always very strong and recently in the last five years we reinforced our position. We have great projects next year. We are going to renovate Mall of Emirates. Dubai Mall is in the top five stores in the world for us. We opened a great store in Doha in [the Place] Vendôme [mall] with an incredible facade, so we are very, very present and we will strengthen our presence in the Middle East,” Beccari added.
After the show, it was time to party for an elated Jones and his team. Even the designer was blown away by the finale, with models silhouetted in a long row against the pyramids. “I tried not to cry when I came out,” he confessed.
Launch Gallery: Dior Men’s Pre-Fall 2023