Louis Vuitton took over Palm Springs on Wednesday night with a retro futuristic runway show outside the Bob and Dolores Hope estate overlooking the Coachella Valley.
Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Catherine Deneuve and Michelle Williams were among the 550 guests who traveled from as far away as China to see artistic director Nicolas Ghesquiere’s women’s 2016 cruise collection at what the designer described as “the castle of the city.”
The 23,000-square-foot home, with its distinctive spaceship-like pavilion, was a natural fit for Ghesquiere’s sci-fi vision. The Hopes commissioned modernist architect John Lautner to build it in 1973 and it was completed in 1980.
After being shuttled up the winding Southridge Drive, guests arrived to see models on the house’s balcony, glammed out in makeup like David Bowie on the cover of his 1973 “Aladdin Sane” album, as Vuitton’s distinctive gongs rang through the air creating a Zen mood. The vista, the models, the late-afternoon Palm Springs shadows: it was a scene ready-made for social media.
Inside the house, which has been on the market since 2013 and remains unsold even though the price has been slashed more than 50% to the current $25 million, the photo ops continued. The angles of the glass wall spanning the entire length of the house, that indoor-outdoor feature so distinctive of Palm Springs architecture; the oculuslike opening of Lautner’s design built to resemble a volcano; the sweet and lush Garth Benton jungle mural behind the bar that was a Dolores Hope touch; it was all new eye candy to the jaded fashion crowd.
Champagne was served, and then the doors slid open to reveal the entire swath of the Coachella Valley as a welcome mat. In the backyard, 2,500 square feet of grass were temporarily removed to create the runway show space, accented with cactus and fitted with crate-like stools for seating.
A camera-equipped drone hovered overhead, capturing every moment for the brand’s live stream — the real future meeting the one imagined in a modernist past.
“It’s nice to break with what’s traditional and inspire people,” mused Gomez, who was attending her third Louis Vuitton show, dressed in the brand’s embroidered leather and mesh minidress. “The drive out here, coming up to the house, it was all so peaceful.”
Indeed the experience was quite peaceful compared with the frenetic pace of Paris Fashion Week, where the spring and fall shows are held back-to-back, on the hour. A cruise collection is shown in the spring, but the clothes arrive in stores in November. Originally designed with the wealthy client who might be traveling to warm climes in winter in mind, cruise collections have taken on more importance in recent years as marketing vehicles for luxury brands now hosting cruise runway show extravaganzas all around the world (Louis Vuitton’s last cruise collection was held in Monaco). They’ve also taken on more importance for shoppers, remaining in stores for several months (a relatively long period of time), and often featuring more wearable styles than the envelope-pushing collections presented during the two major fashion weeks.
“I enjoy ready-to-wear, but it’s in the middle of the calendar with many other shows,” Ghesquiere said. “Cruise is out of context, the clothes are done for a season that’s in between. You don’t know if it’s winter or summer, so there is a real freedom to think about how clothes will correspond to a new exploration, this time in Palm Springs. Every time you think about where those clothes can go.”
A little after 6 p.m., the show began.
Some goth, some softness, some 1970s and all cool California girl is how Ghesquiere described the collection. Tough-looking shrunken bomber jackets and zip-front blouses accented with leather harnesses and belts evoking bandoleers were worn with wide-legged trousers and flip-flops. Asymetrically draped tops or sleeveless knits were tucked into maxi skirts in olive green leather or leafy prints, and worn with desert boots. Bags came in funky modernist or palm prints.
Long dresses had a wild romance, in chain link prints, embroidered florals, or with armorlike, studded shoulder epaulets. And column gowns were covered in a cracked-look embroidery resembling scorched earth. One of several showstopping gowns was a red-hot, red leather zip-front vision with a ruffled neckline and cutout details that’s sure to land on a red carpet soon.
The collection was inspired, in part, by Robert Altman’s 1977 cult film “3 Women,” starring Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule, which was shot in Palm Springs, the designer said. “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Game of Thrones” vixens also came to mind.
After the show, and after he was mobbed by well-wishers wanting to take pictures with him in front of the view of the valley, Ghesquiere said he has been intrigued by the estate for nearly 20 years, since the first time he traveled to Palm Springs. He tried to visit then but it wasn’t possible. It was only in March, when he was in Los Angeles for the opening of the Louis Vuitton Series 2 exhibition, that he heard the home was on the market, and open for visitors. “I jumped in the car to get there that night, to make sure I was the first to arrive at 10 in the morning,” he said.
The appeal of the space is in the contradictions, he said. “Bob and Dolores Hope are Hollywood glamour, part of the American entertainment story. But at the same time, they were so brave to build something ahead of their time with John Lautner. There is something so sweet and '50s about the inside of the house with the wallpaper, and at the same time it’s so beautifully modernist.”
He’s sold us, now maybe the home will sell.