Cunard Line presented the first Transatlantic Fashion Week during Queen Mary 2's September 1, 2016 voyage. This unique programming gave guests the opportunity to interact with well-known figures in the fashion industry and to experience something of the glamour of the fashion weeks held each year in New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Traditionally, fashion weeks have been events where designers present their new collections to the fashion press and commercial buyers. While they have a glamorous mystique, the general public's knowledge of this world comes from what they read or see in the media.
“The catwalks and the fashion shows are an exclusive world that aren't generally open to the public. It is something that most people do not get the opportunity to experience,” pointed out Jo Haley, Entertainment Director on QM2. “So we are pleased to present it as part of our guest experience. Cunard has always been about the glamour - - the liners and the glamour of the transatlantic crossing. So I think from that end, it has been the perfect collaboration.”
Other ships have fashion shows and (some) other ships have enrichment speakers. However, it takes a ship the size of Queen Mary 2 to have an event of this scale involving numerous venues. Furthermore, it takes a ship with the prestige of Queen Mary 2 to attract such high caliber speakers. “She's an iconic ship so we like to bring iconic people onboard.”
While Fashion Week was the theme of the voyage, it did not preempt QM2's regular programming. “We have not scaled back on anything on our regular program. We still have Jon Sopel [BBC correspondent] aboard as our celebrity speaker. We still have the regular Cunard Insights speakers. Nothing has been lost along the way. We still have our regular program with a splash of glamour with Fashion Week.”
At the same time, there was separate programming for German-speaking guests. “This westbound voyage started in Hamburg. We have 460 guests with us from the German side We have two or three German guest speakers. So as we have been having lectures in the Royal Court Theatre, they have been using Illuminations [QM2's planetarium/cinema/lecture hall] for the German lectures.”
Leading off the Fashion Week events was a talk by fashion historian and style commentator Colin McDowell, MBE. Mr. McDowell has been in the fashion industry for over 40 years, was the fashion editor of the London Sunday Times and has published 23 books on the subject. This talk probably was intended to be a keynote speech describing the role of fashion and setting the stage for the events to follow. However, Mr. McDowell very quickly moved away from such a structured presentation and instead treated the audience to a much more spontaneous yet insightful discussion of his experiences in the fashion industry and his thoughts about fashion. His sharp mind and wit made it a pleasure just to hear him talk. Thus, you did not need to have much of an interest in fashion to enjoy this talk. It reminded me of the story of how Oscar Wilde's speaking style mesmerized an audience of hard-bitten miners during a speaking tour of the Wild West with a talk on the aesthetics of interior decoration.
Later in the voyage Fern Mallis, the founder of New York's Fashion Week, gave a talk in the Royal Court Theatre. Her presentation was much more autobiographical. It started out somewhat slowly but once she began talking about Fashion Week, its origins and evolution, it became engrossing. She went on to talk about how social media is changing the industry. Consumers no longer have to wait months to see and/or purchase new designs. They appear on social media as soon as they are unveiled and are in the shops soon after. As a result, the industry is once again at a point where it must evolve.
In addition to the formal talks, there were open interviews. Mr. McDowell interviewed Dame Zandra Rhodes, the award winning designer, on stage in the Royal Court Theatre. Mr. McDowell and Ms. Mallis were later interviewed by Ms. Haley in the same venue. In both cases, members of the audience were able to ask questions.
Guest interaction also took place outside of the scheduled events. The celebrities did not hide out in their staterooms during the voyage. Rather, they could be seen in the public rooms and at receptions often talking with the guests. With her pink hair, Dame Zandra was the easiest to spot. “Zandra is such an iconic person. I think people have been interested to get up close and personal and meet Zandra herself.” Ms. Haley noted.
The apex of Fashion Week was the fashion shows. One show was entitled “Zandra Rhodes Transatlantic Dreams” and presented a new collection by Dame Zandra. (See photo feature). The other show featured collections by a group of young designers selected from the Royal College of Art. Both shows were repeated so that as many guests as possible could attend.
All of the shows were held in Queen Mary 2's elegant ballroom, the Queens Room. Professional models from the Storm agency, supplemented by members of the ship's production cast, strutted down the center aisle, paused and turned back just as in the shows depicted in films and on television. Cameras flashed and iPhones were held aloft to capture the moment. Fast paced music played giving a sense of excitement. So that everyone could get a closer look, the models orbited through the outer aisles of the Queens Room after they paraded along the catwalk.
If anyone had any doubt about whether passengers taking a vacation voyage would be interested in fashion, the fashion shows laid them to rest. The Daily Programme listed the Zandra Rhodes show as starting at 2 p.m. with the doors opening at 1:30. However, by 1:00 p.m., there was already a capacity crowd waiting at the doors. Priority tickets for the repeat show were issued to those who were closed out of the first show. Both shows closed with tremendous applause and were the talk of the ship.
Another Fashion Week feature that was very popular with the guests were the workshops given by Mr. McDowell on Fashion Illustration. Two workshops were originally scheduled but demand was such that an additional workshop was added. In a small group setting, Mr. McDowell first spoke about fashion illustration and then presented examples of work by noted illustrators. “A rough selection of fashion illustrators over the last century. I show then to you so you can see different techniques.” The guests were then given pens and paper and were given the opportunity to draw using live models. Mr. McDowell went around the room giving individual comment and encouragement to the guests.
I found this workshop particularly enjoyable. It was informal yet I felt that I had learned something. More such workshops on other aspects of the fashion industry (e.g. models and fashion photography) would be an interesting addition to future fashion weeks.
Other Fashion Week events included tables hosted by the Fashion Week principals in the Britannia dining room, book signings, and the unveiling of Zandra Rhodes' collection in the ship's shops. Mr. McDowell also gave introductions to three fashion-related movies shown in Illuminations.
Very few of the guests that I spoke with said that they had come aboard specifically to attend the Fashion Week. However, even those with no particular interest in fashion admitted that it made the voyage exciting. Cunard is particularly good at developing such programming for Queen Mary 2. In the past, there have been such things as intimate concerts with Crosby, Stills and Nash in the ship's theater; songwriting workshops with professional musicians; and, of course, the spectacular shows put on when the three Cunard Queens gather for special celebrations. Most of these events only occur once or at most a handful of times. But one of the things that makes Queen Mary 2 unique is that events of such magnitude occur on a regular basis.
“With Queen Mary 2, because we are always at sea, it is about the ship, the entertainment, the food - - the experience. We are the destination rather than on the cruise ships where it is the port days. This is focused on the experience on Queen Mary 2. So we are sure to uphold that from every angle.” Ms. Haley commented.
Transatlantic Fashion Week on Queen Mary 2 is scheduled to return again in 2017 and 2018. “Its something our guests, our clientele, are enjoying so we shall keep it going for the future.”
Above: Colin McDowell, MBE.
Below: Fern Mallis.
Above; Mr. McDowell interviewing Dame Zandra Rhodes.
Below: Mr. McDowell teaching a class on fashion illustration.
Above: Models from the Storm agency relaxing at one of the QM2's receptions.
Below: Entertainment Director Jo Haley introducing the Zandra Rhodes fashion show.
Cruise review - - Cunard Line - - Queen Mary 2 - - Fashion Week 2016