HIGH FASHION ON THE HIGH SEAS
Lauren Ho boards the Queen Mary 2 for a glamorous crossing to New York that recalls the golden age of cruising
As I smoothed my embellished, one shoulder, feather-trimmed dress into a plush sofa in the Champagne Bar, two women sitting on either side of me raised their delicate Waterford Crystal flutes in a spontaneous toast. “To the golden age of cruise travel,” said one, her diamond necklace shimmering in the soft evening sunshine. Her friend, wearing silk organza, her silver hair piled loosely on top of her head, told me that they cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 every year, but Cunard’s Transatlantic Fashion Week cruise was their first. “There’s no better way to re-live the heyday of cruising than on a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary,” she said. It was day two of Cunard’s seven-night eastbound journey from Southampton to New York, timed to arrive in the city for New York Fashion Week. My new friends, along with the tuxedoed men and elegant women in taffeta gowns wafting down the impressive double staircase, served as a reminder that ocean liners were once the epitome of glamour.
At the turn of the century, such luxuries as champagne bars, lavish ballroom parties and fine dining lured the leisured classes to sea, with film stars including Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall joining voyages with a de rigueur range of extravagant travel accessories, from personalised Goyard trunks to hatboxes, vanity cases and garment bags overflowing with haute-couture finery, fur coats, tiaras and precious jewels.
Daywear, in turn, led to the birth of the cruise collection, a concept originally created for those in need of a wardrobe for their midseason travels. High-fashion houses — including Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Ralph Lauren — now use it as an opportunity to introduce a must-have mid-season collection into the market.
Although formal wear is no longer essential, the Cunard passenger’s predilection for dolling up is still on point. “Shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps should be banned,” sniffed Doreen, a petite 80-something, from behind her menu at the ship’s Britannia Club Restaurant.
Part of the cruise line’s special “event cruises” — for which other themes include the Genealogy Cruise and The National Symphony Orchestra — Transatlantic Fashion Week is now an annual affair.
Curated by Gail Sackloff, former London-based merchandise director of Saks Fifth Avenue, and historian and style commentator Colin McDowell MBE, the event combines fashion shows and “audiences with special guests”, which left me with mild wardrobe anxiety.
I needn’t have worried. This voyage — as with the cruise line’s other themed events — is masterminded with the Cunard passenger in mind: an experience that embraces their interests, such as a fondness for a sense of occasion, while bringing something different to the table.
The cruise is a fascinating glimpse into a world usually only open to fashion-industry insiders. For example, Julien Macdonald — designer to stars including Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian — prompted much excitement. “The perfect first fashion show to attend,” said one woman gleefully.
Elsewhere on the ship, events included an exhibition of fashion illustrations featuring never-seen-before works by the likes of Bil Donovan, Dior’s artist in residence, along with film screenings and talks and workshops by Colin McDowell.
Away from the fashion week programme it was business as usual: bridge games, ballroom dancing, afternoon tea, and brisk, windblown walks along the outdoor track that encircles the ship, followed by lazy, sun-drenched deck days as we approached New York.
Evenings were dressy affairs. “Oh, I do love a tux,” guffawed a flamboyant American, who, out of the 4 000 or so people on board, I kept bumping into. “What’s the point of crossing the Atlantic if you aren’t going to do it in style?”
In a world typically known for its aloofness, there’s something very refreshing about Transatlantic Fashion Week. Devoid of any high maintenance drama, the aim here is simply to bring fashion to the people.
● This year’s Transatlantic Fashion Week cruise departs Southampton on September 2 and costs from £919
(R16 460) per person, including a one-way flight. The line-up includes fashion writer Colin McDowell and Gail Sackloff, a consultant to the fashion industry.
● White Star is Cunard’s agent in South Africa. Contact them on 011 463 3293 or visit whitestar.co.za.
“What’s the point of crossing the Atlantic if you aren’t going to do it in style?”
COCKTAIL HOUR A model poses in a Julien Macdonald design on board the Queen Mary 2.