‘This is a world known only to fash­ion in­sid­ers’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

As I smoothed my em­bel­lished, one shoul­der feath­er­trimmed 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 this was the first time they had ex­pe­ri­enced Cu­nard’s Transat­lantic Fash­ion Week cruise.

“There’s no bet­ter way to re-live the hey­day of cruis­ing than on a transat­lantic cross­ing on the Queen Mary,” she said. “And if there’s go­ing to be a fash­ion week cruise event it makes com­plete sense for it to be on this voy­age.”

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 – some­times cruises From Grammy Award-win­ning jazz artist Her­bie Han­cock to Eight­ies rock band The Cure, the Queen Mary 2 has car­ried more than her fair share of mu­si­cians across the At­lantic.

The late David Bowie, right, would ar­rive with sev­eral books and loved to use the time to read, and St­ing per­formed songs from his Broad­way mu­si­cal on to “nowhere” (those that don’t dock) – 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. Di­et­rich in par­tic­u­lar fre­quently crossed the At­lantic and was of­ten pho­tographed wear­ing the lat­est fash­ions.

Day­wear, in turn, led to the birth of the cruise col­lec­tion, a con­cept orig­i­nally cre­ated for those in need of a wardrobe for their mid-sea­son 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.

The berets, Mary Jane flats, stripy high-waisted trousers and crop tops shown in Paris last month by Karl Lager­feld for Chanel, were mod­elled against a life-sized ship built in­side the city’s iconic Grand Palais (sound ef­fects in­cluded seag­ulls and creak­ing ropes). Af­ter the show, guests in­clud­ing Mar­got Rob­bie, Kris­ten Ste­wart and Lily-Rose Depp crossed gang­planks to party in­side a mock ball­room com­plete with grand pi­ano, swimming pool and caviar bar. “It was like the set of Gentle­men Pre­fer Blon­des, but with bet­ter clothes,” said a Tele­graph fash­ion re­porter.

Al­though for­mal wear is no longer es­sen­tial on board the QM2 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”… an in­trigu­ing propo­si­tion that left me with mild wardrobe anx­i­ety.

I needn’t have wor­ried. It soon be­came ap­par­ent that 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.

“There’s no doubt that Cu­nard guests take great pride and in­ter­est in fash­ion – es­pe­cially dur­ing our

− the stair­case down which first-class pas­sen­gers would make an en­trance be­fore sit­ting down to din­ner. This part of the ex­hi­bi­tion also houses a “pool” in which mod­els pose in swim­suits and biki­nis.

Among those on show is a knit­ted wool swim suit from the late 1920s, along with oth­ers cre­ated in the Fifties by Amer­i­can com­pany Jantzen, which played to the sought-af­ter hour­glass fig­ure. Nearby is that heav­ily

Cruise ship atri­ums are still a thing. Glit­ter­ing crys­tal stair­cases are found on five of MSC Cruises’ ships. Each Swarovski-in­laid step costs £13,000 a pop. The atrium on P&O Cruises’ Bri­tan­nia has a mem­o­rable

sculp­ture. At the ship’s launch party ac­tor Rob Bry­don dubbed it “Bey­oncé’s ear­ring.”

Teresa Machan

Ocean Lin­ers: Speed and Style runs un­til June 17, 2018 (vam.ac.uk).

Dress, main, by Julien Macdon­ald, be­low left; cruis­ing Twen­ties style, be­low

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