Why Céline Dion is the fashion icon our messy AF world needs

The singer is bringing back fashion’s fantasy and escapism – and we are all here for it

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Celine Dion
Céline Dion for American Vogue

When Céline Dion’s Vogue video – featuring the Canadian singer prancing around Paris in fresh off the runway couture looks – hit the internet last week, a collective squeal of joy could be heard echoing from fashion industry offices across the globe. People ran to each other’s desks, iPhones in hand. The sound of Boney M’s “Daddy Cool” rang out from speakers far and wide, as did as a chorus of words like “iconic”, “queen”, and “obsessed”.

It’s no shade at Céline to say that we didn’t really see her ascension to – dare I say it – this year’s best-dressed woman coming. But there’s no question about it. Céline Dion wearing a Vetements Titanic hoodie is amazing. Céline Dion waving from the sunroof of a car while wearing Louis Vuitton x Supreme pyjamas is amazing. Céline Dion feeding a man a burger while wearing deconstructed Margiela is amazing.

Why? Because it feels like a breath of fashion fresh air. The joy with which Céline is getting dressed up is infectious – she’s like a kid in a couture candy shop, whether wearing a heavy metal tee and Balmain croc coat, some whimsical Gucci, or those bedazzled YSL boots. According to her stylist, Law Roach, fashion has been a way for the singer to cope with the sad loss of both her husband of 21 years, René Angélil, and her brother, Daniel Dion. For Céline, clothes – beautiful, over the top, extravagant clothes have provided adventure and escapism. But why are the rest of us so completely obsessed?

We all love a good comeback – that’s a given. But let’s consider fashion today. Collaborations have become a constant, and the rise of streetwear has been impossible to ignore. Kanye West is putting super expensive basics and adidas tracksuits into production and even the biggest design houses have made t-shirts and hoodies staple parts of their collections. Not super expensive, blinged-out Balmain tees a la Christophe Decarnin, either – more “found it at a foreign marketplace” faded knock offs.

While there are exceptions (Rei Kawakubo, for one), we are living through a period which will be remembered for its realism rather than its fantasy. Hoodies are haute, the street is where fashion is found, and “real” teenagers with Instagram accounts rather than celebrity superstars are the biggest style icons for young people. From Balenciaga to J.W.Anderson, we’ve seen the runways increasingly embrace the banal – transforming Ikea bags, dad trainers and more into must-haves. Still, there’s been something a little cynical about it all; the obscene prices of Vetements, for instance, feel like an Emperor’s New Clothes joke at the expense of fashion – especially when Demna Gvasalia admits that he wouldn’t even buy his own designs.

It wasn’t always like this, as two new books attest. John Galliano Unseen is photographer Robert Fairer’s documentation of two decades shooting behind the scenes at the designer’s own-label shows, while Alexander Fury’s Dior Catwalk: The Complete Collections cycles through every Dior couture show between 1947 and 2017, as well as ready-to-wear starting when Galliano joined in 1996. Full of images of his eccentric, over-the-top, totally fantastical ensembles, the books feel like windows into another world, one that no longer exists. Things changed after the 2008 financial crisis, after the sad loss of Alexander McQueen (2010), Galliano’s own meltdown (2011), and finally, after Marc Jacobs left Vuitton (2014). His final show – which gathered together the props which made up the backdrops to his best collections (the carousel from SS12, the train clock from AW12, the escalators from SS13, the hotel lifts from AW11, etcetera) and painted them all black may as well have been a funeral to fashion’s theatrics.

“Still, judging by the outpouring of love for Céline Dion, I’m not the only one hungry for theatrics. They make us happy, they bring us joy, they distract us from the grand fuckery of the world”

Despite fashion houses jetting off for elaborate cruise shows, today, the storytelling which drove all of those iconic moments feels largely absent. Where is 2017’s Diorient Express train? Shalom Harlow being spray-painted as she spun on a twirling platform? Kate Moss smoking while walking down the runway? I love Gucci aliens as much as the next girl, and the Chanel rocket launch was one of the best things I have ever witnessed – Karl, as always, is the exception. Still, the fact remains – today, Philipp Plein is the one designer regularly described as a showman. 

With every New York Times iPhone notification about a North Korea rocket test, it feels like we live in a world that draws closer to the apocalypse. So against a backdrop of Donald Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, increased terrorism and other social and political unrest, it might feel like bad taste for fashion to turn a blind eye and indulge in the over the top. There is a danger of seeming totally tone deaf by putting on giant, expensive shows (if you even have the money for it). Instead, over the last couple of years, some designers have brilliantly and subtly reflected our current times, using their shows to comment on the world we live in (and, for what it’s worth, I adore Galliano’s Margiela, his trading of history for futurism).

Still, judging by the outpouring of love for Céline Dion, I’m not the only one hungry for theatrics. They make us happy, they bring us joy, they distract us from the grand fuckery of the world. When times are tough, we need a little escapism – just look the astronomical popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race – and clothing gives us that. That video of Céline clapping like an excited kid at Giambattista Valli kind of, somehow, feels like all of us when we first started getting excited by the power and potential of fashion. Her throwing herself around a boat on the Seine entirely dressed in Chanel couture is as far away from a printed t-shirt as it gets. To be 2017 about it: it’s so extra. And exactly that’s why we need it.

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