In 2019 we like our fashion heroes flamboyant yet enigmatic. Playful, but at the same time undeniably intimidating. Villanelle with raspberry-pink hair to match her Armani fur coat. Serena Williams at the French Open in a bespoke Virgil Abloh dress with the slogan: “Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess.” Cardi B at the Met Gala, in a quilted crimson dress so huge she seemed to arrive on her own carnival float. Beyoncé in Homecoming.
Céline Dion is the empress of them all. Right now, fashion is Céline’s world, and the rest of us just live in it. From the moment she stepped out of her car into a freak Parisian heatwave last Monday morning, dressed in a sculpted black gown with long, tight leather gloves, a glossy black headpiece that resembled an electrified bird of prey and open-toed booties, it was clear that Ms Dion had not come to haute couture week to play. She had come to slay. When she made her next entrance not just in full Gucci – peppermint and white puff-sleeved minidress, black bondage collar with silver spikes, lace tights and peep-toe shoes – but riding an electric scooter, the penny began to drop that this haute couture fashion week had in effect been rebranded as an extended pre-show entertainment to warm up the crowd for Dion’s headlining slot in Hyde Park. By the time she made what might, in a hotly contested field, go down in history as her best look of the week, in a grand Richard Quinn bow-topped gown, the cool tones of its electric blue and jade green floral perfectly set off by a pair of weimaraner dogs that Dion held nonchalantly by their diamante collars – the vibe in the front row was very much, print her face on our money already, for she is our queen.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Dion has completely lost the plot – and, maybe, so have I. That Dion looks less like a woman of taste than a woman who has covered herself in glue and run through the VIP fitting room of every boutique on the Avenue Montaigne. And the thing is, you’re not completely wrong. Dion is not chic in any conventional sense. Her look is not easy on the eye, which is exactly what makes it interesting. It is the polar opposite of the Duchess of Cambridge school of pleasant, flattering, appropriate clothes. She makes no concession to the playbook of good taste, or the unspoken rules about what a 51-year-old woman should wear to catwalk shows that will be headlined by 18-year-old supermodels. (In Dion’s case, memorably, an Off-White “suit” comprising a one-piece, high-cut zippered graffiti-emblazoned swimsuit with a matching blazer, as seen just a few days earlier on Gigi Hadid.)
Dion’s wardrobe is about drama – not just for its own sake, but as a narrative. She is her own muse, the heroine of her own story, and she gives herself all the best plotlines. Even when her looks are at their most jaw dropping – we haven’t even mentioned the second-skin unitard with C-H-A-N-E-L spelt out in gold hardware jangling from a chain belt – the most compelling thing about Dion is always the woman herself, not the clothes. In stark contrast to endless, soulless images of women posing in uncomfortable dresses on red carpets with rictus grins and hollow cheeks, looking like they would rather be anywhere else, or pouting with exaggerated boredom in a bathroom selfie, Dion always looks like she’s having the time of her life. This is a woman who really, really loves fashion.
You can tell, not just because she clearly spends an eye-watering amount of time and money on clothes, but also because her exaggerated, sculptural camera-friendly poses are those of a woman who has soaked up a lifetime of fashion imagery. She stands for a photograph like one of the iconic couture models of the 1950s, with the swan-like neck of Jean Patchett and the angled hip of Suzy Parker, but adds the wink-to-camera knowingness of Elton John in his pomp. Along with her image-making team – “image architect” Law Roach, and stylists Sydney Lopez and Pepe Munoz – she collaborates with a wide range of designers, rather than being beholden to one label. With a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at $430m (£345m) she has no need to play the passive paper doll.
Dion’s reinvention from bejazzled Vegas diva to avant-garde Parisian street-style star began in 2016, the year in which she lost both her husband of 22 years and her brother to cancer. The deaths came within two days of each other. Later that year, a paparazzi shot of her wearing a neon-yellow Balenciaga gown caught the attention of the fashion industry, and she became a more frequent sight on the front row. Dion’s relationship with fashion feels much more than transactional. It feels, in fact, like a bit of a love affair. She gave a standing ovation to a Giambattista Valli collection and was moved to tears at a Valentino show last year. She takes pleasure in its beauty and its silliness. When she began working with Roach two years ago, he was excited to find his new client enthusiastic about the fashion potential of mining her own pop-culture background for street-style jokes. When Roach tentatively showed Dion a Vetements “Titanic” sweatshirt, her reaction was: “What do you mean, what do I think about it? I love it. I want to wear it today,” Roach told the Guardian last year. Last week, Dion wore another Vetements X Titanic look: a replica of the film’s iconic Heart of the Ocean diamond, over a T-shirt reading I Love Paris Hilton. In May, for an encore after her epic Met Gala appearance in champagne-toned Oscar de la Renta fringing and peacock feathers, she greeted the photographers outside her hotel in a back-to-front Maison Margiela blazer – spoofing her own 1999 Oscars look, minus the white cowboy hat.
Last month, Dion’s 16-year residency in Las Vegas came to an end. Having changed the rules of Vegas – Jon Gray, the general manager of the Palms Casino Resort, told the Daily Beast that “Vegas was a place where singers go to die. Céline changed that” – she is now changing the rules of the front row. A recent post on her Instagram showing her wearing an Alexandre Vauthier dress – sumptuous whipped folds of vanilla ice-cream silk, knicker-length hemline, floor-sweeping sleeves – was captioned “Channeling the inner goddess in all of us – Team Céline.” Amen to that. We may not all be in haute couture, but we are all Team Céline.