TORONTO – Many celebrities walked the 2017 Met Gala carpet earlier this year in outlandish styles, but only Celine Dion used the moment to propel her transformation into a fashion maven.
While she’s been the queen of Quebecois music for decades, the “My Heart Will Go On” powerhouse strutted onto the New York fashion scene in May with surprising confidence and swagger. Dressed in an Atelier Versace gown, she mugged with hip hop trio Migos and slinked like a lioness across the floor for Vogue’s popular Instagram “photo booth.”
She also yanked off her high heel and pretended to use it as a phone. Everything she did pulsated with vibrancy — and a touch of silliness — at an event where attendees often take themselves too seriously.
Not long afterwards, some voices in the fashion industry started proclaiming 2017 as “the year of Celine Dion,” as the Met photos went viral and sent gossip pages into a tizzy.
The Met Gala also proved the 49-year-old performer wasn’t defeated by the events of 2016, an emotionally draining year that saw her lose both husband and manager Rene Angelil as well as her brother Daniel to cancer — within the course of a week.
The deaths left a void in her life but also convinced Dion to forge ahead, suggests Alison Eastwood, editor-in-chief at Hello Canada.
“She’s really wanted to pour her heart and soul … into something she’s passionate about — and that is fashion,” Eastwood says.
“It’s part of her re-emergence as an independent woman.”
Searching for inspiration in the world of haute couture — the glamorous looks that grace runways — isn’t entirely foreign to Dion. In recent years, she slipped into designer threads as part of her flashy Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace.
But getting credit as a fashion influencer was mostly new territory for the singer in 2017.
Years ago, Dion was better known for her clothing missteps, like the backwards pantsuit she wore to the Oscars in 1999 which divided critics. Other clothing choices were less inspired and sometimes called safe and undistinguished.
It wasn’t until the performer strolled onto the streets of Paris in the summer of 2016 that heads really started to turn. Her outfit that made a statement: a Vetements hoodie bearing images from the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic,” coupled with distressed jeans and Gucci sandals.
“It was hailed by many as her official debut in the world of fashion or certainly current fashion,” Eastwood says.
The concept was imagined by Law Roach, the “image architect” who has played a key role in helping Dion enter the fashion world. As the story goes, Dion first noticed Roach’s styling on young actress Zendaya Coleman, who was stealing attention on awards show red carpets.
Roach ran into Dion at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards and they hit it off instantly. Within a couple of days, the pair was collaborating on big ideas, like putting her into the now famous hoodie.
“I had it for a while but I didn’t show it to her because I thought she would think it was corny,” Roach says, adding Dion was instantly attracted to the kitsch and insisted on wearing it immediately.
“As the days went on I started to introduce her to new brands … and one day I mustered up the courage and showed it to her.”
By 2017, the partnership between Roach and Dion had really clicked. Many of the choices seemed purposefully tuned to elevating a particular moment.
Her performance of “My Heart Will Go On” at this year’s Billboard Music Awards was paired with a white Stephane Rolland gown that towered over the singer’s shoulders, subtly evoking both angel wings and the towering scale of an iceberg.
Other looks were more playful and motivated fashion magazines to document her every move as she stepped out at Parisian hotels draped in show-stopping designs.
Dion ignited chatter by wearing a white Ralph & Russo cape and matching pantsuit topped with a wide-brimmed hat, and she also won praises for coupling a Dice Kayek blouse detailed with a giant black bow with high-waisted pants and Tom Ford heels.
Many of the looks were coupled with handbags from the “Celine Dion” branded collection she began selling this summer.
Afiya Francisco, a Toronto-based style expert, compliments Roach for enhancing Dion’s fashion sense.
“It showed that she was adventurous,” she says. “If you don’t have the attitude sometimes that can really fall flat.”
The singer has described her foray into haute couture as a source of joy after the death of her husband. She’s also credited Roach with inspiring her creativity.
“To me, that was the ultimate payoff, to have such a small part in the healing,” says Roach.
“She was with Rene for so long and loved him so much that she will never ever not mourn (him). But the fact she credited (our work) in Paris that summer as part of the healing process was so overwhelming to me.”
Roach says Dion’s vast knowledge of the industry often astounds him.
“She’s also a bit of a fashion historian,” he says.
“The things she can reference and pull up. She’s like, ‘Give me a minute, I know I have it.’ And she’ll go through like books of tear sheets (from old magazines)…. She knows what she wants and what she likes, but she’s also very open to learning new things.”
Dion’s move into the fashion industry could also give her pop music career a boost. It’s been rumoured she could release new English-language material in 2018.
Eastwood rebuffs suggestions that Dion has simply been trying to stoke buzz for a new album and her fashion lines. She says after interviewing the singer a number of times, she’s confident Dion is simply tapping into another outlet for her own happiness.
“I can guarantee you that she couldn’t care less personally about making an impact on social media,” she says.
“It doesn’t feel like she’s trying too hard…. It may have a different audience paying attention to what she’s doing now, (but) that’s the power fashion and style has.”
Eastwood also predicts that Dion is only getting started with her grand aspirations and could surprise the world by stepping onto a catwalk during Milan Fashion Week in February.
Whatever is next for Dion, Francisco expects her style choices will continue to work in her favour in the coming months.
“Fashion, nowadays, absolutely has the ability to define a career … it’s really important and part of the package,” she says.
“If a new album were to drop, she has everybody’s attention already.”
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