Over the weekend, Céline Dion’s ascent into supergod continued with the launch of #celinetakescouture, the hashtag created in celebration of the singer’s attendance at Couture Fashion Week.
And it’s where she belongs. Whether seated next to Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles in the front row, or using her shoe as a phone at the Met Gala, Dion is living her best life and arguably coming into her own through her embrace of high fashion. But even more plainly, she is establishing herself as the poster child for late bloomers everywhere, proving that reinvention isn’t just always possible, it’s yours when you want it.
Not that Dion needed a rebrand. By her twenties, she’d already spent years becoming one of Canada’s most valuable musical exports, going on to break chart and sales records before lending her talent to the most important soundtrack in the history of time and space. (Titanic, duh.) So, by the time we began the new millennium, Dion was a force unto herself. She continued to record, to perform and to land a residency in Vegas, and then she tragically lost her husband, and stepped out of the spotlight. Which anyone in her situation would do.
But for reasons I still can’t quite understand, we were surprised when she re-emerged as a couture queen; her legacy of period costumes and controversial red carpet looks forgotten when she stepped out in lime green Givenchy at Couture Week in 2016 and was hailed a titan. The thing is, she’s always been a titan—we just finally all caught up to her.
No person has ever been consistently liked or accepted. Whether it was because we were awkward in middle school or too extra as teens, it tends to take years not to care about what other people think—only to, ironically, be accepted and applauded by those people after the fact. But it’s a process. It can take decades to figure out who you are, and then even longer to learn that the merit of your evolution isn’t about the way it’s received. Self-liberation moves at a glacial pace, especially if you’ve always existed on the periphery.
And despite Dion’s popularity and professional success, she has existed largely on the outside. In the ’90s, her voice set her apart from the majority of popular female vocalists, while her alignment with the adult contemporary genre left her ballads reserved for school dances, weddings and older audiences. While “My Heart Will Go On” may have accompanied a movie that appealed largely to teens, her sweeping songs couldn’t compete with acts like Britney Spears and BSB, who articulated the struggles of being a teen or 20-something—as opposed to a grown-ass woman, married with kids.
But Dion didn’t change to try and sway us. She didn’t bend to what was cool or overhaul her image for the sake of appeasing particular audiences. Instead, she stuck to her path, revelling in being authentically herself. And that’s what makes what we’ve perceived as a comeback so magical: Céline Dion has never been anybody but Céline Dion—we’re just finally ready to embrace her.
Even Anna Wintour is ready. This week, Vogue lent its Instagram to Dion, who posed nude with an accompanying caption that detailed how hard she works—which is exactly as over-the-top as the recent video of her jumping around and applauding a show as Wintour smiles next to her. “The clothes follow me; I do not follow the clothes,” Dion’s caption assured, establishing her second coming not as a rebrand, but a renaissance.
Here’s a little naked fact to ponder while Celine Dion changes looks between shows: for the past five years she has worn haute couture near exclusively for her own performances (in Las Vegas and on her current “mini-tour” of Europe). She performs a minimum two hours a night, five or six nights a week, dancing and curtseying and generally gesticulating sans abandon, in handmade, hand-beaded delicacies designed solely to walk a catwalk or a carpet (and often with handlers). For Celine’s orders, the houses send teams to Nevada for typically three fittings, before the garments are ultimately finished in her local, private atelier. Armani Prive, Schiaparelli, Giambattista Valli, Versace…only a partial list. Everyone, basically. In Vegas, Velcro panels are added to allow for her ribcage to expand or for a quick outfit change. Micro straps of elasticized chiffon prevent a slit from becoming a sloppy situation mid-squat. Shoes—always heels, never platforms—are ordered one size smaller (she is normally a 38) and refitted with metal shanks. Says Celine, “We have to make haute couture industrial.” And, more enigmatically: “The clothes follow me; I do not follow the clothes.” Which is to say: the haute couture, with all its fragility and handcraft, has to perform professionally for Ms. Dion. And privately as well. Years ago, Celine bought a classic little black dress from the Christian Dior atelier when the house was overseen by John Galliano. It is simple, falling to mid calf, and narrow as can be with just a hint of stretch. It requires a minimum of jewelry, a statement bracelet or perhaps one of the major diamond rings she designed with her late husband Rene Angelil: two pear cuts set in a wide pave band, or two hearts of diamond and emerald abstractly interlocking, on a cushion of yet more diamonds. This LBD forces you to walk one foot in front of the other. This is a dress Celine knows well and clearly loves, the simplest evocation of the private luxury of couture and the total antithesis of the red carpet hoopla that attends the union of fashion and celebrity. It is also the dress she wore to Rene’s funeral. #CelineTakesCouture Photo by @sophfei.
It’s not only exciting to see a famous singer like Dion celebrated for her enthusiasm, passion and flair for drama (see: discerning traits), it’s what that celebration represents for the rest of us. The singer may now be the Queen of Couture, and that crowning is a beacon for anyone still finding their footing; for any person still reconciling with who they are with the person everybody else seems to want. Céline Dion makes emotion, self-expression and vulnerability fine, and as we’ve finally begun to recognize them as admirable traits, she makes it OK for everybody else, too.
Because Dion’s resurgence isn’t fleeting. She isn’t new or re-shaping herself to suit a model that’s been deemed for mass consumption. Instead, she embodies my favourite quote from Planes, Trains & Automobiles, uttered by John Candy’s character as he defends his many eccentricities: “I like me.” And to be one’s self and like one’s self has—and always will be—enough.