Celine Dion fashions a new life

Celine Dion at an event in Montreal to celebrate the introduction of her handbag and accessories line, the Celine Dion Collection, on Aug 23.
Celine Dion at an event in Montreal to celebrate the introduction of her handbag and accessories line, the Celine Dion Collection, on Aug 23.PHOTO: NYTIMES

The singer boosts her new-found style cred and looks for a new connection with fans through a handbag and accessories line

NEW YORK • Ms Annick Chenard, 38, has seen Celine Dion in concert 21 times and has a large tattoo of the singer's face on her right shoulder.

She recently spent a day on a street in Montreal, waiting for a slim chance to meet her queen.

She was among more than 1,000 people camped out for Dion's appearance for the debut of her handbag and accessories line.

This worried the superstar - she was concerned they had not eaten, that there were children there and that they had been up for many hours.

"People love me beyond what I do," Dion said. "They get married with my song. They lose people with my song. They remarry with another one. They sing a lullaby to their kid with my song."

One hundred of the luckiest fans in Montreal got a bag (all sale proceeds went to a children's and obstetric hospital) and 30 seconds to hug Dion, cry to her or share a painful story about being in a coma.

Meet and greets are usually reserved for performers early in their career or for those trying to hold on to one. This is not the way Dion works. "But they tell me: Don't talk too much - because I'll make myself sick," she said.

Some of these intense connections, she believes, are because she is an open book. Her fans knew about her struggle to get pregnant and her fertility treatments.

They knew when her husband was sick and when he died, and when her brother died two days later, and then when her brother- in-law died in August. "Life is also happening to us," she said.

Last year, her husband, Mr Rene Angelil, died from cancer at 73. He had been her manager since she was 12 and they were married for 21 years.

His funeral was televised across Canada like that of a monarch. For eight hours, Dion stood, black veil covering her face, accepting condolences - no VIP access, no special tickets. If you were a fan, you got in line. "When she was hurting the most, she decided to also share her grief with her fans," said Ms Elaine Lui, the Canadian gossip queen.

At 49, Dion is a single mother. Her 16-year-old son, Rene-Charles, is driving now. He writes notes to his mother and slips them under her door, like her late husband used to do.

"I rarely put red on because I have small lips," she said. "But I put red on and I kiss him and he says, 'Now it doesn't come off.'"

She smirked and pointed her index finger to the sky. "One day, you'll remember my lipstick."

Just before last year's Billboard Music Awards, where Dion masterfully dominated a cover of Queen's The Show Must Go On, she contacted stylist Law Roach, who works with 21-year-old Disney star Zendaya.

"Everybody's so obsessed with millennials and we tend to kind of push older women aside," he said.

"Celine has been sitting in this classroom with these 20-year-olds and these younger girls and she raised her hand and said, 'Here, listen. I'm here too.'"

Their partnership was sealed when, during last year's Paris Couture Week, Roach dressed her in a sweatshirt that carried a photo of Jack, Rose (the characters Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio played in the 1997 movie) and the Titanic in all of its sinking glory. Dion had sung the monster hit My Heart Will Go On from that film.

"I know for a fact this girl, this fashion girl, this outrageous, no- fear girl, was there when I met her," Roach said.

Once, in 1999, Dion landed on the worst-dressed list for wearing a white backward John Galliano suit to the Oscars. This year, she was touted as a fashion icon. She shot a couture video for Vogue.

After the Met Gala, she ate a hot dog from a street vendor in her custom Versace gown. At the Billboard Music Awards in May, she wore a white Stephane Rolland couture dress with enormous sleeves.

And on the steps of her private plane, she posed in full python Balmain thigh-high boots, a Rochas trench coat and a bag from her collection, her lips in an absurd pout, her collar standing at attention, staring directly into the camera.

And so, of course, a Celine Dion Collection of bags and accessories was to follow. "Maybe they don't necessarily like the album that's going to come out, but maybe they can have a bag that they can hold on to," Dion said. "It's tangible."

This is reasonable: More than 85 per cent of Canadian sales of Encore Un Soir, her 2016 French-language studio album, were in physical, not digital, media.

"Some people take up a sport or a hobby. Some people decide to move somewhere when they have a change of life," Mr Dave Platel, of Dion's management team, said.

"Celine is maybe exploring some of that love she has with fashion."

The singer " wasn't looking to be a Prada", said Mr Andrew Hattem, chief executive of luggage and handbag company The Bugatti Group, which collaborated with Dion for the line.

Most of the bags, which will be sold at Nordstrom in the United States, cost US$149 (S$202) to US$299.

"I'm about to turn 50 and I've always had a kind of person to help me out," Dion said of her new drive.

"Things are different now. My change is that I was going to be strong for myself. And if I show strength, my kids will be strong.

"Because you don't choose always what you want. Life imposes things on you sometimes."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Celine Dion fashions a new life'. Print Edition | Subscribe