I realised one thing about Virginie Viard‘s Chanel. You just can’t go through her collections and instantly have a feeling about it. If you do, you will rather consider it as boring. But when you take a longer moment for each of the looks, you see what’s so special about Viard’s vision for the brand. It’s light, sober, slow, elavating. Virginie Viard’ spring-summer 2020 haute couture presentation was set in a romantically overgrown garden of a cloister, set miraculously in Paris’ Grand Palais. The setting suggested a key element in Coco Chanel’s legendary story. She was 11 years old when her mother died, and as her father was often away, it was decided that she would be sent to the convent of Aubazine in the remote French region of Corrèze. Here, her unusual situation meant that she was among the girls singled out to wear an austere black-and-white uniform, one that she would adapt through the years to dress the richest and most stylish women of her age. In imaginative retellings of her autobiography, Chanel would refer to the convent’s strict and unforgiving nuns as “aunts.” These women taught the young Chanel to sew and gave her the tools to forge a life as an independent woman for herself in later years. The aesthetic of the convent stayed with Chanel forever. Fully aware of the biographical significance of the convent in Chanel’s life, and to her aesthetic, Virginie Viard made a pilgrimage to Corrèze on a gloriously sunny day last September. “Karl didn’t like those things,” Viard explained backstage. “He always said, ‘Oh, it’s ugly, ugly!’ But I said to myself, I must do this.” The visit proved inspirational; “I loved it,” Viard recalled, “it was full of charm.” In fact, she was so moved by the cloister’s garden that she immediately decided to recreate it for the evocative decor of the haute couture set in the Grand Palais, creating an enclosure of dozens of antique linen sheets hung up as though freshly laundered by the girls and the nuns to dry in the breeze. The influence of those convent girls and their childhood home threaded through Viard’s collection in subtle ways that showcased the incredible resources of the haute couture. The designer developed a soft, pastel woven-and-sequined fabric to evoke the chapel’s stained-glass windows. The convent’s unique stone floors, with their rough pebbles laid in a grid that resembled quilting, were evoked in trellises of embroidery tracing the shape of the Peter Pan collars. One particularly beautiful example, on a suit jacket of marled stone-colored tweed, turned out in the hand to have been worked with “sequins” cut from chiffon. Many of the skirts, for instance, were paired with exquisite overskirts in filmy tulle that added extra length, but garlanded the lower leg in exquisitely embroidered fragile dandelion clocks, or scattered meadow flowers, or butterflies made from feathers. Add to all this black patent schoolgirl shoes with white ankle socks. Beautiful.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.