This was a Chanel haute couture collection that left me with a rather mild impression. It was proper, properly pretty. When she began thinking about the autumn-winter 2021 line-up, Virginie Viard was struck by a series of photographs of the arch modernist Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel dressed in throwback 19th-century bustles and crinolines for some of the society costume balls that were all the rage in the 1930s. In that menacing era, these parties might have been a form of escapism, but as we now look to a post-pandemic future, and as Paris couture week unfurls in a flurry of dinners and in-person gatherings, Viard’s gentle romanticism suggests level-headed optimism instead. Viard also spoke of two women artists, the acclaimed Impressionist Berthe Morisot, sister-in-law of Manet, and the Cubist Marie Laurencin, a key figure in the cultural landscape of Jazz Age Paris, whose delicately colored works include a portrait of the young Coco Chanel herself. These painterly inspirations came together in a collection characterized by a lightness of touch. Viard encouraged some truly remarkable work from the great embroidery houses of Paris, including Lesage, Cécile Henri, Atelier Emmanuelle Vernoux, and Atelier Montex, and the feather and flower designers Lemarié. These masters cleverly emulated an Impressionist’s bold, impasto paint strokes à la Van Gogh, or delicate pointillist dabs à la Seurat to create small works of art evoking gardens of rose blooms or fringes of dahlia petals. Lemarié’s incredible gardenia-strewn cardigan jacket, crafted from feather strands, took 2,000 hours of expert handwork as Viard pointed out during a studio preview. That airy spirit continues in the quirky way Viard marries bouffant skirts or even suits with delicate bustiers of pale pink broderie anglaise or chalky lace, and lingerie-light chiffon and lace camisoles and bloomers that she aptly calls her “little deshabilles.” As the girls lined up backstage in the galleries of the Palais Galliera museum, currently hosting the exhibition Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, Viard’s clothes suddenly found themselves in dialog with Coco Chanel originals from the 1920s and ’30s, a garden of handcrafted beauty.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.