Monastic. Chanel Couture SS20

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.

Sublime. Schiaparelli Couture SS20

Comparing to his chaotic debut collection last June, Daniel Roseberry‘s take on Schiaparelli for spring-summer 2020 is sublime. S-U-B-L-I-M-E. For this couture line-up, the American designer decided to focus on the “double fantasy” of Elsa Schiaparelli’s style. He began planning the collection by looking at images of Elsa at work in her studio dressed in her inventive, but pragmatic daytime outfits. These he contrasted with “the incredible Surrealist parties that she used to throw – this idea of the woman who dresses for herself during the day but then there’s this duality at night where it becomes performative. I became obsessed with the contradictory personality, the introvert-extrovert idea,” he continued, “trying to embrace those two different extremes and remove all the middle, and do something that feels uniquely Schiap and personal.” Roseberry also looked at the designer’s 1930s friends and collaborators, including the minimalist Deco Moderne furniture and interior designer Jean-Michel Frank (for a daytime palette of cerused oak and parchment that he mixed with navy and cigar brown) and Alberto Giacometti (for the skeletal jewels and rhinestone “bone” embellishments that also referenced Schiaparelli’s own shocking padded jersey skeleton evening dress of 1938). Roseberry has had the opportunity to focus on tailoring (always important in Schiaparelli’s own work) and the collection opened with some stylish options for the couture client who actually works. The “psycho chic” day clothes, as Roseberry described them, morphed into evening pieces that evoked Schiap’s dreams (dreams that his program notes explained “were active, propulsive, exuberant, extravagant, rebellious, ambitious”) and nodded to Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix’s ’80s and ’90s couture work in striking ultramarine, scarlet, viridian, and of course the brand’s own shocking pink. Schiaparelli is finally back on its track. Roseberry is a wonder.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

L’Année 97. Jacquemus AW20

Last season‘s Provençal dream is hard to beat. So, in a way, Simon Porte Jacquemus didn’t intend to make his autumn-winter 2020 even more extraordinary and Instagrammable. Not meaning it was modest or small – showing at La Defense stadium with Laetitia Casta, the Hadids and a pack of supermodels isn’t really a quiet gesture. But design-wise, Jacquemus returned to the core of his style: it’s sleeker, cleaner, less quirky, toned (except for the brief splash of bold pink). And incredibly sexy (without being vulgar): the body-conscious fit, cropped cardigans, wrapped micro-skirts, thigh-high boots are just some of the “hot” piece. Guys followed girls in pants, which appeared to have their flies open (a trompe l’oeil). There were oversized blazers and roomy coats for both women and men, creating a sense of concealed sensuality. While we all got used to Jacquemus’ sun-drenched, French flavor, it’s good to see designers go out of their (already succesful) comfort zones. The backstory behind the collection was as personal and profound as it could be: “I was seven when I made a skirt out of a curtain for my mother, and she brought me to school wearing it.” The linen pencil skirt, which opened the show on Casta, was a personal memento of that, and the reason the fabric was an anchor for the collection. But business-wise, Porte Jacquemus realized that he could use his buying power to change things with his fabric manufacturer. “We’ve been working with them for 10 years, but they didn’t have a sustainable fabric that we wanted. Now, they do – because of the size of the order I can make. But you know,” he said with a smile, “what I want to say is, it isn’t just for ecology, it’s also people—their rhythm of work also has to have sense. I don’t say I’m a green brand or anything like that; it’s not marketing. But I think we have to think more like my grandparents did: like, we have tomatoes in the garden, so we eat tomatoes.” Wise words for the industry to consider.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.