Eternal. Chanel Pre-Fall 2021

Virginie Viard‘s Chanel seems not to care about being “cool” or “relevant” – maybe that’s why her vision is often underrated and simply mistunderstood. Her Chanel is eternally… Chanel. And I think that’s why I learned to love it. This collection highlights the creative dialogue between Virginie Viard and the Maisons d’art, enhancing the creations of the house. This year, the Métiers d’art collection was held at the Château de Chenonceau, located in the Loire Valley and also known as Le Château des Dames. The show was nearly guest-less due to COVID-19 – there was only Kristen Stewart, the brand’s ambassador, in the audience (this had to be fun!). Le Château des Dames’s history is closely linked with the legendary women who alternately lived there: Katherine Briçonnet, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de’ Medici, Louise de Lorraine, Gabrielle d’Estrées and Louise Dupin. In the second half of the 16th century, the queen of Italian origins, Catherine de’ Medici gave this residence the splendour of the Renaissance. As proof, numerous inscriptions of her monogram remain visible in the castle’s décor: two interlaced Cs that bear an astounding resemblance to the double C that Gabrielle Chanel presented as early as 1921 on the stopper of the N°5 perfume. Beyond the emblematic CC, echoes of the castle’s rich history meet the world of Chanel in the black-and-white hues of the tiling in the “Royal Gallery“, the appearance of the lion, Gabrielle Chanel’s beloved symbol, embroidered tapestries and in the ordered lines of the castle’s gardens. What about the collection? It’s pure elegance and craftsmanship, all created with the skills of Métiers d’art artisans: paruriers from Desrues, feathermakers from Lemarié, milliners from Maison Michel, embroiderers from Lesage and Atelier Montex, shoemakers from Massaro, goldsmiths from Goossens, glovemakers from Causse Gantier and pleaters from Lognon, in Paris and in France. The collection was a balance of princess style and something a bit darker. The chess board sequin miniskirts (and matching purses) worn over shiny lycra (or bejeweled stretch velvet) leggings, an amazing woven tweed ball skirt paired with a black sweater with Renaissance white flower motifs growing up the arms, capes, poet blouses, ruffled gauntlet gloves, and massaro’s D’Artagnan boots for a bit of 16th-century dress-up swagger. There’s a lot to love about this collection, especially seen through the lenses of Juergen Teller. Viard, as she explained, took inspiration from Lagerfeld’s fall 1983 trompe l’oeil “shower” collection for Chloé that featured embroidered faucets and showerheads spouting crystal water sprays. Her own playful trompe l’oeil, developed with the inventive embroidery house of Montex, reimagines the castle in Lego-like sequin bricks, used as cummerbund sashes that cinch the waists of full satin ball skirts worn with fragile organza blouses flourished with some of those Catherine de Medici–via–Coco Chanel ruffled collars. The chateau’s tapestries inspired intarsia knits and Lesage embroidered evening sweaters. Lemarie, meanwhile, famed for their feather and artificial flower work, are responsible for the trellis of black ribbons laid over translucent organza that evoke Chenonceau-era court dress with a light 2020 touch. That dialogue across the centuries is also expressed in the playful drama of a floor-length black velvet coat that opens to reveal a pale tweed body, gilt buttoned like a traditional Chanel jacket. Delightful.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Lights, Camera, Action. Chanel SS21

I really start to appreciate Virginie Viard‘s vision for Chanel. The spring-summer 2021 Chanel show set, in Paris’s Grand Palais, spelled the brand’s name in giant letters, evoking the iconic Hollywood sign. Did this suggest that creative director Viard was thinking of the movies? “Less movies than actresses,” Viard explained, and particularly the modern life of actresses, from the high production values of the red carpet, to a staged off-duty look whilst getting a Starbucks in the certain knowledge that a paparazzo might be lurking in the parking lot, “the whole process!” Meanwhile, the accompanying movie teasers, produced by Inez and Vinoodh, literally brought Paris to Tinseltown, with the Sacre Coeur nestled proudly in those Hollywood Hills – symbolic of Viard’s marriage of Parisian cool with laid-back Los Angeles style. And of course, Coco Chanel’s love affair with film industry played its crucial role. Coco, who began her career as a performer singing saucy music hall songs, later made over a handful of actresses in her own image, just as she did with such beloved models in her in-house cabine as Marie-Hélène Arnaud and Jackie Rogers. The designer, for instance, transformed Romy Schneider into a baby-faced version of herself, and Luchino Visconti immortalized Schneider’s new look in his 1962 short movie Boccaccio 70. Chanel herself is even said to have found the new stage name for the Nouvelle Vague actress Anna Karina. Viard, who has all these references at her fingertips, is also drawn to femme fatale Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle’s 1958 Elevator to the Gallows, and she looked to some on-screen Chanel moments in her collection. The show itself felt like a cinematic experience, and the clothes matched that elegant, yet unpretentious ambience. Viard had jumpsuits, flowing gowns and eternal tweeds as she was evoking the real life wardrobes of contemporary actresses using her own cabine of models, including many new French faces and the sophisticated Louise de Chevigny. All of them were encouraged to do their actressy best on the runway. The collection is quintessentially Chanel, nothing overly innovative – but absolutely consistent and reassuring with all its Chanel-isms. Maybe a bit less logos next time? That understated, relaxed, yet chic style Viard does so well, without all the forced decorations, clearly speaks for itself.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Eccentric Girl. Chanel AW20 Couture

Things started looking up for this unusual, digital haute couture season the moment Chanel revealed its gorgeous collection by Virginie Viard. No pointless mega-productions with special effects, just a short video and a proper look-book shot by Mikael Jansson starring Adut Akech and Rianne Van Rompaey. The focus is on the clothes, which are a delight. “I was thinking about eccentric girls,” Virginie Viard said of her autumn-winter 2020 couture line-up. In particular, Viard was remembering Karl Lagerfeld heading off to parties with his sometime muse, the madcap Princess Diane de Beauvau-Craon, who as a teenage debutante got herself an American crewcut to give some punk edge to the pretty but detested pink dress her mother had chosen for her coming-out ball. “Life with her around is the ideal for me,” Lagerfeld said of de Beauvau-Craon when he spoke with Vogue, “because life must never be flat. She gives a light spirit, yet she is deeply spiritual.” Viard wanted to swing to some escapist opulence after last season’s soulful austerity – and because we all need the dream of a grand party right now! Viard was thinking of “things that maybe I would not do in a show – punk hair, fine jewelry.” Those Chanel haute bijoux included yellow diamond lions (Chanel herself was a Leo) and tiaras. The de Beauvau-Craon touch erupts in the form of a short frothy taffeta dress and faille ball skirts or a full-skirted retro cocktail dress of flowering black and white lace spliced with lacquered pink lace – and in punk feather mohawk bangs worn in the hair, and the lace-up court shoes that would have been perfect for dancing the night away in the great 1980s Parisian nightspots Les Bain Douches and Le Palace. As usual in her work, Virginie looks towards the essence of Chanel. Tweed figures large in the collection for day and night: a knee-length tunic worn over boot-leg pants, for instance, or a minidress with the traditional Chanel braid trim reworked in rhinestones. There is more amazing trompe l’oeil in the allover Lesage embroidery of a lean jacket worn with an ankle-length skirt, or in the Emmanuelle Vernoux–embroidered sleeves of a decorous wool ball gown, or the Montex sequin and wool tufts of an off-the-shoulder minidress. Viard provides subtle elegance too –  which I always adore the most in her collections – in pieces that include a sheath of inky faille with bishop sleeves or a solemn evening gown of steel gray silk velvet (my favourite), discreetly dusted with embroidery at the waist and cuff, and jackets with midriffs defined by hand smocking. Viard aptly describes the looks as “casual and grand” – and this is what I call relevant couture.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Balade en Méditerranée. Chanel Resort 2021

Many dreams and plans had to be thrown away to the trash bin due to coronavirus. The Chanel resort 2021 collection was originally intended to be shown on Capri, the heavenly Italian island. Virginie Viard has a hard time with the critics, but I find her work attractive and purely Chanel. She’s focused on the essentials and signatures of the house – making each collection feel truly timeless. So maybe a look-book, photographed by Karim Sadli, works just fine for those clothes. Viard spent lockdown in her French country house, a time, as she says, for “rest and family time,” that was no holiday. In addition to preparing this resort collection (which she had begun before lockdown), Viard was also working on a capsule haute couture offering, which will likewise be presented virtually. Viard returned to Paris and the Chanel studio on May 4, when the city partially reopened, but in the depths of the countryside she was thinking and dreaming, as she told me, about “summer in Capri – or the South of France,” and the kind of destination wardrobe of “easy clothes” that “a sophisticated but also cool girl would want to travel with.” Her proposal includes swimsuits to wear as bodies under cardigan jackets, wide-legged pants, or handkerchief-hemmed skirts, and no-nonsense iterations of the classic Chanel suit or saharienne jackets in cotton tweed. “There are no evening dresses, no heavy things,” says Viard, who proposes instead some day-into-night options including those bathing suits printed with scattered trompe l’oeil Chanel costume jewels and worn with skinny cardigan jackets and wide pants in a fine-gauge knit or bandeau tops embroidered by Lesage with flowering branches of bougainvillea  (the emblematic Mediterranean summer flower) that that can be worn under suits or veiled under sheer black chiffon blouses. No ground-breakers here, but I’m fine with that. It works. Also, I might say that the Chanel team had to have a closer look at Jacquemus and his mediterranean lifestyle for a while – I found echos of that light, playful sensibility in the resort offering with all the volumes, body-revealing cuts and mini-accessories. But the the most exciting thing about this collection is the least visible. Finally, at least some sustainable thinking at a house this big as Chanel. There was a new approach behind the works with supply chains compromised by the pandemic. The collection, as Viard explained to Vogue, was made using “all the fabrics we had in stock – all the buttons, all the galons – we had a shop in the studio, it was so cute!” Moreover, Viard pulled some staple pieces and accessories that are currently available in store, but that haven’t yet been shown in campaigns – among them some denim jeans and a very stylish woven wicker beach basket purse. “I love it,” reasoned Viard, “why would we have to do another one?” A silent revolution is going on in here.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.