Many have tried to decode director Alain Resnais’s beguiling 1961 movie, “L’Année Dernière à Marienbad“. The nouvelle vague classic features a couple who may (or may not) know each other, and who may (or may not) have been in some kind of relationship with each other. They move through a black and white dreamscape of ornate gardens and grand staircases, where time seems to have no meaning and words don’t seem to matter a whole lot either. Still, female lead Delphine Seyrig looks utterly fabulous as she exists in this semi-somnambulistic state, thanks to some of her costumes having been designed by Coco Chanel. What most definitely doesn’t need decoding, however: as Chanel’s Virginie Viard looked at the movie while she was designing spring-summer 2023, it led her to create a very charming collection. Light, nuanced, and with a palpable sense of the here and now, it was Chanel replete with every element and fragment of the house. There were the tweeds, sparkly or ribbon embroidered or adorned with ostrich feathers; the chicest suits, cardigan jackets, and short coatdresses that looked as though they magically weighed next to nothing; boyish knits and teeny tap shorts; and exquisite evening dresses without an iota of fuss. Viard sketched these out in the archetypal black and ivory as well as a heavenly array of pastels, with very few prints, save for those that featured scrolling lines akin to what you might obsessively draw while daydreaming, or black-on-black interlocking logo double-Cs, discreetly repeated over and over again on a softly rippling dress or fluid pajama pants. And to go with all of this: strands and strands of gilded or strass necklaces and drop earrings; smaller versions of the iconic bags; and get-ready-to-be-obsessed, glittery silver house-classic cap-toe slingbacks or grosgrain-bowed crystal booties, which look like the most glamorous (or glam-rock) ankle socks ever. Resnais’s classic wasn’t the only cinematic moment here. Viard had asked Inez and Vinoodh to shoot in Paris a short movie with Kristen Stewart, a kind of homage to Marienbad, as an opener for the show. Stewart leaves a movie theater, wanders the streets of Paris, ascends the famous Rue Cambon Chanel staircase, takes the metro, all the while dressed in the spring collection, including one stunner of a long, sequined rose gold dress. What else should be noted about this collection is that Viard chose to embrace the diversity of female beauty by showing this collection on a whole variety of body types. In a Paris spring show season where that approach has been sadly all but absent, it was a welcome move.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
This Chanel haute couture certainly won’t appear in fashion history books, but it did please the eye. For Virginie Viard, her collections reflect the pragmatic needs and desires of the house’s clients and her own eclectic but never fantastical sources of inspiration. Not for Viard the sweeping statements of her mentor Karl Lagerfeld, who might impose a powerful new silhouette on practically every look in a collection, but instead a sense of gentle evolution and a myriad of references and inspiration sparks that might range (as in this collection) from a blinding memory of Inès de Fressange dressed by Lagerfeld in a jacket of bright grass green and shocking pink (for a 1988 Chanel couture show, when Viard first joined the house), to a shot of Fred Astaire in cinematic action, the tails of his white tie evening coat caught flaring out in mid-dance move, to a 19th century shot of a real-life Annie Oakley, to archive Chanel references from slouchy 1920s day suits to slithery 1930s gowns to prim 1960s tailoring, to Lagerfeld’s vividly impressionistic sketches from the 2000s. None of these references, however, are used by Viard literally, but instead serve as starting points for outfits that evolve with the input of the textile designers and makers who weave those extraordinary painterly tweeds, and the dressmakers who understand how to make perfect pleats that “move beautifully,” as guest Sigourney Weaver enthused, “and are just so elegant.” That Astaire flare, for instance, might translate into the kick at the hem of a calf length skirt, the Oakley image into a dirndl skirt with practical pockets that encourage a certain assertive body language, the ’30s house archive references into slinky evening dresses deftly cut to fall straight to the floor when standing still, but that break into swirling movement below the knee when the wearer walks. To set the scene, Viard reached out again to the artist Xavier Veilhan who created a Constructivist set for the spring couture collection. This time, Veilhan built a series of structures that formed a symbolic landscape (arches, bullseye targets, mobiles, cubes of bubblegum pink recycled plastics) in the sandy outdoor stadium of the equestrian L’Étrier de Paris center in the Bois de Boulogne. Guests walked through or around these structures before moving indoors to more sand and a set of kinetic color blocks in black, white, sand yellow, and gray. This gently suggested something of the art deco flavor to the drop-waisted dresses and linear shapes that appeared in some looks in the collection. The symphonic soundtrack, created by Viard’s friend Sébastien Tellier, was set to a video projected on a giant screen as a backdrop to the parade of girls, an impressionistic clip that featured an varied cast including Charlotte Casiraghi and Pharrell Williams. That eclecticism continued with the clothes, showcasing amazing textiles – lace painted in resin; a shower of embroidered leaves on a white tulle trapeze dress, shadowing a print of the same motif underneath; an all-over deco print on a bell-skirted coat dress that on closer inspection turned out have been entirely beaded in sequins by Lesage; or tufts of ostrich plumes painstakingly applied to black chiffon and glimpsed through the openings in a streamlined trench coat of textured black tweed.
The day before presenting her Chanel resort collection on a sandy runway slicing through the pebbles of the Hotel Monte-Carlo Beach, the brand’s artistic director Virginie Viard was in a nostalgic mood. As she garlanded her models in jewelry dripping with gilded dolphins and sea shells in the cavernous space of the hotel’s poolside Art Deco ballroom, Viard recalled many happy moments spent with Karl Lagerfeld in the monied, minuscule principality where he maintained an apartment and leased the extraordinary Belle Epoque villa La Vigie. It was on the terraces of this villa that Viard remembered Lagerfeld shooting Linda and Christy in the iconic sequin scuba jackets from his spring 1991 collection. “That was very funny,” she recalled, “I adore La Vigie. At the end I was here every year: for the Bal de la Rose, with Karl, Caroline, Charlotte, for shootings… We would always go to Rampoldi, Karl’s favorite restaurant.” It was those memories of Princess Caroline and her equally beauteous daughter Princess Charlotte that infused the spirit of the collection, as well as a playful take on what else Monte Carlo means to the designer – “the casino, Helmut Newton’s girls, the car races… we like to play with all the cliches!” As Viard added, the inspiration drew on collective memories. Sofia Coppola, for instance, who filmed the resort collection with her brother Roman this season, remembered a family trip to watch Ayrton Senna race in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix – “noisy, glamorous, exciting!” said Coppola – when they were all invited to stay at La Vigie.
Thinking of those races by way of Charlie’s Angels, Viard dressed her girls in a racing driver’s all-in-ones and mechanic’s overalls, although these were sequined and, perhaps, designed as trompe l’oeil jacket and pant combinations. There were silk prints of waving starter flags fashioned into drifting chiffon skirts to graze the ankles, and tweeds woven from images of massed cars on the tracks, abstracted on the loom into a shimmer of asphalt gray and brilliant primaries. And for purses, how about an adorable mini full-face driver’s helmet? Sure to be high on the Chanel addict’s must-have list. There are also wrestling shorts, biker jackets, cricket sweaters, and tennis rackets if you are so inclined. The Helmut Newton inspiration, meanwhile, meant some sexy attitude in the shirt dresses slouched off a shoulder and a plethora of short shorts and minis that brought with them the promise of summer. The wonders of the 19M ateliers of craftspeople were reflected in touches like the bouquets of beautifully crafted silk flowers, an evening slink bristling with feather fronds (both supplied by Lemarié), and witty t-shirts sequined to suggest racing driver’s tops (sleeves branded with linking Cs), or scattered with pretty floreate embroideries by the storied houses of Lesage and Montex. “It’s very inspiring to be here,” said Viard, looking across to the pool and the Mediterranean waters to the high rise metropolis rising up the hills beyond, “It’s easy.” Just like Viard’s breezy collection and her uncomplicated vision for dressing today’s Chanel woman.
With Virginie Viard, you can always predict what the Chanel collection will be like: quintessentially Chanel. For autumn-winter 2022, the designer celebrated the brand’s historical love for tweed, the signature fabric of Chanel and a timeless part of its heritage. “Devoting the entire collection to tweed is a tribute,” Virginie Viard said in a statement. “We followed the footsteps of Gabrielle Chanel along the River Tweed, to imagine tweeds in the colours of this landscape.” Her invitation arrived in a large box covered in tweed with matching press material inside. Inside her venue – the Grand Palais Éphémère on Place Joffre – Viard followed suit, swathing walls and chairs in the founder’s trademark material. Viard flexed her tweedy muscle in every garment and accessory type under the Scottish sun, imagining a runway version of what Gabrielle Chanel might have worn on “her walks through the Scottish countryside where she would gather ferns and bouquets of flowers to inspire the local artisans for the tones of tweed she wanted.” With all those fabric fibres covering every inch of the Chanel surroundings, you’d be tempted to call it a woolly affair, but there was no doubting Viard’s intentions. Oversized coats, magnified shooting jackets, and voluminous tailored trousers evoked a borrowed men’s wardrobe she attributed to Gabrielle Chanel’s relationship with the Duke of Westminster. “There’s nothing sexier than wearing the clothes of the person you love,” Viard said. Eventually, the collection relocated from the Scottish Highlands in the 1920s to London in the 1960s, and the Great British youth culture’s appropriation of those heritage codes. Viard interpreted that moment in a wardrobe fairly true to the decade’s codes and styling, generating a strong sense of retro seen through a contemporary lens. It materialised in little skirt suits in tweed, figure-hugging ladylike jackets and knee-length coats styled with thick hosiery and wool-on-wool knitted accessories. Linking to her Beatles soundtrack, Viard said she was thinking of “very colourful record covers” from the period. Often, the collection seemed to have a tweed-covered foot in the 1980s as well, where voluminous blousons, harem-cut track pants, and knee-length skirt suits felt at home. Some looks were better, some worse (especially the eveningwear), but in overall, this was a proper and very timeless Chanel collection.
Chanel‘s spring-summer 2022 couture collection was as predictable as Virginie Viard‘s description of it: “it’s a summer collection, so it’s very fresh, even with a lot of embroideries. I was inspired by the ’20s a little – the feathers, the fringe.” Well, nothing ground-breaking – this collection isn’t for the ones who seek haute-novelty. To set the scene, Viard reached out to the artist Xavier Veilhan whom she met at the home of their mutual friend, musician Sébastien Tellier. “I always wanted to work with him because he did something for Chanel [fine] jewelry 15 years ago in Place Vendome, a great installation,” Viard said. “I love his work and I needed someone to work with for the sets – the way Karl did. Me, I can’t do that! He loves Constructivism, that kind of thing which is so Karl!” she continued. “In fact, I found some notes from Karl in Rodchenko and Malevich books that he always gave me – so many books and documents with notes on details that could be used for embroidery and so on. It was always Constructivist with Karl!” Veilhan, who was chosen to represent France in the 2017 Venice Biennale, drew on this century-old, but still revolutionary period in art, for his Chanel set, with its giant spinning discs and sandy walkways, crafted from sustainable plywood and matting in his preferred (and appropriately Chanel) palette of black, white, and beige. The set he created springs from this thought, inspired by 1920s World Fairs and artists like Sonia and Robert Delaunay. The makeup was also inspired by the pre-war era’s avant garde creatives, although the dark circles around some of the models’ eyes looked rather unfortunate. “I like the classic Chanel,” added Veilhan, “and I like sport and it’s funny to think that the Chanel tailleur is something you can wear for playing golf, or riding a horse.” To prove his point, the show opened with Monaco’s Princess Charlotte, dressed in a Chanel jacket, riding the beautiful eight year old Spanish bay horse Kuskus, first in an elegant “collected walk,” then a canter. What about the actual fashion? Sadly, it was the biggest downer of the entire event. That 1920s and ’30s Gatsby mood that Viard discussed was manifested in filmy chiffon and organza dresses with uneven hems, and trailing scarf panels that drifted from the shoulder. Satin evening dresses seemed to be suspended from necklaces and were draped to reveal the back, and tiny beaded gilets could be slipped on to amplify the glamour quotient. All of it looked pretty… but pretty is kind of boring, right?