Properly Pretty. Chanel AW21 Couture

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.

Cocteau And Coco. Chanel Resort 2022

Virginie Viard‘s Chanel is like a sinusoid – one time it’s bizarrely unedited and clumsy, and then it’s fantastically light and super chic. Her resort 2022 has both, although the latter fortunately prevails. The fashion show was a digital, cultural trip, where the clothes worked really well. Viard sought inspiration in Provence, the most beautiful region in the south of France lapped by the marshy Camargue and crowned by the hills of Les Baux-de-Provence, considered one of the area’s loveliest villages. Specifically, she set the collection in the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) in Les Baux, a series of chalky, cave-like rooms – the spaces left behind after centuries of excavations. In 1960, however, Jean Cocteau – the artist, poet, and filmmaker who cast a long shadow across the worlds of culture and style in 20th century France – used these quarries as a setting for his hauntingly beautiful movie The Testament of Orpheus. It’s “so modern, so fresh, and so strong,” says Viard, who watched the movie, which features Cocteau himself, with cameos from his lover Jean Marais, Pablo Picasso, and Yul Brynner, among others, as she began working on the season. “The movie really inspired the collection,” Viard added. “When I came to see the quarry again – I’d been years ago, before it was used for the son et lumiere – I saw that the clothes had to be strong, and black and white. Otherwise we could be in Petra or Egypt. I love ruffles for the couture,” she continued, “but I thought it would not look modern here. Coco Chanel counted Jean Cocteau amongst her intimates; he produced some evocative portraits of her and illustrations of her clothes, and in turn she costumed productions of his plays AntigoneOrpheus, and Oedipus Rex. The friends would often hang out in Chanel’s daytime apartment on the Rue Cambon, and Viard was excited to read the letters that Cocteau sent to Chanel. The apartment has recently emerged from an extensive restoration, and Viard sought inspiration in the very personal bestiary that Chanel assembled there: The lions for that famous Leo, camels, doves of peace, fauns, and the female sphinxes that all appear in objects and sculptures in the apartment have been reimagined as graphic prints on denim with a hand-painted look, and as lucky charms used as embroidery in the new collection.

In this cocktail of references, Viard as well worked with both Mod and Punk references: striking black and white miniskirts, suits and coat dresses trellised with window pane blocks of small concrete beads, and styling flourishes like fishnet stockings had a Mod sensibility. Accessories including zippered leather holster belts worn at the waist or thigh, handbag chain suspenders, and dog collars read as Punk, as did details like the rock and roll leather fringing on a shimmy dress, and the raw finishing used to hem the skirts and cuffs of caviar tweed suits and crochet minidresses (a Jean Cocteau sketch of a 1920s fringed Chanel dress was the starting point for these designs). The late Stella Tennant’s patrician Punk attitude inspired the lip piercing jewelry, as did Ines and Vinoodh’s photographs of the model Lola in Chanel’s apartment; Viard was thinking of a memorable Mario Testino image of Tennant dressed as a punk with her ball-gowned grandmother, the Duchess of Devonshire, at Chatsworth, her family’s storied stately home. Meanwhile the graphic suits—with a new jacket silhouette featuring a bloused body and fitted peplum—were drawn with the definite lines of Cocteau’s ink brush and pen drawings. There was more softness in the collection in ivory lace dresses scattered with embroidered good luck charms, and wide-legged, high-waisted white linen pants and cotton sweatshirting dresses embroidered with the wild flowers of Provence – lavender, thyme, Cosmos daisies, ranunculus, blue felicia, and scabious, among others. The only colors in the collection appear in 100% sustainable tweeds created by the embroiderer Lesage in what Viard described as a “Cézanne” palette, and used for skimpy, rough-fringed minisuits. For the finale, the short black velvet dresses, each worn with crochet and macramé capes, provided a theatrical flourish of which Cocteau would surely approve. And there’s a pragmatic reason for all those white ankle boots: “It’s better not to have a long black dress or black shoes if you are walking in a quarry all day!” confided Viard with a laugh.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Coco Neige. Chanel AW21

Karl Lagerfeld once said that “sweatpants are a sign of defeat“. Of course, Lagerfeld said many notorious things, but whenever I wear sweatpants myself, I’ve got these words in the back of my head… so when I saw Chanel-sweatpants in Virginie Viard‘s autumn-winter 2021, I was quite disturbed. Sure, the reason for their appearance on the runway can be justified by living in a one-year-long lockdown, working from home and so on. But still, this just doesn’t feel right. And in general, this wasn’t a great Chanel collection by Viard – simply speaking, it’s quite lazy, both in styling and design. Still, there were some ups. After years of memorable Chanel show spectacles in the vast Grand Palais, now closed for renovations, Viard felt that the time was right for a totally different ambiance to showcase collection. “I wanted to show in a small place, a club,” Viard explained during a Zoom preview with Vogue. “I don’t like big rave venues; I prefer that kind of place that is more intimate. Karl was always telling me about the shows he staged in the ’70s with the girls getting dressed on their own in a restaurant in Paris,” she added.  Viard lighted on the legendary Left Bank nightclub Chez Castel that has been the epitome of cool for generations of party animals since Jean Castel first opened the club in the 1960s. Cozily arranged on different levels in an 18th-century building or two, the dimly lit boîte on the rue Princesse attracted the likes of Françoise Hardy, Françoise Sagan, Amanda Lear, and Mick Jagger at the time, and has never gone out of fashion. “I love Castel because it’s like a house and very English,” said Viard who was amused by the idea of the Chanel girls coming down the club’s famously narrow stairs in their giant après-ski coats and then leaving them in the coatroom to reveal the skimpy little chiffon numbers underneath. The collection is infused with “ski spirit” (the season’s most prominent trend): Norwegian sweaters, furry Moon Boots, quilted salopettes, voluminous puffers, and ski pants worn with short cropped jackets that Viard has styled either with the midriff bared or with the nightclub-friendly flowered black lace camisoles that also crop up under fluid knit suits or paired with a quilted satin miniskirt. The soundtrack, mixed by Michel Gaubert, featured Diana Ross’s “Do You Know Where You’re Going To? – a song that Viard considers singularly apt for this moment. “Your own pajama party?” posited Viard as an answer. “As we can’t do anything else!

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Back to Care-Free Days. Chanel Couture SS21

There seems to be an attitude division in haute couture industry these days. The first camp challenges the couture conventions and focuses on creating phenomenal wonders, like in case of Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli. The latter does “pretty” couture – and this season, Virginie Viard‘s Chanel stays in this safe camp. Her spring-summer 2021 line-up felt like a nostalgic memory of dreamy garden party somewhere in the south of France in pre-COVID reality. These are not, as Viard told Vogue, the conventional fancy nuptials one might expect from a Parisian couture collection, but instead “more bohemian style – more a wedding or a family celebration in a village than at the Ritz!” complete with “the mother and the aunt, and the 15-year-old girl dressing up for the first time” – the latter in a tiny little grown-up black dress of spangled black tulle worn with 1980s opaque white tights. A very fête galante vision draws in one’s mind. There are also boys at this wedding, or rather girls who, in Viard’s words, are “a little garçonne” and dressed in old fashioned boys’ clothes – tweedy Oxford bags, and waistcoats for instance, a reminder of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s appropriations of menswear in her designs, and her literal borrowing from the wardrobes of her lovers including Boy Capel and the Duke of Westminster. The mother of the bride, meanwhile, has some chic little suits in silvery embroidery and lace to choose from, or a skinny shrunken cardigan jacket embroidered by Vernoux, while more adventurous guests might opt for a lace jumpsuit or a tiny tweed coat dress with a ruffled overskirt to tie on like an apron. There are “a lot of flounces and petticoats,” Viard continued, as though the Gypsy Kings were playing at the celebration and the guests in those big tulle skirts were going to spin around the town square. “There is a masculine/feminine side to the silhouettes,” she added, and the fairy-tale grandeur of these pale net ballgowns is brought into the real world when those skirts are paired with white boyfriend shirts, or singlets of crocheted chiffon, worked by the embroidery house of Montex. While at a first glance the collection strikes with a certain, relaxing simplicity, the details are top knotch couture standards, of course. This season, Viard has also worked with photographer Anton Corbijn, whom she met when he shot her for the December 2020 Vogue profile, La Vie de Virginie, and whose music industry credentials – he has shot videos for U2 and Depeche Mode, among many others and directed Control, the magisterial biographical movie about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis – appealed to the rock chick in her. It’s a lovely collection, yes, but I really love seeing Viard doing something a bit more rough.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.