Chanel’s new sexy librarian chic
There’s a new gal at Chanel, both in the design department and on the runway. A brainy type, who even wears reading glasses on a catwalk and eschews anything too frivolous.
In Virginie Viard’s debut couture show for Chanel, and her second after a cruise debut in May, the new creative director took the house into a giant library. Three floors high – an enormous drum-shaped structure built inside the brand’s favorite location – the Grand Palais.
Perched on elegantly cushioned bleachers in the center the audience waited expectantly, as the VIPs took their seats, Margot Robbie sending the paparazzi into a veritable feeding frenzy.
Out marched the unquestionably elegant opening looks: a series of perfectly cut topcoats and coat dresses, slit up the side, finished with large pearl buttons and made in Imperial Roman or Coco beige bouclé wool. Ideally tailored pants suits with bolero jackets; and a small squadron of jaunty suits – the skirts cut well up the thigh, the jackets finished with slim mutton chop sleeves. Done in primary color wools.
Already, a new Viard self-assured silhouette is apparent at Chanel, and it will very likely be influential in fashion. After a couple of decades working for Karl Lagerfeld, Viard’s mode certainly oozes authority and Chanel DNA.
For evening, Virginie cut statuesque columns in black and white checks, some finished with the Catherine de' Medici ruffled necklines so favored by Mademoiselle Chanel. The ghost of that Renaissance queen wafted through some really beautiful ideas. Like a double-breasted jacket-topped gown that morphed into a floor-length dress in UK telephone box red; or several splendid tuxedo dresses that had tremendous distinction.
All the collection seriously well-made and frequently magnificent, yet all perhaps a tad too serious in manner.
“Give me the reason to love you,” sang Portishead on a great soundtrack, and it almost felt as if the audience was asking that of the designer.
For, while 'la mode' was impressive, it felt like the old magic was missing.
The set was sumptuous, made of thousands of ersatz copies of classic novels. But one could couldn’t help wondering the fun Karl Lagerfeld would have had dreaming up names of fake autobiographies of Coco to fill the shelves. The tiny details all just felt a little off, from rather sad Louis XIV couches below the bookcases to the simple invitation. And, at a certain point one had to also had to wonder, where have all the logos gone?
Eyebrows were also raised at the weekend, when Chanel, an extremely profitable and famously generous house, staged a private concert for friends and family of one of its model ambassadors Vanessa Paradis in the Olympia. Guests entering were each handed a drinks ticket. “Quelle gaffe énorme!” snorted one editor with the raised eyebrows and appalled down-turned mouth that only the French can master.
Chanel, like all the truly great fashion houses, likes to think of itself as a merchant of dreams, a storyteller whose beautiful products can transform lives. It is. However, like the best couture maisons of Paris, it is also a well-oiled machine. And this was without question a polished and commercially plausible collection.
Viard took her bow to stirring applause, with the house’s two owners Alain and Gerard Wertheimer – the most discreet patrons in Paris – very publically on their feet applauding.
However, inevitably, questions will be asked about the long-term future of the house. Fashion houses are akin to football clubs. When a legendary designer or great trophy-winning manager quits the scene, their successor faces an enormous task. So, for those who follow soccer, the question would be, is Viard a new David Moyes, or a Pep Guardiola?
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