Virginie Viard on Wednesday showed her first Métiers d’Art line for Chanel, closing the loop on a handover period that has seen her put her stamp on all the house’s major collections, following the death of her former boss and mentor Karl Lagerfeld in February.
Viard chose to bring the collection back to Paris, after recent forays to New York and Hamburg, and titled it “31 Rue Cambon” in reference to the brand’s historic address, which also inspired the set codesigned by director Sofia Coppola, who sat in the front row alongside Kristen Stewart, Penélope Cruz and Lily-Rose Depp.
“This is the Métiers d’Art collection and it’s called ’31 Rue Cambon,’ so you are truly in the heart of Chanel. This represents the very soul of the house,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion activities and president of Chanel SAS, told WWD in an interview before the show.
Inside the chilly Grand Palais, guests discovered a series of salons decked out in the style of Gabrielle Chanel’s private apartment, which has been preserved and can be viewed by appointment only. Models walked down an oversize reproduction of the mirrored staircase where she liked to perch unseen during her fashion shows.
Coppola, who interned at Chanel at the age of 15, has remained close to the house, recently directing a video homage for the “Mademoiselle Privé” exhibition in Tokyo. “It’s interesting for the brand because Sofia knows Chanel by heart. She has a very clear vision and opinion of what the brand represents,” said Pavlovsky.
As giant chandeliers were lowered over the catwalk, models emerged in a series of black coats, their waists loosely bound by sequined sash belts tied at the back.
A black skirt suit with a fringed hem was strictly “bon chic, bon genre.” Viard introduced a slightly edgier take on the monochromatic suit by way of a jacket spliced from two black and white halves, worn by the house’s fitting model, Amanda Sanchez, who went topless underneath.
Viard, who worked alongside Lagerfeld for more than 30 years, drew on her memories of the very first Métiers d’Art show in 2002, which took place at the brand’s headquarters. “The models smoked cigarettes while listening to Lou Reed. It was more of an attitude than a theme,” she explained in her show notes.
The designer often visits Chanel’s private living quarters, filled with her personal mementos. “I love the huge sofa in beige suede. Karl liked to surround himself with deep divans, too. In fact, Gabrielle’s apartment reminds me of Karl’s first apartment that I knew, where one would sit on four-poster beds disguised as sofas,” she said.
She drew on house codes for the decorative effects in the show. Its signature camellia flower appeared as a fuzzy motif on a knit skirt, or as a three-dimensional pattern on a black bomber jacket worn with sequined pants. Gold wheat sheaves, symbolizing prosperity, were embroidered on a wispy black tulle jacket.
“I want every piece of Chanel clothing to feel like a treasure,” the media-shy Viard said in a behind-the-scenes video posted on Chanel’s Instagram account.
Lagerfeld introduced this pre-fall ready-to-wear collection, designed as a showcase for the specialty couture ateliers owned by Chanel. Previous destinations for the Métiers d’Art show include Shanghai; Rome; Edinburgh; Salzburg, Austria, and Dallas.
As the main liaison between the design studio and the specialty workshops for the last few decades, Viard has an encyclopedic knowledge of their skills, which will soon have a new home.
Chanel is finalizing construction on a 275,000-square-foot building in Aubervilliers, north of Paris, set to open in the third quarter of 2020. It will house 11 of the workshops, including embroiderers Lesage and Montex; shoemaker Massaro; feather and flower expert Lemarié; milliner Maison Michel and goldsmith Goossens.
Viard’s mastery of the brand signatures is equally exhaustive. “I have completely absorbed the Chanel codes. I saw Karl twist them so much. I have grown up here. I am a child of Karl and Gabrielle,” she said.
But where Lagerfeld sometimes approached the house’s heritage with a jester’s sense of provocation, Viard has tended to stick to a purist approach: her invitation featured a black bow fastened with a white camellia, in timeless Chanel fashion. Pavlovsky noted, however, that these codes were not set in stone.
“These codes are strong, but they’re not static. Virginie is updating them, little by little, with her vision of the brand and her personal touch,” he said.
Indeed, this show saw her becoming more adventurous, with hit-and-miss results. Kaia Gerber looked current in a white T-shirt paired with a white skirt featuring a graphic Chanel logo pattern dotted with camellias. Dangling from her hand was a tiny black quilted handbag, surely set to become the accessory of the season.
Chanel collectors will no doubt be snapping up the birdcage-shaped bags, inspired by the one in the founder’s apartment, although you could also read it as a reference to the infamous 1992 Coco fragrance commercial directed by Jean-Paul Goude, which featured French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis as a bird in a cage.
In a nod to younger customers, many outfits were cropped to show off trim midriffs, festooned with jeweled belts worn as belly chains. Clever updates on house classics included a gold quilted coatdress worn over black lace stirrup leggings, and a cropped black jacket sprouting a 3-D embroidered ribbon on the back.
Less convincing was a psychedelic section featuring a leather coat with a rainbow metallic dégradé print, and tweed suits given the tie-and-dye treatment. Other oddities included a silver sequined jumpsuit with a ruffled monochrome bib.
Still, they were exceptions in a show that was stuffed with upscale takes on tailoring and flou for a new generation of Chanel customers: everything from a sequined-embroidered logo sweatshirt to a feather-covered cocktail dress.
The evolution of the house includes Chanel ramping up its use of technology. Guests arriving at the show received a text message with a link to a teaser film featuring French actress Alma Jodorowsky wearing some of the looks.
“This year has been all about this handover between Karl and Virginie, and it’s happening in the best possible conditions, with Virginie revealing, were it necessary, all the facets of her talent,” Pavlovsky said. “This will be remembered as a crucial moment, including for the future of the brand.”
Viard’s first solo collection, the cruise 2020 collection shown in May, hit stores two weeks ago and has been selling briskly, Pavlovsky reported. “From an economic point of view, 2019 is shaping up to be an exceptional year, despite the events in Hong Kong,” he said.
“It’s also our job to adapt to all these situations and make sure the brand remains strong and continues to grow regardless of external events,” he said, noting the next hurdle could be U.S. President Trump’s threat to slap 100 percent tariffs on French products including handbags and cosmetics.
While Pavlovsky declined to reveal the U.S. share of Chanel revenues, he said it was a key market for the house and expressed confidence that any lost sales would be compensated elsewhere. “If it’s too expensive in our U.S. boutiques, I think our customers will come to our stores elsewhere in the world,” he said.
Chanel had to do some additional crisis management ahead of the show, announcing 10 days ago that it was moving forward the event by one day to avoid it coinciding with a national strike that is expected to severely disrupt rail, subway and air travel. Despite this, there were only a handful of cancellations, Pavlovsky reported.
In recent years, local luxury brands have had to weather challenges ranging from terrorist attacks to violent protests by antigovernment demonstrators that turned the Avenue des Champs-Élysées into a war zone in the run-up to the holiday season last year. Nonetheless, Chanel continues to invest heavily in the city.
“It’s the most beautiful city in the world. It’s an exceptional city. It’s not a smooth city,” said Pavlovsky. “Obviously, it’s more difficult when there are disruptions, but that doesn’t change the fact that Paris remains the soul of creativity and the soul of Chanel.”