At a time when fashion is obsessed with NFTs and the metaverse, Virginie Viard paid a vibrant tribute to traditional craftsmanship with her Métiers d’Art collection for Chanel, unveiled on Tuesday at the French luxury house’s new center for specialty workshops on the outskirts of Paris.
Editors, clients and celebrities including Sofia Coppola, Lucy Boynton and Vanessa Paradis trekked out to the working-class area north of Paris under leaden skies to discover the striking 275,000-square-foot building designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, which is home to 600 artisans.
Its graphic white concrete shell, evoking giant threads, was echoed in the embroidered pockets of the elongated black tweed coat that opened the show. Dense sequined embroideries evoked graffiti patterns, while baggy knit shorts and oodles of gold chains nodded to streetwear culture.
There was a plethora of outerwear for braving the chilly outdoors: think tweed coats twinkling with silver sequins, paired with ruffle-edge bleached jeans or CC-logo pants; cozy cardigans with big patch pockets, piled onto sequined dresses and tops, or a tweed bomber jacket with sweatshirt sleeves embroidered with pearls.
There was a tug-of-war between the urban influences and the proportions of the outfits, which seemed geared toward a more mature customer with midi-length skirts and bulky jackets and coats. But the embellished pieces shone, especially a purple outfit incorporating a knit dress, sequined vest and tweed jacket.
For more conservative types, Viard offered an elongated black jacket with jagged lines of silver sequins; a monastic floor-length cream tweed coat, and a breezy take on a classic Chanel uniform, consisting of a white shirt, black cigarette pants and a sheer black chiffon duster coat, topped with a black boater hat.
As the longtime liaison between her predecessor, the late Karl Lagerfeld, and the house’s specialized suppliers, Viard has an encyclopedic knowledge of their skills. But she marveled at seeing them grouped under one roof, in airy workshops designed to make use of natural light.
“It’s amazing. It feels like going to university,” the designer said during a preview. “It’s a marvelous mix of modern architecture with all these ancient tools.”
Before the show, guests were split into groups to visit some of the workshops in the company of celebrity chaperones including U.S. rapper Pharrell Williams, Spanish choreographer Blanca Li and French musician Sébastien Tellier.
The site is home to embroiderers Lesage and Montex; shoemaker Massaro; feather and flower expert Lemarié; milliner Maison Michel; pleater Lognon; grand flou atelier Paloma, and goldsmith Goossens. It also houses the lingerie and swimwear brand Eres.
Decked out in a black-and-white-checked tweed jacket and long skirt overlaid with black tulle, Li joined Hubert Barrère, artistic director of Lesage, for a tour of its facilities, which includes an archive of 50,000 samples dating from 1858 to the present day, some of which were laid out on a table in a glittering patchwork.
Asked to describe the impact of the move to its new quarters, Barrère quipped: “We jumped from the 19th century to the 21st century in the space of a single day.” In addition to facilitating exchanges with other houses, the building, which is structured around a courtyard garden, offers all modern comforts.
However, he noted that some of the techniques used by his team have remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. “No computer can replace the human hand,” Barrère said.
Smiling broadly, Li noted that the workshop spent months embroidering the ceremonial jacket she wore for her recent induction into the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts. “The design comes from the period of Napoleon and has always been done with a needle and thread,” she said, mimicking a sewing gesture.
The annual Métiers d’Art show, now in its 20th edition, is unique to Chanel, acting as a showcase for the 41 companies grouped under the company’s Paraffection subsidiary. They supply not only Chanel, but dozens of other luxury brands worldwide.
To highlight the work of the houses, Chanel developed a multipronged activation, including a film choreographed by dancer Dimitri Chamblas, projected on giant screens before the display. Soo Joo Park, the model and DJ who recently made her singing debut under the name Ether, surprised guests by jumping onstage during the show for a live performance.
The invitation box included a collection of texts by the likes of rappers MC Solaar and Abd al-Malik, as well as writers such as Anne Berest and Nina Bouraoui. Meanwhile, French animation studio Remembers produced eight animated films and illustrations that portray models close to the house in imaginary worlds inspired by eight specialized workshops.
But perhaps the best ambassadors for the project were the VIP guests in attendance.
“I’m just really taken aback by how moving it was to watch the show and be here in person,” said Boynton. “And you just feel such a sense of celebration all around, I mean, to witness that kind of artistry and that walking art up close. And obviously, in the context of the time apart that we’ve had, it was very special.”
The “Bohemian Rhapsody” star was fresh off of a visit to Goossens. “I got to see the jewelry being made, and it was just such a vital reminder of the intricacy that goes into each piece and how personal that therefore feels when you’re wearing it,” she said.
Boynton has just wrapped filming on the historical drama “Chevalier,” in which she stars as French queen Marie Antoinette, though she didn’t set foot in France during the shoot, due to to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m actually going, after this, tomorrow to Versailles for the first time to see it in real life, so after all the research and studying I’ve done, and how familiar I am with it in 2D, I’m very excited to see it in all its glory,” she said, adding that she hopes the film will change people’s perception of Marie Antoinette, who was executed during the French Revolution.
“She’s been villainized, historically, in a way that seems kind of exclusively reserved for women throughout history. So having to kind of put that all aside and start from scratch and realize, for one, how young she was when she was thrown into that context, but also really appreciate her personality for what it was as well — it was an important education,” she said.
Rebecca Marder also had big shoes to fill with her latest role as French Holocaust survivor, politician and women’s rights campaigner Simone Veil in Olivier Dahan’s upcoming “Simone Veil: A Woman of the Century,” set for release in February.
“This woman was a gift from the heavens. I felt a lot of pressure for the film to live up to the character, and it was also an incredible honor,” said Marder, who plays Veil between the ages of 15 and 37. “As a young actress, I feel it’s the kind of adventure you only live once.”
Marder was tasked on Tuesday with hosting a visit to Lognon and she took the role just as seriously, visiting the workshop a week ahead of time to get to know its team.
“There isn’t really any school that teaches pleating, so they learn the technique from each other verbally. The average age is 27, so it’s pretty incredible. I find it very moving and necessary and poignant that Chanel is making it possible to bring together the métiers d’art that inspire each other and feed off different influences,” she said.
Paradis, meanwhile, was taken with the sparkle and glamour of the collection.
“When I come to a show, I’m always making mental notes of outfits for red carpet events, but I’m also thinking about the stage. This show was perfect for that, because you have all these sequined jackets, things you can totally picture on stage at a concert, because they catch the light and they move so well,” the French singer and actress said.
“This is luxury fashion, but I regard these outfits as works of art, the same way that you would look at a sculpture or a painting. A Métiers d’Art show truly awes the senses. Each trade is given top billing. It’s dazzling,” she said. — With contributions from Miles Socha