For an American actress, Kristen Stewart does a mean existential monologue. Chanel opened its show with a black-and-white clip, shown on wraparound screens, of the “Spencer” star stepping out of an arthouse cinema in Paris and answering a reporter’s question with some thoughts about the meaning of life.
“We’re living in such an accelerated period of growth, it gives me whiplash,” she began.
“It’s exhilarating and it’s highly pressurized because our identities are these lifelong evolving art projects,” Stewart said. “It’s no longer important to know who you are or even what you want. I think it’s important to burn down your very best yesterday, every day, so you can start again.”
It could have been a dialogue from one of the films she’s made with French director Olivier Assayas, making her the first American actress to win a non-honorary César at the prestigious French film awards.
Chanel has contributed costumes and financing to several of these projects, underscoring the strength of its relationship with Stewart, who has been an ambassador for the French fashion house since 2013. The actress, sporting a Joan Jett-esque pixie cut, was the face of the spring 2023 collection press kit.
“She really represents for me the Chanel of today, but the Coco Chanel,” creative director Virginie Viard said in a preview. “On top of that, she looks very French.”
Cinema is a key source of inspiration for Viard, who began her career as a costume designer, working on films including Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Three Colors: Blue.” Building a collection around Stewart wasn’t easy, she said. “I don’t want to disappoint her.”
She needn’t have worried. The actress worked the looks to perfection, whether posing in an Art Nouveau-style brasserie wearing a side slit black monogram slipdress fastened with a black satin bow over one hip, or standing in a flared white tweed coat dress on the mirrored Art Deco staircase in Chanel’s historic haute couture salon on Rue Cambon.
Stewart, who sat in the front row, has embraced every facet of the brand’s collections, from the quirky to the sublime. “She never asks to change anything. She gets everything,” Viard said, snapping her fingers for emphasis.
This lineup skewed dressier than recent collections. It was bookended by a series of black-and-white looks, echoing the backdrop screening of scenes from “Last Year at Marienbad,” the 1961 classic whose main characters were dressed by founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.
Viard sent out flawless tweed jackets and cocktail gowns embellished with black satin bow details, or sprinkled with ostrich feathers or tiny sparkling crystals. Some of the day looks felt trickier, especially the ruffle-edged halter tops paired with cotton bloomers and thigh-high mesh boots.
The designer worked a watercolor palette with checkered tweed jumpsuits, speckled capes and coats, and a crystal-trimmed pajama shirtdress. There were graphic prints, including a camellia motif on a flamenco-style ruffled bustier dress with detachable sleeves worn by Irina Shayk.
If some of the looks felt familiar, it was no accident. Viard, who worked alongside her predecessor Karl Lagerfeld for three decades, is steeped in Chanel history, and bristled at being called a designer. “Between Chanel and Karl, I have so many timeless treasures. It’s great, given that it’s all the rage right now, but it’s really the brand that stands for recycling,” she said.
Seen from that angle, her take on Chanel pulled into focus. Unlike Lagerfeld, who was always chasing the next new thing, Viard is a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the brand, as reflected in the collage that lined the entrance of the show, reminiscent of a teenager’s bedroom walls.
It’s what makes women so comfortable to wear her clothes, which have consistently sold well, according to Chanel’s annual results. “There’s always a kind of intimacy at Chanel,” she mused. “That’s what I like: closeness, intimacy.”