Chanel’s spring haute couture collection was a collegial effort.
Creative director Virginie Viard gathered a close-knit group to work on the show: contemporary artist Xavier Veilhan designed the set, French musician Sebastien Tellier performed live, and brand ambassador and former competitive rider Charlotte Casiraghi opened the show on horseback.
Viard has been open about her preference for intimate decors, whereas her predecessor, the late Karl Lagerfeld, delighted in building bombastic backdrops incorporating an iceberg, a waterfall or even a space rocket. Veilhan’s geometric design, inspired by Constructivist art, was a happy compromise. The artist created a mellow ambience with subdued lighting and recyclable materials left in their natural, unvarnished state.
In a preview at the Chanel studio, Viard flipped open a well-worn book about Russian artists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, pointing out old notes with Lagerfeld’s instructions for past collections. The media-shy designer confessed it was hard to match his 360-degree vision, nourished by multiple side gigs as a photographer, furniture designer and publisher, among others.
“What I liked [with this show] was that feeling of Karl’s old sets — a strength of Chanel — and I think it works in the setting of the [temporary] Grand Palais. It’s a bit like a World’s Fair,” she said.
As Lagerfeld’s longtime right hand, Viard is perfectly fluent in his language — and by extension, Chanel’s. His passion for 1920s art and design fed into this breezy collection, spun around vaporous chiffon gowns, feathered slipdresses and fringed dancer’s skirts.
The era’s geometric motifs appeared on items like a sequined slipdress tufted with ostrich feathers and a monochrome sequined tweed suit with a long split skirt. The concept fell flat when applied to the makeup, with some models sporting a dark circle around one eye, which from afar read like a bruiser.
Long and curved over the hips, the house’s signature tweed jackets featured split-back flaps inspired by equestrian uniforms, and were paired with bulbous cuffed pants, some sliced open at the sides. By contrast, checked tweed coat dresses and A-line tunics telegraphed a neat ‘60s allure.
The bride carried a blue bouquet in remembrance of French actor Gaspard Ulliel, the longtime face of the Bleu de Chanel fragrance, who died last week in a skiing accident.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, said the house would continue to work with Veilhan on its next couture show in July.
“It’s a new signature for the house, and at the same time it has a very strong influence on Virginie’s inspiration for the collection. I think the collection fits perfectly into this decor. It’s an extraordinary alchemy that renders this exercise unique,” he said.
Almost three years into the job, Viard appears no closer to stepping into the role of public figure that the function of creative director increasingly demands, so it’s savvy of Chanel to beef up the creative ranks around its designer, a popular strategy for luxury houses faced with the need to fuel digital storytelling around their collections.
Pavlovsky also indicated that Casiraghi would continue to play an important role in the brand’s communications. In addition to appearing in ad campaigns, as well as the teaser and film for Tuesday’s couture show, she animates a bimonthly literary event that acts as a kind of super-chic book club for Chanel-ites.
“It’s a very beautiful collaboration in every sense — intellectual, philosophical. There’s a real affinity between Charlotte and Virginie, and Charlotte and Chanel,” he said. “It’s a story that is always being rewritten.”