“I really had Karl’s world in mind…” Virginie Viard, now-Creative Director of Chanel, writes in her latest show notes. Though now at the helm of the storied fashion house, Viard worked alongside Lagerfeld for decades before his passing in 2019. Her latest show, Chanel's Fall 2020 Haute Couture collection, is more than a tribute to him — it's a mirage of the daring doyennes he surrounded himself with throughout his illustrious life and career. To open the second day of Paris Couture Week, which is unfolding online due to COVID-19, the couturier's presentation took the form of a trippy, low-lit film and photoshoot, featuring tousled tresses, shortened skirts, and, in true Chanel fashion, masterfully-rendered tweed.
This time last year Viard was unveiling her first-ever couture collection heading up the brand but today, on Jul. 7, the world feels impossibly different — and Viard's designs reflect that altered spirit. All the sleekness and flou that characterized Chanel's Fall 2019 Haute Couture collection (think subtle, ankle-length skirts gliding past bookcases up-to-there) was traded out for bristling dexterity and coarseness that feels apropos of the present moment. “I like working like this, going in the opposite direction of what I did last time," says Viard. "I wanted complexity, sophistication.”
The film was the brainchild of a troika — Swedish director Mikael Jansson captured models Adut Akech and Rianne Van Rompaey, who, under flickering light, swayed errantly to the tune of warped violins and shrill vocals. In its emblematic savoir faire, Chanel once again called on its finest embroidery partners (some old; some new) for this collection, elevating tweed by way of gemstones, beads, and sequins. The punk-rock essence of the 30 looks are a sort of quiet rebellion, drawing upon Gabrielle Chanel's time cloistered at Aubazine Abbey. Each ensemble seems to foretell what would happen if austerely-dressed convent girls went off experimenting with opulent embellishments and talismans.
Even while conjuring some of Karl and Coco's heritage for the collection, all 30 looks passed through a prism of the new Creative Director's making. Viard's Chanel is, once again, far less about extraversion and costumery, which the brand was known to indulge more severely in its past generations. Viard's garments are utterly wearable, which, in many ways, is as true to the annals of Chanel as it gets. Coco was a bastion of freeing women from cagey corsets and crinoline skirts, offering softer silhouettes that unlocked a new era of femininity in 20th Century France.
In summary, Viard's second couture collection for Chanel reminds the world that a quiet, yet well-rendered look can be just as "dressed up" as armfuls of tulle and pageantry.