PARIS – Chanel’s new chief Virginie Viard merged the worlds of two of its most famous couturiers, those of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, for a cerebral couture show in Paris set inside a huge circular library.
For Viard’s first-ever solo couture show, both Chanel, the woman, and Lagerfeld, the house’s longtime German-born designer who died in February, were invoked through their well-known passion for books.
The theme served to provide a sense of continuity for Viard’s couture debut – but it was a display that proved the relatively-unknown 57-year-old can hold her own.
Lagerfeld’s personal library of around 300,000 books, with its several librarians, featured prominently during a poignant memorial for him last month.
“It’s an illness, I’m not afraid to admit it,” he once said.
So, it was a touching gesture by Viard – his longtime head of studio – to keep his memory alive at the Chanel fall-winter couture show by creating a two-level library in the Grand Palais, bursting with tomes of classic French writers such as Baudelaire and Verlaine on wooden shelves, to display the designs.
Viard did not need a crutch to sell her couture, however.
In her first major calendar fashion show, she demonstrated a distinct artistic flair and vision that will take Chanel confidently into the future.
Models wore spectacles and preppy buttons, but the gimmicks gave way to a fluid and glimmering 70-look collection of gowns and signature skirt-suits.
“Chanel does not write with paper and ink ... but with material, with forms and with colors,” said writer Roland Barthes, according to the program notes.
Elongated silhouettes and emphasized necks provided the form. Tweed, velvet, wool crepe mixed with lace and chiffon to provide the material. While, embroidered sequins and bursts of bright color on an otherwise powdery palette provided the hues.
Stand-out garments, such as a glistening multicolored circular bustier with delicate embroidered flowers, showed off both the talent of Chanel’s famed seamstresses and the promise of its newest design star.
Actress Margot Robbie applauded vigorously after Viard’s couture debut, alongside fellow actresses Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Phoebe Tonkin.
“I’m really excited. It’s true, I’ve always really enjoyed and appreciated Virginie’s work,” said Berges-Frisbey, a French-Spanish actress and Chanel ambassador who has known Viard for many years.
“The woman she created today is really poetic and really powerful at the same time. She creates very androgynous silhouettes but they are very feminine,” she said.
Tonkin said she was happy that Chanel again has a female designer at the helm, at a time when its rival, Dior, also named its first female designer in history, Maria Grazia Chiuri.
“Chanel feels like a house that empowered women to feel strong,” Tonkin, an Australian actress and Chanel ambassador, said.