Chanel presents first collection designed by Virginie Viard

Virginie Viard, who now carries the torch of Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy at Chanel, has a tough job on her hands. On Friday in Paris, the French designer presented the first collection for the Parisian luxury label designed entirely under her aegis. The show for Chanel's 2019-20 cruise collection played on a travel theme, and gave the impression of marking a transitional phase, rather than a new departure.


Chanel, cruise collection 2019-20 - ph Dominique Muret

To celebrate this new phase in Chanel’s history, after 35 years with the German designer at the helm, the label picked a railway station setting. It was a symbolic choice for the first show of the post-Karl Lagerfeld era, but also one intimately linked with the history of Chanel, which often evoked travel in its collections. However, the rather minimalist station, with just a single, long row of benches along the platforms, where the guests/travellers were sat overlooking empty rail tracks, seemed to mark a break from Chanel’s customary, flamboyant imaginary world, and with the extravagant sets it used to treat the fashion world to.

The railway setting was perfectly adapted to the hall of the Grand Palais in Paris, appropriating the building’s own style to recreate in situ, and with no need for embellishments, the authentic feel of a XIXth century station, with romantic, charmingly outdated destinations like Venice, Antibes, Bombay and Byzantium, and featuring conductors clad in navy blue hats and white shirts bearing the logo of the ‘Chanel Express’ travel company.

As a metaphor for change to come, this station empty of trains was the equivalent of a blank page. But backstage, a certain kind of sparkle and opulence was clearly seen. Before the show, the guests had been invited to a lunch at the Café-Restaurant Le Riviera, whose interior décor replicated down to the last detail that of a genuine Belle Epoque station restaurant, echoing the look of renowned Le Train Bleu restaurant at Paris’s Gare de Lyon.

After lunch, the guests were invited to leave from the side of the huge hall, taking a double spiral staircase like those featured at Le Train Bleu, and ending up by the rail tracks. The models instead exited from the restaurant's ground floor door, ending up directly inside the station, ready to stroll down the length of the platforms.

After all that, it was time for fashion. The tone was set by a first series of looks at once chic and sporty, dominated by flowing trench-coats worn over ample, slightly puffed trousers in the same hue, and white blouses. Occasionally, a ruffle’s frills bubbled between the lapels of a raincoat.


Virginie Viard has rejuvenated the classic Chanel suit - ph Dominique Muret

Black leggings with lozenge patterns or the Chanel monogram were matched with brightly coloured tweed jackets in pink, green and cherry red. A small quilted handbag in fluorescent pink was slung over the shoulder of a grey wool trouser suit, while a striped cardigan was matched with white cotton shorts.

Viard, Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman since 1997, knows all there is to know about Chanel. Using deft little touches, she cleverly redefined the historic label’s wardrobe, introducing slightly more understated models, trimming down the decorative motifs and modernising the cuts, while preserving the Chanel design codes and the style her mentor breathed into the label in the course of over three decades.

For example, the classic Chanel suit was featured in white or cream hues or in more vivid colours, like electric blue, worn over a bra top decorated with a giant bow, and often with a rather short skirt with pockets. Elsewhere, the quilted fabric typical of Chanel’s handbags was used for shirts or trousers in pastel colours like lilac and mint.

Viard also introduced asymmetry in dresses and jackets, as well as more flowing volumes to liven up the silhouette, which she did also by featuring loose leather trousers slit at the front or buttoned at the side, bare-shoulder tops and frilled dresses. 3D flowers were scattered on pretty little checked tops, or decorated the collection’s evening dresses.

The quadrant of a large clock, like those featured at stations, was printed on a T-shirt. In some of her outfits, Viard also cheekily inserted two of the elements that symbolised Karl Lagerfeld’s legendary look, like mittens and the high, removable white cotton shirt collar.


Chanel's new minimalist setting - ph Dominique Muret

“It’s a truly brilliant collection which marks a new era for the label. It’s totally Chanel, with all the right references, and at the same time it’s new, with a lot more simplicity and understatement. There’s a new freshness in the air,” said Christelle Kocher who, besides managing her own label, since 2010, is the creative director of feather artisan Lemarié, one of the craft ateliers owned by the Chanel group.

The young designer of Pigalle Paris, Stéphane Ashpool, who spent a year being mentored at Chanel after winning the ANDAM Prize in 2015, noted that “alongside the more classic models, [there were] a few looks featuring new cuts and volumes, never seen before.” Virginie Viard has lifted the veil, without yet saying too much. As for Chanel, it is opting for a certain restraint, as it still mourns the death of Karl Lagerfeld.
 

Translated by Nicola Mira

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