Chanel’s Virginie Viard took a journey to a peaceful place where Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel spent part of her childhood. The trip may send a mixed message.
Chanel Haute Couture
Today at the Grand Palais, fashion aired its proverbial dirty laundry. The set for Chanel’s Spring 2020 Haute Couture show by Virginie Viard was literally enclosed by hundreds of vintage linen bedsheets hung out on charming clothing lines of yore. They added a homey touch to the natural vegetable and plant garden that surrounded a working antique water fountain presumably drawn from a well below that would have “powered” such gardens and home life in simpler times. It was in fact, however, based on the Abbey of Aubazine where Gabrielle spent part of her childhood being raised by nuns.
Before exploring that, the eco-sensitive set did seem a bit curious. Chanel, who may prefer to appear genuine and not just jumping on a marketing bandwagon, has not been shouting a consumer interfacing eco-messaging platform per se. Despite as a privately held company not being required to release CSR-ESG reports, Chanel has chosen to do so. In the past, external rating services had given them lower marks which may have given way to transparency. In any case, that transparency is to be applauded.
But Chanel was actually ahead of the sustainability curve when they started buying up the small métiers that fueled their creativity and were in danger of not surviving. Human sustainability, echoed by young gun Simon Porte Jacquemus earlier this week, was their approach to the eco ‘cause célèbre’. The commitment was backed-up in show notes (maybe for the first time?) “CHANEL is committed to recovering, recycling and/or reusing the materials and elements used in the set designs for its fashion shows.” And indeed, it is repurposed. Case in point, guests at the Chanel “supermarché” were asked to kindly not to take home souvenir Chanel ketchup and dish soap bottles as they would be used as window dressing in stores globally. So, suffice it say those live veggies and herbs will end up at least in a community or school garden. Personal hope, the kale makes it to a local greengrocer.
Back to the Abbey. Chanel’s childhood spent there has thus far not been a part of the messaging though perhaps it’s coming up next on the Inside Chanel movie series. And it isn’t information so intrinsic to branding that people know that. So what else could have been messaged on this runway?
The set with its pastoral lifestyle seemed to offer a fashion palette cleanser with Viard stripping things back to simple Chanel codes. The color palette was almost exclusively black and white save a few pastel flower patterns appeared based on gardens of the Abbey. Adornment which is typical with Chanel – the hats, gloves, jewelry and of course bags – were noticeably absent from this show. (Though Viard, in general, has begun to pair back the Chanel look since taking over as artistic director.) She returned to pure forms of tweed jacket dresses, houndstooth knits, simple plaid skirts suits which ranged from above the knee to the ankle and were mostly shown with white tights, cuffed ankle socks and smart chunky masculine pumps that dosed the whole look with child-like innocence. Not one wore pants.
Things became more ornate as the show progressed with beading, embroidery and the lace fabrics that couture is known for appearing. Delicate layers of black tulle furthered the adornment. The former was seen interestingly on the array of pilgrim and “Bertha” collars which appeared and soon morphed into Victorian-era capelets. The tulle overlays often revealed apron pockets on gowns skirts. Voluminous beaded white tufts of tulle in oversized shapes were gorgeously chaste. Gigi Hadid made a case for a black with white collar Victorian school ‘marm’ dress. It was a glamorous display of stoicism but while conjuring up images of a Catholic monastery it was also reminiscent of the Amish (itself a bit controversial these days) or maybe more local, the Swiss Mennonites of the Alsace region in France.
The show ended with a Couture and (former) ready-to-wear tradition, a bride. The fresh-faced beauty entered the stage from the back through the bed lines in a simple chemise. A white belted dress with a button-up bodice and organza pilgrim collar. She wore an ornately beaded long veil atop her simple bun. It was an ironic scene as this bride walked into a world of female drudgery; the laundry, the gardening, the apron to do the cooking especially while referencing conservative religious garb. There is nothing wrong with the message of returning to a simpler lifestyle and kudos for Chanel for making it look glamorous and exquisitely crafted. It would have been nice to see the groom join her entry in this return to the past, especially in the year 2020.