Photo | Courtesy of Press Office

Review of Chanel

Fall 2020 Couture Fashion Show Film & Review

“C’est ça Chanel”


In the days before the official digital unveiling of the haute couture fall collection, Chanel released via its online platforms three short black and white videos by the French journalist turned filmmaker Loïc Prigent titled ‘Dans les ateliers haute couture’ (‘Inside the haute couture ateliers’). The first showed the creative director Virginie Viard finalizing a fitting with the model Cris with her studio team; the second had close up details of the work of petites mains at the atelier discussing the alterations of a few centimeters on a dress; and the third was a voice-over of the workroom with the camera filming the action from outside the windows of the upper floor of the rue Cambon atelier as two seamstresses discussed the meticulous construction, the hand touching of the fabrics and the details of hand-created work on each garment.  “It will look bad if this falls one centimeter below. This is haute couture,” one ‘première’ commented as the camera zoomed in on her hands touching the white satin fabric of what seemed to be one side of a jacket. 

At the end of the third video the voice of the head of the tailleur atelier can be heard saying “C’est ça Chanel” after finishing a demonstration of how to cut the fabrics to fit the back shoulder section of a jacket on a mannequin, and how to fit this piece in properly with the rest of the dress that is still in various stages of work-in-progress composition. While brief, these very simple 30 seconds mini spots served to reaffirm Chanel’s commitment to the value and the business of haute couture as an essential and critical part of the brand’s overall ethos and business structure.  

The digital presentation on the scheduled calendar in lieu of physical shows was succinct and direct with little fanfare. A barely art directed and straightforward video shot by photographer Mikael Jansson featuring two models, Rianne Van Rompaey and Adut Akech, moving inside a grayish backdrop to the song ‘Acid’ composed and performed by Jockstrap. The girls wore 5 different couture outfits – a black floral embroidered long-sleeve cocktail dress, a fuschia tweed skirt-suit, a dark pink off-shoulder boat neck short dress with front pockets, a black taffeta long gown with attached bolero wrap and a silver shantung cropped tight jacket with knee length tiered skirt. “I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of ‘Le Palace’ at dawn. With a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers, and lots of jewelry. This collection is more inspired by Karl Lagerfeld than by Gabrielle Chanel. Karl would go to ‘Le Palace’, he would accompany these very sophisticated and very dressed up women, who were very eccentric,” says the creative director and designer Virginie Viard of these looks, intended to convey a new message about the brand’s creativity and sophistication now aiming at a younger audience globally – the heart of where the business is projected to grow in the coming years.  

At exactly a minute and twenty-two seconds to be precise, the video was very short, succinct, and perhaps a little too clean so the speak. Simply there was no attempt at creating some kind of art film – something perhaps many now expect fashion houses to deliver during this pandemic break as fashion houses raced to figure out how to present a new season without any real fashion show.  Just about two minutes after 6AM in the morning in New York when the video ended, I saw many comments from the French audience who had tuned in live. Many expressed their disappointments ushering exasperating comments in French in the range of come on, is this it? This over expectation from some in the audience was expected perhaps because of the habits of seeing all those elaborately constructed stages of Chanel’s shows in the past decade at the Grand Palais including some memorable scenery for couture – Place Vendôme, the Eiffel tower, the Quai de Seine. It’s just that they may have forgotten that those magnificent sets were just decorations and not the main event that has always been the essential and familiar Chanel products. 

In fact, it is actually a brave act on the part of Chanel to steadfastly stick to its own ways, and choosing to not surrender to the expectations of others. The brand was criticized by many for its resort presentation last month in early June when the attempt to mimic a beachside atmosphere inside a Paris photo studio was seen as not artistic enough, not experimental enough and furthermore as not taking advantage of the situation at hand to release some kind of avant-garde film. Why bother to say something in half an hour when the same message can be said in say less than two minutes?  

But to linger on in this discussion is to completely miss the point – the focus should be the substance rather than the imagery. Where’s the beef? Setting aside the nightclub message, Viard focused her attention on a more linear and slimmer silhouette with shorter length – skirts and dresses fall above the knee – and with simpler constructions overall. Out with the clutter. A purple dress with flowers, cropped bolero, and a long sleeve floral short cocktail dress were two of the more embellished looks in the 30 pieces collection. The embroiderers Lesage and Montex together with plumassier and florist Lemarié and metal jeweler Goosens collaborated to make this new haute couture tweed woven with sequins, strass, stones, and beads creating these new bouclé tweeds with thick yarns of interweaving gold threads and black wool, or different threads of colored and at times sparkling wools.  These different volumes of the yarns together convey a sense and feel of hand-made rather than industrial fabrics. Several great looks are the black tweed tailored coat worn with a short skirt, the black A-line corset with chiffon sleeves and pouf skirt, the silver-painted lace dress, or the side buttoning black tweed with round collar and trims.  Although the collection is reduced to half its usual size, that’s a good thing in the age of sustainability and there are plenty for clients to choose from. 

“C’est ça Chanel” conjures a crystal clear system of values and a crystal clear system of brand recognition. Viard’s principle mission is not to make the brand a platform for any kind of radical design or to bring in collaborators that share little of the brand’s ethos. Viard’s most challenging job is to make sure that anyone looking at any of her designs immediately says – C’est ça Chanel – without any hesitation and to make sure her designs provide the critical renewal of the Chanel brand products every season.  Chanel has recently made the commitment to keep the current six collections a year traditional schedule instead of vying for a change like other brands that have reduced the show calendar, an indication of a business model based on the reality of the brand’s customers’ desires for a continuous rollout of new products to purchase over the year, and perhaps that includes these new haute couture clothes.  

Oh and always remember this French phrase – “C’est ça Chanel” when you watch the next Chanel show on any platform, live or electronic.  

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