The purpose of a Chanel fashion show – other than to demonstrate how the clothes move, attract A-listers and drum up a social media buzz – is to create “un moment suspendu”, or a “suspended moment”, the company’s president said.
“That moment when you can forget what is happening outside, or around you,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion. “It’s not just fashion of course. You can say the same about cinema, and art. But it’s a special moment.”
Speaking before the label’s winter show, Pavlovsky was referring to the role and relevance of fashion shows in a crisis-ridden world. “We know how to deal with a crisis now, we have the right global distribution,” he said of trading issues since the pandemic. “With the war in Ukraine and Russia, we don’t know what will be our next step.” After its invasion, Chanel ceased trading in Russia. “We just want to “[create] a dream”. In other words, a beautiful distraction.
Chanel certainly managed that. Creating a double runway covered in black sand inside the Grand Palais Ephémère, each end of the catwalk mirrored the brand’s double c logo. Within each “c” was an enormous 16-petal camellia which flashed white, red and pink at intervals, while on each tiered seat sat a fresh one. Anna Wintour spent much of the show smelling hers.
What no one expected was that Chanel would read the room. Of the 66 models, a handful, including the veteran Dutch model Jill Kortleve, could be described as body diverse. Part of a gradual shift away from the reed-thin body shape that has dominated the megabrand catwalks since for ever, it suggests Chanel’s creative director, Virginie Viard, also reads news.
Pavlovsky says Viard knows what women want. “A woman designing for women, that’s very important”, he said. On the clothes that often meant menswear-for women: dandy-style dressing gowns, Withnail-style coats with peak lapels and that hot feminist topic – lots of pockets. Viard said making more comfortable clothes “made the collections more real”.
Everything came in black or white, with flashes of burgundy and dusky pink jumping out beneath the layers of gold necklaces. There were winter shorts, worn with white tights and platform boots, and there was tweed reworked into short suits, tiered skirts and jumpsuits. The mood was light on bare skin, low-key and retro, Anna Karina meets Faye Dunaway.
Describing Viard as Chanel’s biggest asset – other than the classic 2.55 chain handbag and all the bouclé tweed of course – since taking over at Chanel after the 2019 death of Karl Lagerfeld, the designer has been responsible for a swift retreat from Lagerfeld’s often-excessive spectacles.
This will feel all the more relevant this May. Four years after his death, the late designer will become the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition and gala, which will catapult Chanel and his legacy back into the limelight.
Viard’s focus, he said, has been on the clothes, but also bringing in younger fans. “The most difficult thing for Virginie is to bring her contribution to an existing brand. But she has taken what Karl created and taken it to another level, bringing something more feminine that fits better with the woman of today.” Sitting in such rarefied surroundings, with the Eiffel Tower looming behind, how is it possible to tell? “You just look at the models once they’ve tried on the clothes” he said. “You see in their faces that what they are wearing is making them happy.”