Fashion journalists loved to compare Karl Lagerfeld to his predecessor, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel. Every time when journalists lacked the depth to understand Lagerfeld’s brilliance, they interpreted his bon mots and beautiful designs though a comparison with Chanel. After a while, the analogy became gruesome because it stole from Lagerfeld’s creative identity and reduced his work to a parenthesis in Coco Chanel’s legacy. Indeed, Chanel had a profound influence on Lagerfeld; nevertheless, he was still his own master. Having said that, Oscar Wilde’s famous words, “The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius,” come to mind as Lagerfeld’s sins carried the stigma associated with genius. And then Karl Lagerfeld passed away and a new chapter began at Rue Cambon.
A new round of speculations and comparisons. This time the victim is Virginie Viard, Chanel’s former studio director named by the media, Lagerfeld’s former “right-hand woman.” A title that diminishes her importance and her place in the brand’s history. In fact, Viard is not a new addition to the house of Chanel and her connection to the brand goes back to 1987. If Lagerfeld saw in Viard a confident, trusted ally and fellow genius, the title of a “right-hand woman” is encouraging toxic misogyny. Evidently, a luxury brand built by a feminist icon who “freed women from corsets as well as from prohibitive and archaic moral codes,” and where women have been promoted to executive positions way ahead of the #metoo and #girlboss era (the appointment of Maureen Chiquet as CEO), Viard and the house of Chanel deserve better.
Appointing Viard as the Artistic Director of Chanel Fashion collections was a masterstroke. Not only that she’s familiar with the brand and its history, but she also understands the legacy of her predecessors; consequently, she can incorporate their distinctive design elements in her creative vision. Her first Couture collection was an ode to Chanel and Lagerfeld while simultaneously being something new, fresh and very personal to her.
Selecting as the backdrop, a grandiose circular library fully equipped with banquettes, coffee tables, and wing chairs created a calming, intellectual setting. This year, Chanel didn’t blast us into space in a very SpaceX and Elon Musk-kind of way. Let the world innovate, consume itself with AI, AR, new technologies, and its unbearable fast pace, because Viard’s muse will cuddle up on a plush couch with her favorite book. This signals the return to intellectualism and the world of profound ideas, and it represents an ode to liberal-arts education in an age that favors STEM fields. It’s a brilliant and yet understated critic of our modern society. A world in which we focus more on Lagerfeld’s bon mots than his brilliance or the fact that he was the biggest bibliophile and couturier of his generation. Karl Lagerfeld collected over 300,000 books and he shared the passion with Viard. Chanel herself confided to Paul Morand, “Books are my best friends.” Basically, books and intellectual pursuits are written in Chanel’s DNA and Viard reinvented the core of the brand.
We should easily bond together literature and fashion. For instance, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde loved fashion. Likewise, Truman Capote’s timeless book Breakfast at Tiffany’s helped us understand the power of “a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker.”And while Capote sketched the image of the perfect Swan, Viard redesigned the image of the modern Chanel “I dreamt about a woman with nonchalant elegance and fluid and free silhouette; everything I like about the CHANEL allure,” said Virginie Viard. Indeed, her debut collection is an ode to nonchalance and sophistication. Fluid volumes, loose shapes, modern and yet classic designs that recall the 1930s style. A collection with a Fitzgerald “old money” twist, where the garments define the socioeconomic class and the savoir-faire of the Haute Couture ateliers shines through. And it’s exactly this craftsmanship that transforms each dress, top, and jacket into an art piece.
Some garments stand out because of the ingenuity of the design, such as bomber jackets and sheer tops embroidered with feathers, fabulous layered collars that resemble book pages, and the most marvelous pleated and embellished robe. The colors are a return to the classic Chanel look: black, white, navy blue and burgundy. However, there’s also a ray of modernity with flashes of pink, fuchsia, and orange.
Viard’s aesthetic comes to light when analyzing the wide-cut trousers perfectly paired with discreet and never too flashy Chanel jackets. Tweeds and wool crêpe are used in delicate combinations, and every garment appears expensive but discreetly elegant.