PARIS – For years, the Chanel show has been the biggest, most famous and flashiest in Paris.
Guests thronged the steps of the Grand Palais, where he traditionally stood, decked out in their double-C adornments (bags and boots and brooches), sowing selfies like ginkgo trees on their Instagram feeds. It would be impossible not to know that it was Chanel Day whether or not you are in Paris, whether or not you are interested in fashion shows. This elevated the brand to the status of a pop culture event.
This was back when Karl Lagerfeld was the designer, and he reveled in building ever more snappable (or snap-able) sets: airports and supermarkets and breweries and even a beach with real waves. Once he launched a rocket. If the backdrops eclipsed his collections and seemed a bit extravagant at times, given the ephemeral nature of the event – if they looked as much like sleight of hand as they did creativity – hey: the whole experience. was so fabulous fashion, that was practically the definition of the term.
No more. This is not a bad thing.
Since his death in 2019, Mr. Lagerfeld’s replacement, Virginie Viard, has been retiring from decoration (space, to be fair, not clothes). This season, it has completely made a clean sweep: by moving the show from the Grand Palais to the small circular interior courtyard of the Palais Galliera, the Parisian fashion museum which hosts the first retrospective of Gabriel Chanel’s work ever organized in Paris and that Chanel (the brand) was instrumental in underwriting and expanding.
There was no ersatz building in sight – just a few chairs, arranged around the edges of the entrance, as if to say: The money is now being invested in this cultural monument. Welcome to the new world. It’s a different place.
Well, who can’t relate to that these days?
It was a smart update, given the tenor at the time. And this is not the only way for Ms. Viard to modernize the brand. Although it may be the most clearly successful.
There were a lot of things in her couture collection that looked familiar to her in a good way, especially the cute black and white evening outfits at the garden party in Giverny. And the extraordinary technique that goes into the creations of the famous workshop, with the brand’s signature buckle recreated in a sparkling Lesage trompe-l’oeil embroidery and a whole garden of tiny flowers inlaid with an empire-waist tunic dress.
But this time around, the cocktail dresses (and their pastel lingerie versions) also came with matching inlay panties – like leggings, the couture version. And the suits had an oversized 1980s square cut that made them heavy even when they weren’t, and were paired with… English embroidery bustiers and navel-baring nipple tubes. It was as if Gen Z had gone snooping around in their old aunt’s closet and decided to mix ‘n’ match with their own wardrobe. Only the jumpsuit did not look fresh, but forced.
At the end of the show, after a majestic parade around the courtyard, the bride – Margaret Qualley, actor and daughter of Andie MacDowell, in an elegantly simple seashell-pink wedding dress – threw her bouquet above her head and it landed in the lap of Laura Brown, the editor of InStyle, who burst out laughing. Sometimes relevance is just a gesture.
Sometimes it’s about revisiting what you know best. Last season Giorgio Armani, like all designers, hosted a Virtual Private Fashion Show, so this season he’s decided to bring back some of his favorite pieces from this collection and sprinkle them throughout this one.
The trousers (there were a lot of trousers) were of liquid silk organza, as smooth and shiny as mercury, often gathered at the ankle; shown either with easy jackets or increasingly elaborate evening tops, feathered and beaded and once draped in a beaded mesh. The colors were watery and holographic or chemically soft. Dresses bristling with ruffles.
What was old (ish) and what was new? It was impossible to say. Remember that phrase “so last season?” He did it last season.
Which is really pretty this season, when you think about it.