In its first collection without Karl Lagerfeld, the brand has left ladies who lunch behind for a new generation (that wears shorts and crop tops).

By Alyssa Hardy
Updated Mar 03, 2020 @ 12:15 pm
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Credit: Getty Images

On March 3, Chanel presented its first Fall/Winter show without Karl Lagerfeld (he died right before last year’s but had a hand in designing it). New creative director Virginie Viard was set to take the late designer’s 30-year vision of the iconic brand and, well, keep it the same. For her first few solo collections, including Resort 2020, Couture, and Spring/Summer 2020, she did just that. The same tweed jackets, excellently tailored skirts, and jaw-dropping wedding-dress finale looks came down the runway each time, and longtime Chanel fans were pleased. Fashion critics praised Viard for stepping up into such a challenging role while still keeping Lagerfeld’s spirit alive. But then, Tuesday’s show happened.

Models including brand favorites like Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber walked down the runway in looks that were, in many ways, different than anything the late Lagerfeld would have created. There were velvet bralettes with silk scarves tucked in and layered with oversize jewelry. An homage to the famous Christian Lacroix beaded jacket came in the form of a black shirt, and tall folded-over black-and-brown boots were paired with sheer patterned tights under short shorts. It was a little kooky, given the laced-up nature of Chanel, but there was something about it that felt good weird to me.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Some people, however, did not see it that way. Critics who typically wax poetic about what they are seeing at Fashion Week, wrote short and even sarcastic comments on social media with their pictures from the show. New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman tweeted indifferently, “Virginie Viard really believes in the whole cropped top and shorts thing for Chanel.” Another fashion director I spoke to agreed that a shakeup is interesting but noted, “No one goes to Chanel for a design point of view. Just give rich people their tweed suits!”

Let me start by saying that I recognize that Chanel is not about access. The brand is aspirational, and that’s exactly what Lagerfeld did so artfully — and, yes, with a point of view. Who is wearing a tweed coat and skirt regularly? It’s certainly not me or basically anyone I know outside of fashion. It’s ladies who lunch, or it’s cool influencers who somehow easily incorporate a vintage classic with their Nanushka pants. Great! I love that for them. But something about the oversize snaps, the volume of the leather, and even, yes, the shorts in this show made Chanel feel slightly cool to me for the first time. When Gigi Hadid walked arm-and-arm in all black with two other models, I saw the boundary Viard was trying to push. It was not laced-up, nor ready for a lunch at Jean Georges; there are plenty of collections for that. It was more about the woman who isn’t afraid of a strap out of place, or a style rule that says black with a hint of brown doesn’t match.

Credit: Getty Images

Sure, Chanel is not supposed to be “cool” or “punk” or anything associated with those adjectives. It is aristocratic and classic and not for everyone (nor the majority of people). But isn’t there something awesomely rebellious about a woman taking over this brand and saying, I’m going to push you toward shorts and crop tops and slightly odd styling because women (even the wealthy ones who drop $2,000 on a top) can do that now? They don’t have to be talking politely at a charity event on the Upper East Side; they can wear a puff-sleeve crop top while eating fries at Soho House. It's still unattainable to many, sure, but in a way that reflects a new generation — and, maybe, a new Chanel.

VIDEO: Chanel 2020 Paris Fashion Show