This Is Virginie Viard's Chanel
Travel has always been at the heart of fashion’s cruise and resort collections, long before they were even called such. Designers once imagined wardrobes to dress their wealthy clientele on month-long vacations that required two or three outfit changes per day, from swim to cocktails to formal occasions. Of course, in more recent times, the cruise shows have been much more about the travel of editors and influencers who fly around the world to see the latest extravaganzas from Prada, Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and many more. An article in WWD this week calculated that if a New York-based editor were to attend all of them this season, that person would travel about 82,389 miles with an environmental impact of 46.7 metric tons of CO2.
It’s fitting, and sensible, that Chanel, which really pioneered the concept of the traveling fashion show 15 years ago, has returned to its home base of Paris in recent years for its cruise collections. The luxury market in France is wrestling with the same issues as the rest of the world, including economic inequalities and grave disparities between the income of the ultrawealthy and average workers. Paris has been scarred, as well, by the fire at Notre Dame last month, and its fashion community is still in mourning over the death of Karl Lagerfeld in February. This seems like an opportune moment to reconsider what the house of Chanel represents, both at home and to the world.
In her first collection credited as artistic director of fashion collections, Virginie Viard, a longtime collaborator of Lagerfeld, showed a cruise collection on Friday morning in Paris that impressed not only for its variety of appealing designs, but also for its awareness that times are changing. Designers everywhere are reconsidering how they approach fashion for many reasons: to be inclusive, to further the cause of feminism, to be respectful of cultural boundaries and the difference between appropriation and appreciation, to be aware of indulgences that can risk seeming outrageous. Viard went further, creating a Chanel collection that seemed smart, wearable, and relatable, and in many ways not always so, well, Chanel.
That may have been partly a result of the travel theme of the show, which demands a certain reliance on functional sportswear – in this case an opening montage of crisp, cottony separates like a loden safari jacket worn over loose trousers, a brown oversize coat spilling white ruffles, an inky trench, or a boxy black jacket over a white peplum blouse. These looks were anything but basic, and yet they had a sense of ease to them that had never really been the point of Lagerfeld’s intensively thematic presentations. It wouldn’t have been surprising for Viard, who worked with Lagerfeld for 30 years, to have followed closely in his footsteps for a while, but the ship is hers now to command, and she did commendably on this occasion.
The set at the Grand Palais this time was a pared down rendering of a platform at a train station, which listed the stops of many cruise show destinations of seasons past. Upstairs there was a salon decorated as if the inside of a luxury train, serving breakfast for guests of a first show and lunch for those in the second showing. The décor was as detailed as always, with inter-locking C-s woven in the carpets and wood-paneled walls with windows looking into other compartments, where visitors could spot Keira Knightley, who had just revealed her pregnancy just the night before, or Lily-Rose Depp dining with Vanessa Paradis.
In true Chanel fashion, this was a typically expansive collection, with an eveningwear section that included asymmetrical dresses that mixed fabrics with lace and one-shoulder looks that were understated from a distance, but quite striking up close, like a tiered dress of a light madras-like fabric. There were also less-than-subtle nods to a theme, of course, including a lace motif on a few looks that resembled the sort of oversize clock of a train station, and, perhaps in a good-humored nod toward the state of how people dress on airplanes these days, some fabulous Chanel leggings in one of the few looks that was shown with a bouclé jacket.
In a program presented to guests before the show, Chanel noted the importance of travel to each designer. Coco Chanel’s love of the “Le train bleu,” which she and her friends boarded to her villa La Pausa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, is well noted in both her designs, including those for a Ballets Russes ballet production of the same name in 1924. Nearly a century later, in a world that grows smaller by the day, and where the state of planes and trains can hardly be described as glamorous, it’s frankly amazing that travel, for any designer, still has this much potential to inspire.