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Chanel Takes Us to the River

Virginie Viard is the latest designer to join in fashion’s pre-Olympic celebration of Paris, both as city and state of mind, writes Tim Blanks.
Chanel Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023.
Chanel Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023. (

PARIS — Paris is truly a tale of two cities at the moment: on the outskirts, furious social disorder, at the centre, chest-bursting municipal pride, with the Seine at the heart of it all. Three bridges have been repurposed as runways over the past few weeks of fashion shows. On Tuesday morning, Chanel settled for a riverside location, on the quai where the famous Bateaux Mouches are moored. Pre-Olympic Games, the fashion industry is clearly doing its bit to offer a heightened vision of Paris the place. Chanel even painted the quai’s cobblestones pink, like a Barbie-fied take on the yellow brick road, with the new couture collection acting as Oz at the end of it all.

But Virginie Viard also engaged with Paris the state of mind, or at least its specific embodiment in la Parisienne. First to step onto the pink brick road was Caroline de Maigret, co-author of best-selling ur-text “How to be Parisian: Wherever You Are”. She was wearing a full-length, double-breasted coat in navy bouclé. Strong-shouldered, military-ish, serious. That set the tone for a collection that had a solidly grown-up feel, so solid and tweedy, in fact, that it bordered on stout here and there. Call me coucou but I found that rather charming. Once, it might have been the wispy ingenue Lily Rose Depp who’d be called on to catch the mood. Here, her mother Vanessa Paradis, now 50, returned to the fold. And there was a sense of nonchalant, confident, womanly dressing, in the repurposing of masculine pinstripes and waistcoats, as well as those long coats. Even the dressiest looks – an embroidered blouse and hostess skirt, say – had the same casual spirit, like Viard was celebrating a weekend in Paris. Some models had been to the florist. Another was walking a dog. There were a couple of quai-side bookinistes if anyone fancied a browse (all the print on display was Paradis-related).

The surfeit of surface decoration brought us back to Planet Couture: scatterings of sequins, lacquered gilding, fruits and flowers embroidered to the max. By the time we encountered raspberries dangling off a gilet like tiny red baubles, it was even beginning to look a lot like Christmas (appropriate enough, this being a winter collection).

In her preamble, Viard defined Chanel’s allure as a balance of opposites: nonchalance and elegance, strength and delicacy. Michel Gaubert created the perfect soundtrack equivalent. The show opened with “Promenade Sentimentale,” a gorgeous Satie-like piano piece written by Vladimir Cosma to accompany an early morning stroll in the Tuileries in the 1982 cult classic “Diva” (ripe for revival as Paris celebrates itself). It was followed soon enough by “Cut Dick”, a slice of dirty funk for a late night in Pigalle from the ever-nonchalant Chilly Gonzales.

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