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The Incredible Shrinking Chanel

Designer Virginie Viard introduced a welcome new intimacy to the French megabrand.
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2021. Chanel.
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2021. Chanel.

Michel Gaubert teased Virginie Viard’s new show for Chanel with Diana Ross singing “Do You Know Where You’re Going To,” the theme from the 1975 movie Mahogany, in which Ross played a model from Chicago who found success in Rome. If she’d managed to get to Paris, she’d surely have gone to Chez Castel, because every other model who ever made it was at Castel every night, including, famously, Jerry Hall and Grace Jones. And, curiously enough, Viard told Hamish Bowles she’d been listening to Bryan Ferry, who was engaged to Hall around that time.

This is a windy way of letting you know that Viard chose Castel as the location for her show. The Grand Palais is closed for renovations till 2024, so she couldn’t have staged the usual Chanel spectacle there even if she wanted. Anyway, she insisted she was over all that. She wanted somewhere intimate. Thank heavens for small mercies! The location was a tonic for Viard’s collection. By crowding her models into Castel’s small rooms, corridors and stairways (all Covid health and safety measures observed, of course), she created a mini-hubbub that kicked her clothes into top gear. No more the zombie march-past against the monumental backdrop, at last the clothes could breathe life. And Inez and Vinoodh mirrored all the action in their smart little movie.

But it wasn’t only the physical space that sparked Viard’s collection. The spirit of Castel — all those glamorous night creatures casually abusing their youth and beauty throughout the 60s and 70s — infused the look, and the looks, of the models. You could see Françoise Hardy, Castel It-Girl, echoing down the ages in the heavily shadowed eyes, the long straight hair with bangs, the long tweed coat casually thrown over the short, sparkly, sheer dress, then just as casually dumped on the counter of the coat check. The glittery tweed jacket with the chambray jeans hinted at Hardy’s gamine style (also Viard’s own eminently practical mien). And were those pearl suspenders I saw with a tweed trouser suit? There was a lot of nightlife shine in the clothes, which, when you added the abbreviated jackets and skirts, the bared midriffs encircled with bejewelled chains, and the fringed hems, made you wonder whether Viard, in her Castel’s mode, was conjuring up 21st century flappers for that new Roaring Twenties there’ve been whispers of.

There was also a whole sidebar about skiwear. Viard would say it was a testament to her self-declared love of contrasts, but the models in their quilted skisuits and duvet coats clunked in context, especially in comparison to the coltish Castel girls. This was one moment when form truly trumped function. But what would a Chanel show be without editing issues? And we can only hope that, with this scaled-down, newly energised outing, Virginie Viard may have finally found a way to show us her Chanel.

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The State of Fashion: Technology