Is there anything prettier than a garden in springtime? Well, yes, there is. Chanel haute couture. Paris hasn’t been the same without it, and now, after more than a year, it’s back. This morning, church bells rang as Chanel staged its first fashion show with a proper audience since you-know-when, and such a momentous occasion wasn’t lost on the house’s creative director Virginie Viard. For AW21, she didn’t go big on a theme, or a transportative set; rather, she focussed on the very essence of what couture represents to fashionphiles: Romance! Good ol’ fashioned, pretty-as-a-picture, capital-R Romance! Who can’t do with a bit of that right now?
The show took place in the courtyard of the Palais Galliera, the City of Paris’ Fashion Museum, much more intimate and stripped-back than the usual Grand Palais spectacles, because the latter is currently closed for renovations. Plus, the museum is currently exhibiting Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, a celebration of the woman who started it all, and the work of whom has become an eternal bedrock for the very survival of haute couture — even in the hardest of times.
It turned out that the outdoor salon show was a perfect setting for the latest Chanel collection from Virginie, which looked and felt as light as a petal. An Impressionist theme ran throughout, appearing in the pastel colours, swirling embellishments, and garden-party styling. White satin dresses with black velvet bows brought to mind Morisot paintings, the sequins adorning rounded tweed jackets and silk blouses resembled the paint strokes of Van Gogh, no doubt delicately applied by Lesage craftspeople over the duration of thousands of hours.
There were dresses made from tiers of tulle, almost like elaborate wedding cakes, and tweeds woven from yarns the colour of Manet’s water lilies, others like quintessentially Parisian red gingham awnings. One dress came with stripes of chiffon dahlia plumes, a jacket with thousands of marabou plumes meticulously transformed into bright hand-dyed gardenias. Most of the oh-so-Coco tweed suits were worn over apricot-coloured broderie anglaise bustiers, or chiffon pantaloons, and there were little negligee-style pyjama sets; a little bit beach, a little bit boudoir. Virginie loves to show a bit of midriff with her looks, which brings a bit of easy-breezy lightness to some of the more sculpted silhouettes, and this time came as jackets with bouldered shoulders and extended, jutting peplums.
Yes, reader, I know that may sound like it’s been uttered from the vocal cords of Julie Andrews, but when was the last time you saw a show so pretty that the child inside you released a sigh of wonder? If it’s one thing the last year has taught us, it’s that we take the simple pleasures in life for granted — and it doesn’t get simpler than the sheer joy of seeing clothes that you want to wear when you feel happy, cute and who knows, head-over-heels in love.
Sofia Coppola, once the poster girl for sardonic indie girls everywhere, smiled as she watched Margaret Quallie waltz down the aisle — I mean, runway — as the Chanel bride in a simple satin dress and veil dotted in droplets of sequins. Brides in white dresses? Don’t be so quick to dismiss it as archaic. Think of it more as a symbol of families coming together for weddings with more than 30 people. Here was a sartorial rite of spring, enough to bring a tear to those skeptics who constantly question the mere existence of haute couture and its frivolities. For the finale, she joined the models under a sprinkling of rose petals released from above. It was a reminder of why couture exists, beyond the importance of keeping traditional craftsmanship alive. Romance! Chez Chanel, it’s still very much alive.