The scope and scale of a Chanel fashion show is the stuff of legend. Under Karl Lagerfeld, the Grand Palais was transformed into an indoor beach, a supermarket, it even housed a rocket ship. But the brand’s preferred show location is currently closed for renovations, which led creative director Virginie Viard to re-imagine the spectacle of Chanel’s first in-person ready-to-wear show since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A designer who delights in referencing the maison’s rich heritage, Viard decided to revisit the nostalgia of 80s and 90s era fashion shows, recreating the traditional elevated ‘catwalk’ at the Place Joffre, replete with a pack of photographers who swarmed the edges of the runway. To add to the retro sensibility, the show finished with George Michael’s fashion anthem ‘Freedom’. “I used to love the sound of flash bulbs going off at the shows in the ‘80s,” Viard revealed in the show’s notes. “When the models were on a raised runway. I wanted to recapture that emotion.”
The 90s references didn’t end there. The fashion world has fallen back in love with the retro stylings of the early 00s, and Viard clearly isn’t impervious to their charms. The show opened with models in skimpy Chanel swimsuits styled with lashings of gold body jewellery. Later, a low-slung full-length skirt revealed an ‘exposed underwear’ moment (paired with a logoed ‘Chanel’ bralette), and the traditional tweed skirt suit was revved up with a super-short hemline. Models grinned as they walked or did little spins, revelling in the bulb flashes of the sea of cameras. The collection finished with a series of wispy butterfly-print dresses, the kind that are made for carefree twirling and unapologetic showmanship.
In a fashion moment where questions about the relevance of the runway format are running rampant, the Chanel Spring/Summer 2022 offering was a timely reminder of why we have fashion shows in the first place. There was a palpable sense of joy that emanated from the screen, one that was reflected in the faces of the front row, from Chanel stalwarts Kristen Stewart and Lily-Rose Depp to new brand ambassador Jennie, of the K-Pop band BLACKPINK. It’s been a difficult 18 months since many brands last presented their collections in person, but the most successful shows this season captured the sense of resilience and optimism that is essential to fashion’s grand return.