Apparently, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel had an affinity for animal décor. Her archives, as well as her restored apartment at 31 rue Cambon in Paris, reveal a heavy dappling of varying sculpted fauna. So, given the impression Madame Chanel’s interior taste had on her fashion legacy, its apt that Virginie Viard would eventually weave her elegant brand of kitschy-chic into an upcoming collection.
And before you scream, no! not again with the animals!, this reflection for Spring Summer 2023 Haute Couture was supported by French artist Xavier Veilhan (his third collaboration with Viard) and his playful execution of a Ben Hur-meets-big-top setting. Giant toy-like elephants, giraffes and camels crafted from a kind of macro paper quilling looked Trojan as they wheeled onto the parade square, each to function as points from which the models would emerge.
Model muse Vivienne Rohner entered first wearing a white double-breasted, chevron-embossed ringmaster’s coat – propped by a black a top hat. It was giving Chanel Circus, but in a much more Viard, much less Largerfeld, opacity. Throughout, Viard wove her animal homage with literal fascination. Teaser videos prior to the show had been crawling with cute puppies, and her pieces were to incorporate the same. Quilted jackets embroidered with everything from kittens to corgis were, despite their cuteness, subtle and sparing, all in refined shades of black, white and soft gold.
Hem lines were shorter this season. Skirts rose high above the knee in an appropriate trend towards pre-Millenia. Think button-down tweeds with matching shorty shorts and tennis-cut pleats with sweet-cut jackets. The look played into a new-era, a new-customer, without having to stray too far from its core and classic. Formal couture also played a more contemporary bow, with A-line pleated skirts, sheer overlay dresses, halter slip gowns and diaphanous full length silks offering a casual coolness in part because of their languid structure and wearable silhouettes.
Additionally, Viard’s use of footwear is, perhaps, one of her most successful show choices. Each lace-up, each gold go-go boot, each black leather slingback were heeled low enough for models to stride with a breezy confidence not possible in sky-high slippers. The tactic makes each outfit particularly appealing, even beyond aesthetics.
As always, the Chanel atelier provides an oeuvre of technically supreme craftsmanship, with every detail (whether Corgi-d or not) spectacularly finessed. The trapeze coats, the harlequin quilting, the daisy-motif appliqués and, in particular, the finale look – a Chanel ‘bride’ sporting a mod-cut knee-length wedding gown delicately embroidered with a flock of sweet white swallows – all a reason to return repeatedly to the alter of Chanel couture.
In a video film with Veilhan prior to the show, the artist discussed his fascination for the animal world. He expressed love for its infinite inspiration and its folklore storytelling. He related its bountiful narrative to Viard’s own knack for inventing new, smaller worlds within larger ones. A talent assumed by Viard who is, for all intents, a designer’s designer. This season the world she conducted is joyful, fun and beautiful – a carnival fête in only the most Chanel of ways.