Chanel designer Virginie Viard Tuesday signalled she may put an end to the brand’s themed Paris fashion week spectaculars, a year after the death of her legendary predecessor Karl Lagerfeld.
The German showman spent millions turning the vast Grand Palais into his playground, building a Chanel space rocket, a near life-sized ocean liner, the Eiffel Tower, a tropical beach and the Verdun gorges – complete with waterfalls – as a backdrop for his extravagant shows.
But the more understated Viard, his former right hand woman, strongly suggested on Tuesday that that era may be over.
“There is no frame for the show,” she said. “I don’t like that which is framed.”
Instead she had her army of models walk through an icy abstract landscape of stepped curving waves of black and white, swept by the odd puff of dry ice.
The French creator, who took over from Lagerfeld shortly after his death aged 85, sent out a mostly black and white collection, thin on the traditional tweeds that Lagerfeld relied on.
They were also very few dresses, with jewellery riffing off a square cross reminiscent of Madonna’s glory days, making the big glamour statements.
Instead Viard returned to the roots of the Paris fashion house founded by the horse- and polo-mad Gabrielle Chanel, with slashed jodhpurs, folded down calf-length musketeer boots and billowing side-buttoned leather trousers that resembled riding chaps and black suede jockey hats.
Skirts were also slashed, sometimes up to the hip with Viard saying she was after movement, “freedom, energy and absolute desire”.
Her big innovation was putting snap buttons on Chanel jackets for the first time, to free up the wearer and allow “a more lively gesture”, she said.
Viard said the equestrian theme was also partly inspired by a photo of Lagerfeld in a striped suit and riding boots.
But she also drew ideas from Claude Chabrol’s French film classic, the 1968 chiller “Les Biches”, about a lesbian love triangle.
Indeed the show began with a nod to the movie, with two typically chic Parisian friends walking arm in arm, “as feminine as they were Amazons”, Viard insisted.
A video released to tease the show featured the rising US actress Margaret Qualley — daughter of Andie MacDowell and one of the stars of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” — in a hommage to the Chabrol film, meeting her secret lover on the Pont des Arts bridge over the River Seine.
Qualley was also in the front row for the show with a galaxy of other celebrities including “Avengers” star Pom Klementieff, the British actress Emily Beecham and American singer Janelle Monae.
Having opened with the Paris bourgeoisie, Viard closed at the other end of the social scale, with a trio of more pop looks based around crop tops and hotpants under long overcoats worn by the supermodel triumvirate of Gigi Hadid, Mona Tougaard and Hyun Ji Shin in spotted tights.
While the New York Times critic Vanessa Friedman sounded a note of scepticism, tweeting that the three looked like they were off to get some chips after a night on the town, Viard insisted the collection was about “a very simple, very pure momentum.
“Romanticism but without any flourishes, emotions but without any frills,” she added.
While fears of the coronavirus prompted one fashionista to wear a customised camelia face mask — the flower was Coco Chanel’s favourite – masks have been a rarer sight in Paris than during the Milan fashion week that preceded it.
That said, one Asian influencer was taking no chances, wearing both a branded Chanel face mask as well as full face visor.
Light relief was provided by striking French lawyers who, dressed for court, staged their own alternative runway show outside the Grand Palais carrying placards declaring, “The only black gown you will ever need” – a cheeky reference to Chanel’s iconic little black dress.
Both Hadid sisters, Bella and Gigi, by far the busiest supermodels in Paris this week, also turned up later on the Miu Miu runway.
Bella told reporters that the secret to her stamina was nothing stronger than “my morning ginger tea”.
Miu Miu, an offshoot of the Italian brand Prada, went heavily retro with a paean to plaid and the glamour of fur and leopard skin, although the latter were both fake, the label having just gone fur free.