Coco Chanel practically wrote the book on French girl style. The designer was the first to popularize the sailor blouse and is credited with inventing both the Little Black Dress and the modern tweed jacket.
Many designers still trade that style, so it made sense that Virginie Viard’s spring collection read like an ABC of Parisian elegance.
The exhibition was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Villa Noailles, the modernist house built by art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles in the south of France. Chanel and the couple moved in the same circles and became friends with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau.
Chanel is a major sponsor of the centenary, which is accompanied by a series of cultural activities, including an exhibition dedicated to the costumes of Marie-Laure de Noailles, opening next week, featuring reproductions of three Chanel designs from the 1930s.
Viard doesn’t take his inspirations too literally, so there wasn’t much retro theme in his lineup. Instead, she focused on the essence of what Chanel and her circle represented: a sense of freedom that was reflected in designs that could easily go from the runway to the street or, better yet, to the beach.
“A topic feeds the imagination, but we are talking about today. There is no Coco Chanel or Man Ray,” she said in a preview. “I always try to portray a woman who is free and comfortable with herself, with a little touch of eccentricity or sophistication.”
Viard opened in a caftan-like tweed tunic in a static version of television, but quickly moved on to more summery fare. Sailor blouses came in all sorts of shapes, from a traditional striped version paired with white leather pants, ballet flats, a quilted bag, and pearls, to dressier black versions in sheer chiffon or nubby knit.
A thin white knit vest and a black knit skirt, with panels tied in front like a sweater, may not set off fireworks on the runway, but they’re sure to sell like hotcakes. The same goes for jeans and flip-flops, striped fleece jackets and robes that had a simple appeal.
Her minimalist evening looks also delivered, from a monochrome maxi dress with sunray pleats to a series of sheer black dresses.
At Chanel’s 19M campus, Viard has some of the world’s most slick specialist studios at her fingertips, and she made the most of her craftsmanship with items like a tweed suit with a grid pattern inspired by the checkered cubist gardens of Villa Noailles , a Bauhaus-inspired Villa designed by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.
A floral trim on the jacket and an asymmetrical hem added depth to Barbie’s pink look, but other times, Viard got lost in the decorative effects. A pencil skirt with intricate geometric embroidery was paired with a striped gold lurex cardigan, a vest embroidered with graphic black camellias, and sparkly pumps—a combination that created a definite case of visual overload.
That said, a look at Chanel’s front row indicates that it caters to one of the broadest demographics of any luxury brand. A mature customer probably isn’t looking for a striped Breton top and ballet flats, as cool as they are, but might gravitate toward eye-popping floral prints.
The cultural aura that surrounds the brand gives it added prestige. Chanel not only sponsors leading institutions such as the Paris Opera, but also fosters emerging talents. At the upcoming Hyères International Fashion, Photography and Accessories Festival, to be held annually at the Villa Noailles, it will expand its support to cover the main photography prize.
“This cultural dimension also feeds into the imaginary world of the collections and therefore seeps into the product,” Bruno Pavlovsky, fashion president and president of Chanel SAS, told WWD.
He revealed that the brand has renovated Coco Chanel’s La Pausa villa on the French Riviera and plans to reopen it next year with a program of cultural events.
“It will be a way to return the villa to what it was, that is, a kind of artists’ house,” he said. “For me it has nothing to do with nostalgia. On the contrary, it is a way of projecting ourselves into the culture of tomorrow.”
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