Following the death of Karl Lagerfeld in February, Virginie Viard, who had been his right hand for 30 years, was announced to take on the mantle of the longtime creative director at Chanel. Lagerfeld, arguably the most prolific and influential designer of the 20th and 21st centuries, carried the torch that Gabrielle Chanel first lit, and with it, transformed her namesake into a global powerhouse that the invention of modern luxury fashion could be rightfully credited to.
Naturally, the appointment of Viard, a relative unknown, was posed with inquisitive questions: Would she choose to make her own mark on a brand so synonymously storied for its former creative spearheads? Or would she remain a low-key, behind-the-scenes presence?
Clues could perhaps be taken from her inaugural solo show in May for the Cruise ’20 season. Set inside the Grand Palais, Lagerfeld’s regular place of choice, was a replica of a pre-war train station. “You have to move, to travel, to surprise,” Lagerfeld once remarked. “Travelling informs youth, and what’s so fun is the energy.” So said a man who blasted a rocket ship in the Grand Palais, reconstructed a water-lapping beach the next year, and went on to build a cruise ship the season after. Through the elaborate stage craft of his Chanel runway shows, Lagerfeld transported his guests from one fantastical destination to the next, all in the name of showmanship — something that the iconoclast had made talismanic to the house.
The Cruise show’s train station set at the Grand Palais was uncharacteristically sombre, perhaps out of respect for the end of an era at the fashion house.
The tradition for Chanel Cruise shows was to bring the audience to a destination, far-flung from the house’s Grand Palais home ground: Los Angeles, Seoul, Singapore, Santa Monica airport, Grand Central Station — the list goes on. But for Viard’s Cruise ’20 debut, it returned to the Grand Palais. Perhaps a tip of the hat to Lagerfeld’s nascent arrival in the city (“On August 28th in 1952, I arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris,” Monsieur Lagerfeld once said. “To me, the city seemed to be straight out of the films and the books I’d found so fascinating. I’d come to spend two years at high school, but my trip to Paris lasted much longer.”), the set was decidedly transported out of the Belle Époque era.
Somewhat stripped back from the expected larger-than-life grandeur, it left room for the shadow of Viard’s predecessor to fill: Old-fashioned wooden benches and platform signs bore the names of places where Chanel, under Lagerfeld, had shown. The notion of the female traveller was what Viard had in mind. If the literal train station wasn’t evident enough, the clothes then paid firm testament to that: The iconic tweed bouclé came structured and purveyed functionality, positing four to six patch pockets on its front; louche workwear in shades of mocha and navy winked at the uniform of a stationmaster; trousers were wide-fitting in varying playful proportions: high-waisted and cropped at shin-length, billowing as above-the-ankle palazzos, slashed from the knee to the hem.
Virginie Viard, as did her late mentor, pairs frivolity with considered utility.
The final look of the collection emulated the way the white-maned icon, Karl Lagerfeld, would have dressed by pairing a black number with his signature white Edwardian collar.
Following the opening dark palette, a gush of pastel colours streamed in myriad forms. Dresses with blurred prints that hinted at landscapes glimpsed out of the window of a speeding train. A sense of boldness was represented in the ease of cloaking oneself in the striking tonality of lavender hues or pale cerulean. Comfort was of utmost importance, too: silhouettes were loose, pocket-replete bags could be easily slung and heel heights were kept moderate.
Viard’s final bow for her debut solo Chanel presentation.
Viard, it seems, had learned from her late mentor the art of balancing technical know-how with desirability. At the tail end of the show, fluid evening dresses, festooned with embroidered camellia petals flurried in, before finally, a poignant homage to Lagerfeld himself: a black halter dress suspended from his trademark stiff white Edwardian collar. For the finale, Viard, seemingly moved, took a glistening-eyed bow. With a new lead settling into the helm, the Chanel train chugs on into the future.
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