Certainly, no one is better placed than Virginie Viard, Chanel’s new creative director, to continue Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy. The 57-year-old knows the codes of the house and its customer like no other. She worked as Lagerfeld’s closest confidante for more than 30 years, joining the house as an intern in haute couture embroidery in 1987 (just four years after Lagerfeld took the helm). He took him with her Chloé, and then back to Chanel again, calling her his “right arm”. Within industry circles, she has been described as his “secret weapon.” Well, out of the shadows and thrust centre stage at the imposing Grand Palais this morning to present her first solo collection for Chanel, one thing is clear: she’s no secret now.
But at least the cruise shows are a friendly place to start. All about travel (or at least, that was the original idea) they provide an opportunity for well-heeled customers to find summer clothes for exotic holidays during the cold winter months. It became clear this morning as guests arrived at the Grand Palais that wherever Chanel was headed this season, we were getting there by train. Departure was set for 9am.
Carriages were decked out with tables set for breakfast, waiters hovered with cheese trolleys, smoked salmon and berries. One hour later, we had reached our destination (we didn’t actually go anywhere, of course, though it almost felt like we had, amongst the chatter of show-goers and clatter of servers). “Disembarking” past the grand station clock, we were led into the main hall under the glass domed roof. This 240m long space is where Karl Lagerfeld used to stage his spectacular sets – everything from the Chanel supermarket to a rocket to a giant cruise liner, icebergs to beaches to Paris boulevards. This morning, however, it was eerily sparse. The idea was a simple train platform, set out with nothing but wooden-slat benches and signposts reading train stops of ‘Saint Tropez’, ‘Antibes,’ ‘Rome,’ and ‘Byzance’.
Anticipation was palpable as the first looks made an appearance. Wax cotton and gabardine khaki tailoring – comprising wide cropped trousers and sweeping coats or utility jackets – took their cue from workmen’s uniforms. They felt new and purposeful. The Chanel ivory wool skirt suit also got an injection of cool, the silhouette – a soft round-shouldered edge-to-edge jacket atop a mini skirt – remained classic but it was imbued with a youthful swagger. Pastel prints on tiered chiffon dresses merged together as though to mimic the blurry landscape viewed from the window of a speeding train, while sequins gathered, looking like the holes punched into train tickets.
Accessories were wait-list worthy, from the metal travel flask, slipped into a leather case and slung over the shoulder with a chain strap, to a grown-up bumbag in monochrome leather, loosely buckled over relaxed tailoring, or the skinny belts that boasted two dangling quilted purses, just the right size for a day’s necessities. There was plenty to want, not least half a dozen of those Chanel jackets. Everything felt the same, but different – it was evident that it had come from a woman’s hand. The clothes looked a little more comfortable, a little more practical, even.
“Nobody is eternal… so you have to be ready for that. And the brand is stronger than that,” Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, told press earlier this week during the house’s Mademoiselle Privé exhibition opening in Shanghai. “The job done by Karl is in preparation of the next step. And we are so confident for the future. He did an amazing job, and you will see year after year how amazing what he has done, is. We feel ready and quite energetic to prepare this next step.”
“I’m sure that you will see something different,” he said, adding, “Virginie will probably bring some femininity to the Chanel look. But that will stay the Chanel look.” Clearly, the show this morning proved that this was no overhaul – but no one expected it to be so. The Chanel synonymous with Karl Lagerfeld remains because it’s Virginie Viard’s shared vision too – and no less, because the success of this £7.46 billion ($9.7 billion) business relies upon it. The new additions that Viard will no doubt want to weave into this house will quite rightly be a considered and careful process. And as that ornate station clock made the audience think: time will tell.
Photos: ALESSANDRO LUCIONI / GORUNWAY.COM