Monday 22 February 2021

Chanel's Dreamy Spring Collection in Paris

Penelope Cruz strikes a pose at Chanel's couture headquarters at 31 rue Cambon in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Cover of Marion Cotillard and main photograph by Anton Corbijn

The newly redecorated haute couture salons at Chanel's historic rue Cambon building in Paris have just reopened. Anton Corbijn photographed actors Penélope Cruz and Marion Cotillard in the elegant rooms. The interior provided a perfect backdrop to Virginie Viard's Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Designed as an antidote to the pandemic, it captured a dreamy sense of freedom and summery evenings in the South of France, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Lily-Rose Depp photographed 
on the famous mirrored
stairway, by Anton Corbijn, 
inspired by Robert Doisneau
VirginieViard worked with Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's late, great creative director, for more than 30 years, before taking the reins in 2019. Although Lagerfeld's astute fashion instinct and brilliant creative, commercial and sartorial skills cast a long shadow, Viard has been able to bring her own aesthetic to the French fashion powerhouse.

Her silhouettes are more relaxed than Lagerfeld's and her shows more personal than spectacular (think of his soaring, giant Chanel rocket ship and Eiffel tower, built under the great dome of the Beaux-Arts Grand Palais). 

As this Paris couture season was virtual due to Covid-19 restrictions, and with so many people working from home, Viard's fluid, low-key ethos captured the fashion zeitgeist. As the pandemic has kept many apart, people are more appreciative of the time they spend with family and friends. This was the inspiration for Viard's Spring-Summer 2021 Haute Couture collection. She wanted to create the atmosphere of a summer country wedding. 

"I knew we couldn't organise a big show, that we would have to invent something else, so I came up with the idea of a small cortege that would come down the stairs of the Grand Palais and pass beneath arches of flowers," says Virginie Viard. "Like a family celebration, a wedding. I love big family reunions, when the generations all come together. It's so warm. This is the spirit at Chanel today, because we are also like a family." 

"I came up with the idea of a small cortege coming down the stairs of the Grand Palais and passing beneath arches of flowers, like a family celebration, a wedding."

The models descend the stairway 
at the Grand Palais like
a wedding cortege
The new collection also works hand-in-hand with the reopening of the haute couture salons at 31 rue Cambon in Paris. "I wanted to bring the models together for family photos, like those you can see in albums," Viard explains. 

Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Vanessa Paradis were photographed next to the famous mirrored staircase. Lily-Rose Depp (Paradis' daughter) and Cotillard were shot with multiple reflections like the famous image of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, taken on the same stairway in 1953 by Robert Doisneau. 

Virginie Viard asked Dutch photographer, director and graphic designer Anton Corbijn to shoot her imagined wedding party in the Chanel salons and to take the pictures like family portraits. Viard met Anton Corbijn when he photographed her for a Vogue interview last year. Corbijn also directed the film of the Chanel couture show at the Grand Palais (see at the end of the story) and filmed teasers in the new haute couture ateliers, stylised as band posters. 

He has photographed, directed music videos or created album covers for many high-profile bands and musicians from U2, Depeche Mode, Nirvana, Coldplay and Joy Division to Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Elvis Costello, Simple Minds and Björk. For Chanel, he also created the double "C" monogram and camellia as a hand-painted dash and these were used for the printed show invitation and on the cover of the photo album.

"I wanted to bring the models together for photos, like those you see collected in family albums."

The long, Twenties-inspired, ecru satin 
wedding gown, covered in 
hand-embroidered butterflies
Virginie Viard turned to images of the 1920s for inspiration to create this season's bridal gown. The bride was photographed on the curving, mirrored stair and filmed riding a horse out of a jaunty tent on to the runway at the the Grand Palais in Paris (see at left and below). 

The long, slim dress is made of ecru satin crêpe with a train, embroidered by Lesage, with pearl butterflies and finished with a wing collar and shirt cuffs.  

Viard's vision of a lively and romantic summer evening was brought to life in the collection by the long, ruffled skirts and witty trouser suits with jackets inspired by men's waistcoats. These designs connected back Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel’s use of menswear in her designs, radical in the early 20th century. 

This SS21 couture collection also included tiers of flounced crêpe georgette in pale pink and a bolero worn with two-tone Mary-Jane shoes with a double strap, like tango dancers wear. This season's Chanel booties were designed with wedge heels decorated with a golden, quilt-like grid. "I'm always thinking about what women would like to have in their wardrobe today," comments Viard.

A stand-out design was a long, removable skirt in lace made of white daisies, worn open over a dress with an integrated cape. The Métiers d’Art were involved in all the collection's looks, including the Montex atelier's embroidered macramé dress in pearl-grey tulle and Lemarié's delicate feathers which embellished the organza flounces of a dress in black tweed. The opening look for the show with its lacey white top and red, swinging skirt and flower-embroidered cuffs set the celebratory tone of the collection (see in the gallery below). 

"I'm always thinking about what women would like to have in their wardrobe today."

Penelope Cruz was one of the handful of 
guests at the filmed runway show

With Paris in lockdown, the runway show at the Grand Palais was held without an audience except for Chanel's ambassadors, including Charlotte Casiraghi, Vanessa Paradis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Lily-Rose Depp. 

Empty gilt chairs were gathered in small, distanced groups along the circular runway covered with arches of flowers and strings of light bulbs. The few guests sat singly and well apart from each other as they watched the runway show for the video shoot. 

Virginie Viard's aim was to create the intimate atmosphere of a village celebration for the show, with the guests and models ~ who talked and smiled as they walked on the circular runway ~  becoming part of the wedding party. The arches covered in flowers, scattered rose petals and a white tent all added to the sense of a festive, country gathering.

The mixed masculine and feminine silhouettes included ball gowns worn with chiffon singlets and shirts. Business-like, well-cut vests were worn with full skirts and high-cut trousers. Satin shirts combined with cardigan jackets made these pieces looked easy and comfortable to wear, But the detail in their finish showed the haute couture touch. The beautiful embroidery and hand-made lace gave each garment a richness and detail missing from ready-to-wear clothes.

With Paris in lockdown, the runway show at the Grand Palais was held without an audience except for Chanel's fashion ambassadors.
The plush armchairs and sofas of
Jacques Grange's new 
redesign of the couture salons
The newly redesigned haute couture salons on the rue Cambon, completed at the same time as Viard's spring collection, were created by French decorator Jacques Grange. However, the rethinking of the interior predates Viard taking over as creative director  of Chanel. 

Karl Lagerfeld had already chosen Jacques Grange to redo the couture salons. He had been the interior designer for Lagerfeld's great rivals, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, and once they passed away he felt he could finally use the decorator himself. 

Today, Viard says she wanted to create a sophisticated space with Grange but one that still resonated with Gabrielle Chanel's aesthetic. The decorator has given the rooms a classical palette with white walls and black-framed mirrors combined with grey silk carpets and gilded furniture by Goossens. A cosy, more informal feeling is created by the plump and capacious white-upholstered armchairs and sofas, interspersed with ceramic consoles by Giuseppe Ducrot and resin and glass tables by Marina Karella. Rich, brocade-covered screens and doors separate spaces and add a note of exoticism. 

Viard wanted to create a sophisticated space with Grange but one that still resonated with Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel's aesthetic. 

A model in this season's wedding gown
stands on the fabled stair.
Gabrielle Chanel's fabled, winding staircase still leads clients up to the salons for fittings and viewings (see at right). Overall, Grange wanted to enhance the glamour, creating an evocative background for the haute couture collections. 

The decorator was able to peruse Chanel's photographic archive so he could maintain the connection to the past. The pictures were an important point of reference for the design and Grange brought back Chanel's mirrored walls and decorative screens as a nod to the storied history of the building.

Rue Cambon was literally where Grabrielle Chanel's fashion career began. Originally dating back to the 18th century, the street was named after a famous French revolutionary elected to the National Convention (and his father was a fabric manufacturer). 

When Chanel was in her mid-twenties she began working as a milliner at No. 21 and by 1910 she was creating her first brand, Chanel Modes. Rue Cambon is in the centre of Paris, close to Place Vendôme and the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré and was ~ and still is ~ a very fashionable part of the city. 

As her business expanded, Gabrielle Chanel needed larger premises and in 1918, she acquired the handsome, 18th century building at number 31. It was here that she came up with the concept of the modern boutique in 1921, showing fashion accessories and selling her first perfume, the iconic N°5, that is still worn today. The boutique was located on the ground floor, while the large reception room on the first floor was used to present collections and hold fittings for haute couture. 

Today, the layout is still the same with the mirrored stairway leading up to Gabrielle's stylish second-floor apartment. The third floor houses the studio where Karl Lagerfeld worked and where Virginie Viard works now. The ateliers are still on the top floor, under the rooftop, buzzing with the lace makers, pleaters, jewelers, fan-makers and embroiderers who bring Chanel's couture collections to life, just as they did in Gabrielle Chanel's time. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 

See the highlights of the SS21 Chanel couture collection and watch the video of the show below

Short film of the Chanel SS21 haute couture collection in Paris

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