Virginie Viard once again called upon Xavier Veilhan – with whom she has worked three times – to create the animal-inspired set for her spring/summer 2023 Chanel couture showcase, which ultimately became the starting point for her collection.
The show set featured moving cardboard animals
If tripping out on a Tuesday morning doesn’t sound very Chanel, allow Virginie Viard and her faithful set collaborator Xavier Veilhan to surprise you. The show they put on in an imagined city square within the Grand Palais Ephémère – the house’s stand-in venue on Place Joffre while the real deal gets refurbished – came with a rave soundtrack, giant spinning horses and elephants (and what looked like a gigantic wedding cake), and enough top hats, bow ties and three-dimensional ruffles to make Lewis Carroll lightheaded. It was great fun: as guests took their seats, large-scale takes on the bestiary Gabrielle Chanel kept in her Rue Cambon apartment – objects portraying horses, lions, camels, birds etc – rolled around the floor before models stepped out of them like Trojan horses and zigzagged their way through this impromptu sculpture park.
It was a dialogue between the set and the collection
“For the third time, Virginie is working with Xavier Veilhan and it’s a very good starting point for the collection. Virginie loves seeing what he is able to propose, and it’s a dialogue between them. Here, it’s a new experience, daring to include unexpected elements which give a story. It’s her vision from the Chanel bestiary but a very modern approach,” Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, said before the show. “I found it interesting to evoke the relationships to animals which is constantly evolving in our societies. This time I wanted to move towards something immediate and straightforward, with lightness and fantasy, without being naïve,” Veilhan commented. While there was a rawness and minimalism to the set-up, the outcome was light-hearted – a feeling backed up by Felix’s techno “Don’t You Want Me” from 1992.
Bestiary motifs adorned the collection
“I see more than ever the décor pushing the collection. It’s a lancement of the collection,” Pavlovsky said. “Virginie uses décor to maximise the details, and it’s working pretty well for Chanel. Working with different artistic compositions helps to launch and position the collection. She uses it to give maximum visibility.” The bestiary motifs filtered into the garments themselves, in large crystal dog head embellishments, sparkly embroidery collages of bunnies and cats, and the swallow-stitched veil that adorned the bride (who emerged from a colossal rolling elephant). This was by no means a cutesy collection, however. Viard adapted the animal motifs into silhouettes that were simplified both in volumes and hemlines: short shorts and miniskirt-suits, long-line column dresses, and tuxedo-inspired tailoring elements.
It was inspired by parades
Viard cited parades and majorettes as inspirations for the collection, something that could easily have manifested in a very different expression had she not reduced and distilled her influences the way she did. When constructions intensified, like the dense micro-ruffling of a rigid A-line skirt and a floor-length coat, or the polite petticoats adorned in tactile flower applique, she maintained her purified approach. It materialised in a mainly black and white palette, with occasional dusty colours. “I like it when the marvellous bursts forth and the course of events is interrupted,” she said, referring to the set, but the same could be said for her own creations. In the unlikely meeting she staged between couture, pageantry and techno, the Chanel collection emerged triumphantly sophisticated.
Fashion Manifesto is coming to the V&A
For Chanel, the haute couture show was the first of many events to come in 2023. Pavlovsky, who was wearing a sparkly tie to go with Viard’s rave, said he was particularly looking forward to the arrival of Fashion Manifesto – originally launched at the Palais Galliera – at London’s V&A in September. Through the original dresses of Gabrielle Chanel, the exhibition showcases the impressive modernity of the founder’s earliest designs. “For us, it’s important for the new generations. I hope that this kind of modern link with the past will continue to exist,” he said, the techno beat of the couture rehearsals throbbing faintly in the background. “It’s to wake everybody up in the morning! It’s about joy,” he smiled. Did Pavlovksy ever rave? “My rave is between PowerPoints and shows!”
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk