An army of the world’s top supermodels walked under a huge Hollywood-style sign spelling out Chanel’s name in its biggest catwalk spectacle since designer Virginie Viard took over the fabled French house from Karl Lagerfeld after his death last year.
They included the body positive pin-up, Jill Kortleve, the Dutch model who is a voluptuous size 16 (US size 12).
Covid-19 restrictions may have limited the number of fashionistas allowed into the immense Grand Palais in central Paris, but like the decor, Viard wrote her ambitions large.
Her collection was no less than a grand sweep through the long history of the label founded by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, with a giant nod to Chanel’s time in Tinseltown in the 1930s when she dressed stars like Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Gloria Swanson.
“I was thinking of actresses on the red carpet… some of whom we haven’t seen in a long time… their faces a little somewhere else as the photographers call out to them,” Viard said afterwards.
The show — dominated by black and white interspersed with splashes of bold colour — coincides with the first-ever museum exhibition dedicated to Coco Chanel in the French capital, which opened last week to rave reviews.
Big screen glamour
Viard recreated and updated some of Coco’s most beloved looks, with a nod to her predecessor Lagerfeld’s more street fashion sensibility with logos a gogo.
“Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld dressed so many actresses in their films and in their lives,” Viard added. “They made us dream.”
“Without redoing clothes exactly and falling into vintage, I wanted it to be very joyous and colourful and full of life.”
With Paris fashion week forced largely online by the coronavirus, Chanel streamed the show live for fashion fans.
“Lights, cameras, action!” it declared on Instagram as it aped the opening of a silent black and white film, placing a huge Chanel sign on the Hollywood Hills.
Viard kept up the theme of the brand’s long association with the silver screen with video clips of models reclining in luxury hotels like movie idols about to attend premieres.
The brand’s association with Hollywood began in 1930 when studio mogul Sam Goldwyn begged Coco Chanel to come to Los Angeles to give his stable of stars some “class”, offering her $1 million to come twice a year.
Vuitton’s stiletto clogs
While Chanel looked back, Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Louis Vuitton could not be more resolutely now, with the opening look a sweater emblazoned with “Vote”, a rallying call for the liberal left in the upcoming US presidential election.
But that was as conventionally political as it got, with the highly rated French designer insisting that his eyes were set firmly on the possibilities that gender fluid clothes might offer in the future.
“What cut might dissolve the masculine and the feminine?” he asked. “What wardrobe might make them come together in one?”
Ghesquiere said he wanted to bring the world’s richest luxury label on a “voyage of exploration… to discover and abolish the last [gender] frontiers.”
The bravura show was held in the long-closed La Samaritaine department store, which is due to reopen next year.
As always with Ghesquiere, it was all in the cut, with classic business and streetwear uniforms given surprising turns.
But perhaps the most eye-catching thing about his spring-summer 2021 collection were the shoes, with a line of pointed clog stilettos sending Instagram into spasms.
(Main and featured image: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP)