How French New Wave Cinema Inspired Chanel’s Latest Collection

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Chanel Spring/Summer 2020 SS20 show collection Viard
Chanel Spring/Summer 2020Courtesy of Chanel

Virginie Viard’s debut ready-to-wear collection for Chanel channelled the “atmosphere of the Nouvelle Vague”

Yesterday, to mark her debut ready-to-wear show for Chanel, Virginie Viard took us to the rooftops of Paris – or at least a vast simulacrum of them, constructed in the main hall of the Grand Palais. Specifically, the rooftops of Rue Cambon, the 1st arrondissement avenue where Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel began the first incarnation of the house in 1921, and whose presence remains at number 31, the spiritual home of Chanel.

But Viard – who showed an elegant first collection for the house during couture week, having taken over from the great Karl Lagerfeld following his death earlier this year – was not looking back to Coco’s own belle époque, the 1920s and 30s. Rather it was the 1960s, when Paris was in the grips of La Nouvelle Vague – the movement which did for French cinema what Chanel did for French fashion – that had captured the designer’s imagination. Little wonder: New Wave cinema has provided perhaps the most singular, enduring vision of French womanhood yet; that insouciant, intellectual ingenue, all pixie-cropped hair and wing-tipped eyeliner, Breton stripes and mini skirts.

Like Jean Seberg, the American actress whose role in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless has since been immortalised as the face of the movement. Earlier this year, Viard had been ruminating about the “atmosphere of the Nouvelle Vague”, when she heard about Kristen Stewart’s upcoming biopic of Seberg’s life. “I thought about Kristen Stewart playing Jean Seberg and all the actresses Gabrielle Chanel dressed at that time,” Viard said. And so she began with the question so often posed – and astutely answered – by her forebear, Lagerfeld: what does the past look like when we imagine it from the present? 

A Spring/Summer 2020 collection, which mined Nouvelle Vague’s casual mood, was her own effortless answer: there was colourful striped knitwear and high-waist cropped jeans; denim jackets trimmed with delicate silk ruffles. Hemlines were short. The tweed suit was re-imagined as a romper – a silhouette previously unchartered for the house, and appearing in various iterations throughout. There were hot pants, worn by Gigi Hadid (who memorably escorted yesterday’s catwalk crasher, YouTuber Marie Benoliel, off the runway) with a sequin-pailette covered top and chain belt. Full-length skirts and dresses, some ruffled and layered with delicate fronds of feathers, had a free-flowing ease. 

It made for a refreshing, youthful collection which nonetheless bore the house’s hallmarks – tweed, pearls, monogrammed accessories, and plenty of covetable handbags, remained in abundance. Viard knows those codes better than any person on earth. Her beautifully executed S/S20 collection provided ample proof she is forging the house forward – without leaving Chanel’s great past behind.