Post Karl, Chanel Goes Home – to Coco Chanel’s Apartment

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Chanel Métiers d’Art 2020Photography by Olivier Saillant

For her debut Métiers d’Art collection, Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard brought Rue Cambon to the Grand Palais, complete with the apartment’s famous Art Deco mirrored staircase and crystal chandeliers

Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show, held each December, has travelled to various far-flung locales since its advent in 2002, when it was first shown in the house’s couture salon on Rue Cambon: from Dallas to Edinburgh, Tokyo, Monaco, and most recently New York, where Karl Lagerfeld held what would be his final Métiers d’Art show in the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yesterday evening, though – despite a countrywide transport strike, which forced Chanel to move dates and nearly left several guests unable to attend – Métiers d’Art returned home, to Paris.

Which is somehow fitting: after all Métiers d’Art, which translates to ‘the art of craft’, is a Parisian institution – the annual show was born to celebrate the savoir faire of the city’s couture industry, and the 26 Chanel-backed speciality ateliers who work under its Paraffection subsidiary, creating intricate embellishments, from feathers to flowers to buttons, embroidery and lace, as well as shoes and hats. And they are now guaranteed to stay in Paris for decades to come: this year, building began on a vast new complex in Aubervilliers, a northern suburb of the city, which will house the ateliers and their workshops from 2020.

Current creative director Virginie Viard – with her first Métiers d’Art show as Karl Lagerfeld’s successor – was thinking of home, too. This past October, she held her Spring/Summer 2020 show on the rooftops of the city’s Rue Cambon (at least, a simulacrum of them in the Grand Palais), the 1st arrondissement avenue where Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel began the first incarnation of the house in 1921. And last night, in a collaboration with filmmaker Sofia Coppola, she took us inside: to number 31, and Coco Chanel’s legendary apartment, which remains Chanel’s spiritual home.

So there was the sweeping staircase – where Chanel would purportedly watch her salon shows from the fifth step, one of the superstitious designer’s favourite numbers – the faceted floor-to-ceiling Art Deco mirrors, the decorative camellias, Coromandel screens and rock-crystal chandeliers. Though here transplanted into the main hall of the Grand Palais, where Chanel holds its ready-to-wear and couture shows (and has committed to spending 25 million euros on its renovation in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024).

The collection itself – which begun with models descending the famed staircase and onto a beige-carpeted runway – showcased Viard’s lightness of touch with an elegant collection, which imagined the house codes in more streamlined manner. “There is a sort of simplicity in going back to Chanel’s ABC. We don’t need to do too much,” the designer said. “I always question the context, which has nothing to do with the way we lived decades ago. What would a woman like today? How would she wear it?”

It meant a sort of realism to the clothes: despite their intricately bejewelled cuffs and belts, the series of opening overcoats – black, with a mannish cut and golden buttons – could well be imagined on any city street. This season’s take on the house’s ubiquitous tweed suit was playful, almost girlish – the jacket, rounded at the shoulder, was cut short to expose the navel or in some cases with nothing beneath – other times iterated as a jumpsuit, cut from tweed so lightweight it resembled knitwear. Garments were, befitting the occasion, intricately embellished: there were recurring motifs of wheat and pearl, embroidered by the House of Lesage; floating pleated skirts were embellished with flowers; glittering pailettes and sequins were used generously throughout.

And, while much of collection remained in the house’s signature monochrome, a section of ombré pieces – “dresses in the colour of weather, as if they’ve been dipped in a summer sky,” as the house described – represented a breath of air; so too the series of all-white looks which closed the show, whether a simply cut silk column gown, stitched across the shoulders and arms with crystals, or an intricately imagined jacket, entirely covered in tulle camelias.

“We had to think of a new way of doing things... There are the codes invented by Gabrielle Chanel and made sublime by Karl Lagerfeld, which I like mixing up too. I like the idea of a patchwork,” Viard concluded. “It has to be on the same level as in real life.”