Nightclubs and ski holidays: neither are available right now, but both are tantalisingly visible on the horizon. And fashion, after all, is about a projection into the future – an always-optimistic outlook on a future we hope to have, and what we may be wearing when we’re out there living it. Altogether, those were the ideas behind Virginie Viard’s latest Chanel collection – the details, and the big picture. “I love contrasts,” she stated – and what could be more of a contrast to our locked-up lockdown lives than models swirling around the staircase of a Parisian nightclub, wearing clothes that seemed to have come from the slopes? “This collection is a mix of two influences,” Viard said. “The ambiance of ski holidays, which I adore, and a certain idea of cool Parisian chic, from the 1970s to now.”
The stage was set chez Castel, the legendary 1960s nightclub where the actor Jean-Pierre Cassel, Mick Jagger and Françoises Hardy et Sagan were regulars. You can’t get cooler or more Parisian than that. Viard used the salons and spiral staircase of the place to evoke an old-school cabine of models changing and staging small-scale impromptu shows, in part inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s own shows for Chloé in the 1970s. Viard wasn’t present at those – so her own nostalgia was at play here. As was the nostalgia of a new generation for Chanel’s greatest hits – those created by Karl, rather than Coco. A number of suits in fluffy shearling referenced Lagerfeld’s ski-bunny Autumn/Winter 1994 collection, created before any of Viard’s models were born. “This is not stodgy fashion. It’s so lively it’s hard to keep up with,” wrote Amy Spindler of that show in the New York Times – and Viard’s homage retained that energy. As did her long coats, swirling over legs bared by shorts skirts of transparent layers, perhaps banded with a playful diamanté garter. “Dressed and undressed,” she commented.
Of course, what the collection also demonstrated – as Lagerfeld did, some 27 years ago – was the endless versatility and youthfulness of the ideas Gabrielle Chanel invented. Her two-tone boots were here reinvented with volume-pumped down-padding. If the shoes went big, the handbags became small: strass-covered minaudières were worn like sautoir necklaces. And the Chanel jacket was tugged down to become lightweight coats, shrugged on with the casual ease of a peignoir.
Chanel’s clothes were always – and still are always – about ease of movement, about esprit. That feels like an idea that has been expounded endlessly over the past year, as working from home has ripped the stuffing out of dressing, meaning we’re all demanding every outfit is as easy as a pair of sweatpants. Chanel’s tweed suits were the equivalent of the cashmere jogging-bottoms of today to the corseted and petticoated women of the 1950s – never one to mince her words, Mademoiselle Chanel described those mid-century silhouettes as ‘upholstered’. This Chanel collection, however, was about the fine line between dressed up and dressed down – an ease without being too easy.
“I wanted a small space. I don’t know if this is because of the times we live in, but I wanted something warm, lively,” said Viard. Whatever her subconscious reason, that instinct was sound: the collection felt, simply, right. Intimate, sensual, in tune with the moment – of now and hopefully of tomorrow, too.