Virginie Viard was in a retrospective mood at the Spring/Summer 2022 Chanel show. “I used to love the sound of flashbulbs going off at the shows in the 80s, when the models were on a raised runway,” she said. So she recreated it – complete with models twirling and whirling, and photographers banked either side of a catwalk jutting up into the air, placing her latest collection on a pedestal.
What was so great about that period? It’s not a question specifically to Viard, but to culture generally, which constantly grasps at high fashion’s 80s hijinks for inspiration. Maybe it’s that sense of risk, of impending doom, of dancing on the lip of the volcano – models cavorting ever-closer to the crash of 1987, then the worst since the 1929 Wall Street plunge that sparked the Great Depression. Or maybe it’s the opposite – the slightly lighter notion that the 80s were a time of innocence and plenty, when it was fine to be frivolous and fun and flirtatious, without worrying about the bottom line.
Whatever the reason, Viard recaptured those moments in this show – even down to her new breed of supermodels walking in billowing chiffon to a cover of George Michael’s Freedom! ’90 – the famous theme-tune that soundtracked a show by Karl Lagerfeld’s contemporary, Gianni Versace, and catapulted Linda, Christy, Naomi and Cindy to single-name superstar status. This new version was performed by Christine and the Queens – and there was a sense of greatest hits to the collection too, resurrecting Chanel’s longtime classics and reinvigorating them with a fresh pulse and a new tune.
Of course, those hits originated with Gabrielle Chanel in the first place: Lagerfeld’s versions were covers in themselves, and now Viard is remixing the formula for younger generations hankering after instantly-recognisable Chanel-isms. “Simple bathing suits in gold or white with black trimmings. Short dresses in pink or mauve tweed, fishnet skirts, jackets embellished with multicolour crochet and denim suits,” Viard listed them out, and they danced down that high-up runway with a fresh verve and pizzaz. It may have been thundering with rain outside – even the might of Chanel can’t control the weather – but it felt like a heady summer circa 1992 inside. Although, of course, the clothes weren’t mere vintage redux – like Lagerfeld’s reclamations of Chanel’s originals, Viard’s versions have been recalibrated for now, with longer hemlines, easier waists, more generous and body-positive fits, and a general lightening of the physical that also raised the spirits.
What Viard is doing is bold – Lagerfeld was a big personality, and his legacy is powerful, even overpowering. Viard was his right-hand woman, having worked alongside him for decades. What she has astutely realised, however, is that Lagerfeld wasn’t just her mentor and friend, he was also a new iteration of Chanel, a vital chapter in the history of the house. His Chanel matters just as much as that created by Coco – and is cemented as firmly in the public imagination, if not more so. By embracing the recent past, as well as Gabrielle Chanel’s originals – those exhumed for this summer’s blockbuster show at the Palais Galliera, yet still as fresh as the day they were designed – Viard has doubled her inspirational fodder. And that lighthearted Lagerfeldian lilt of the 80s and 90s undoubtedly resonates with Chanel girls right now.