Virginie Viard’s Chanel ‘Lite’

Chanel Resort 2021
Photo: vogue.com

Virginia Viard unveiled her digital Chanel Cruise 2020/2021 collection on Monday. Titled, “A Mediterranean Jaunt”, Viard channeled the luscious Island of Capri. But, there was nothing luscious about the production. Overall, it fell flat, and the presentation was corny. Vanessa Friedman compared the video to “an old fragrance commercial.”

Sure there were some perfectly nice outfits, but for Chanel, the most storied label on the planet “nice” just doesn’t cut it. There were also those ditsy prints, and fussy flounces Virginie is partial to. Instead of working hard to step up her game and forge the storied label forward into the 21st century, Viard is on “cruise control.”

Chanel Resort 2021
Photo: vogue.com

Like many others in the media, I am rooting for Virginie’s success. The 58-year-old designer certainly showed promise. After all, Virginie was Karl’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years. Karl referred to Viard as both his right and left hand, and they apparently worked very well together. She had the complete endorsement of both Karl and Alain Wertheimer, the billionaire co-owner of Chanel’s house. Since taking over in 2019, Virginie has designed 6 collections and has failed to hit her stride. I find myself continually underwhelmed by Viard’s hit and miss efforts. There is a certain taste level that is absent.

Chanel Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

I thought the Chanel 2019 Haute Couture Collection was rather chic and rigorously pared-down, but Fall 2020 was abysmal. The elegance and sophistication were missing, the accessorizing was strange, and nothing about the collection looked luxurious or particularly modern. If you are going to stage a big production, it can’t look like something a design student might put together as an homage to Coco.

Chanel Resort 2021
Photo: vogue.com

It’s easy to create riffs on the signature Chanel house codes. What’s not so easy is to actually breathe new life into them, make them modern and relevant, AND make them alluring objects of desire. This was what Karl excelled at. It’s understandable that Virginie wants to distance herself from the Lagerfeld era, but she is not just taking the camp out of the house. She is taking the soul out of the house. There is no passion or emotion there.

The quilted bag, the gold chain belt, the piped cardigan, the tweed suit, the cap-toe pump, ropes of pearls, the little black dress, the use of black and white, Mariner stripes, and the camellia continue to be re-interpreted by fashion designers around the world; some look more Chanel than Chanel.

Peter Do Spring Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: peterdo.net

Proenza Schouler, Ralph Rucci, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, Olivier Rousteng, Alessandro Michele, Jil Sander’s Lucie and Luke Meier, Marni’s Francesco Rossi, Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee, and Peter Do, are just some of the designers who have been inspired by the storied house, subliminally or otherwise.

But, Gabrielle Coco Chanel was far more than just her iconic house tropes. She was perhaps the most influential fashion icon of the twentieth century, the personification of a modern woman. When Virginie was asked by a journalist for Madame Figaro in 2017 what makes a “Chanel girl,” her reply was, “As I have always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else.” I thought that was a great response because you don’t become a “Chanel girl” by merely donning a Chanel jacket and cap-toe pumps or wearing black and white. That would be far too easy. It’s all about having a confident attitude and an inherent synergy that cannot be taught.

Bottega Veneta’s take on a quilted cap-toe pump
Photo: mytheresa.com

Chanel reinvented fashion in the early 20th-century. She liberated women from the constraints of the corseted silhouette and popularized a sporty, casual chic as the feminine standard of style. Coco introduced what are now staples of sportswear by borrowing from the vocabulary of menswear. Viard really has to step up her game. What is needed now is a creative force that can draw on the essence of Coco and, at the same time, bring excitement to the house.

Phoebe Philo’s modern attitude Celine Pre-Fall 2018
Photo: vogue.com

One woman who always comes to mind is Phoebe Philo. Celine’s creative director from 2008 to 2018 was known for her uncomplicated style and sense of freedom.

Phoebe Philo’s modern attitude Celine Pre-Fall 2018
Photo: vogue.com

Phoebe has a cult following and a proven track record. She knows how to create ‘IT’ bags and consistently created new prototypes for what is feminine, beautiful, attractive, much like Coco herself.

Marine Serre Fall 2020 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

What about the highly inventive Marine Serre, who won the 2017 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers? Serre has a cult following, and she always strives for sustainability. Marine, who says she does not think about gender, designs for a new generation of women.

The Row Pre-Fall 2020
Photo: vogue.com

And what about the Olsen twins? The duo’s androgynous and minimal approach to luxury is very much in keeping with Coco’s ultra-modern vision. They could design both The Row in New York and Chanel in Paris.

Marc Jacobs wears Chanel jacket and jewelry with Anna Sui
Photo by Lieba Nesis

It’s been reported that Marc Jacobs wanted the job that Karl eventually got. Marc is continually and unabashedly influenced by Chanel and especially, Chanel in the ’80s when Karl first took over. In fact, Marc is known to carry Chanel bags and wear Chanel jackets -women’s size 12 to be exact.

This is a difficult time for the fashion business. Still, by all accounts, it should be a good time for an authentic, historic fashion label steeped in rich heritage and iconography such as Chanel. This makes Virginie Viard’s continually unremarkable vision for the house all the more mystifying and confounding.

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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