Virginie Viard’s Divine Redemption

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

We all agree that nothing can replace live fashion shows. The digital fall 2020 couture presentations brought much-needed escapism. Watching some of the short videos made us dream about getting dressed and having somewhere to go.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2020 Couture
Photo: vogue.com

There was certainly variety. Some of the videos were just over one minute, while others were closer to the allowed 12 minutes. There was everything from khaki jumpsuits and reworked white cotton shirts, to beautifully cut capes, museum worthy confections, and elaborate ball gowns. Some of the designs were traditional, while others didn’t resemble couture at all.

Imitation of Christ Fall 2020 Couture
Photo: vogue.com

Underlying themes ranged from surrealism (Dior) disruption (Imitation of Christ) Stay at Home (Viktor & Rolf) to Rebirth and Transformation (Iris van Herpen). But, perhaps nothing was more transformative than Virginie Viard’s vision for Chanel. The collection was one of the real highlights. It serves as a reminder of what is possible in the world’s most celebrated ateliers.

“I like working like this, going in the opposite direction of what I did last time. I wanted complexity, sophistication”- Virginie Viard

From the time Viard took over Chanel’s reins, she was on a path to distance herself from her mentor Karl Lagerfeld. That proved a bumpy road. Some collections were too sober and austere, while others are just plain puzzling; they did not look luxurious or much like Chanel.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

This season, Viard found redemption. She hit just the right note. There is a timeless elegance that was often missing from her past work.

Viard’s one-minute 22-second video features two models: Adut Akech and Rianne Rompaey. Mikael Jansson photographed the look book for the 30 piece collection. In her show notes, Virginie admitted that she purposely went in the opposite direction of what she previously did. Perhaps she was listening to criticisms of her past work.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

For her couture collection, Virginie drew inspiration from Karl Lagerfeld’s eccentric “punk princesses.” She references the decadence and shimmering opulence and jewelry of the 1970s Paris nightclub scene. Specifically, Le Palace, the legendary club Lagerfeld, and Yves Saint Laurent presided over.

“I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of Le Palace at dawn. With a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers, and lots of jewelry”- Virginie Viard

Viard refers to her couture collection as “grand and casual.” There is an opulent 80s vibe, but Viard wisely uses restraint. The overall effect is luxurious yet youthful. The cut and fit of the shoulders, arms, and armholes are perfections while costume jewelry is used sparingly.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

Viard also liberally accessorizes with real bijoux. At the shooting, there are trays of chains, brooches, pearls, tiaras, and giant cocktail rings made of yellow diamonds.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

It is the tweeds, shown for day and night, that steal the show. Embroiderers Lesage and Montex, along with plumassier and florist Lemaire and metal jeweler Goosens, collaborated to create haute couture tweeds woven with sequins, strass, stones, and beads. They produced new boucle tweeds with thick yarns of interweaving gold threads and black wool or different threads of colored or sparkling wools.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

A black and white tweed jacket is embroidered with Byzantine-inspired jewels. The traditional Chanel braid trim is reworked in rhinestones on a tweed mini dress. A tweed jacket and matching ankle-length skirt are scattered all over with embroidery from Lesage. An off the shoulder tweed mini dress is strewn with Montex sequins. A tweed tunic over matching pants and a skirt while a three-piece ensemble, a jacket, skirt, and trousers look terrific.

Chanel Couture Fall 2020
Photo by Mikael Jansson

There are cocktail dresses and long gowns made of silk velvet, silk lace, silk taffeta, and silk faille. Some have ball skirts, but not everything is so richly embroidered — a waist and cuffs of a dark gray silk velvet gown have subtle embroidery.

Chanel Fall 2020 Couture
Photo by Mikael Jansson

One of the most beautiful dresses of the season is a relatively simple long sheath made of navy silk faille. It is cut narrow through the body; the volume comes from its dramatic bishop sleeves. It could easily work as a coat dress or a tunic over trousers. Incredibly chic!

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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