I can’t stop thinking about Coco Chanel thanks to the blockbuster Chanel retrospective in Paris, “Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto”. Because its opening was perfectly timed with the advent of Paris Fashion Week, it’s impossible not to think of Chanel’s tremendous influence on fashion. And it is hard not to draw comparisons between what Coco proposed as the uniform for the modern woman in the early 20th century and Virginie Viard’s interpretations for today.
Since taking over as creative director of Chanel, Viard has fared better with the Haute Couture collections; her ready-to-wear is hit and miss. Among the hits for spring 2021: a simply beautiful v neck tunic in white piped with black, shown over white trousers, and a two-tiered black chiffon dress with black feathered sleeves and black feathered hem.
Indeed, there are many more misses: the garish colors, the abstract polka dots and stripes, and the puerile usage of the Chanel logo. The unflattering proportions prompted a designer friend to label the collection “Lane Bryant”. Much of it does not look sophisticated, luxurious, or expensive.
With its monotone color palette, simplistic understated luxury, reliance on gender-less wardrobe basics, and numerous takes on the little (and big) black dress, Junya Watanabe looks more “Chanel” than Chanel this season. It’s one of Watanabe’s most succinct and least complicated collections to date.
Watanabe’s presentation, held at the Comme des Garcons offices in Japan, took the form of an installation with mannequins and a group of model photographs displayed on screens within the room. It’s perfectly accessorized with comfortable block-heeled shoes and boots in black or white and a mix of elegant pearls and punkish leather.
Like many designers, Junya is hit by the nostalgia bug this season. Watanabe says he’s channeling “disco glam with a rocker edge,” but the collection is not stuck in a time warp. To his credit, it looks modern, contemporary, and timeless.
Junya’s photo session is a highly effective way to showcase the collection. It plays out almost entirely in black and white with silver touches. We’ve been inundated with so much color and dizzying pattern; Junya’s beautifully simplistic designs and his straightforward presentation is like a breath of fresh air; the ultimate palette cleanser.
Instead of live shows, many designers tell their stories and create a mood with ambitious videos and special effects. But, as Watanabe proves, when clothes are really great, you don’t need to add tricky diversions.
For spring Virginie Viard pays homage to actresses like Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider; muses to Chanel’s house. Junya was also inspired by theatrical leading ladies this season, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Using four fictional stars named “The Spangles “Watanabe reproduces the stars’ costumes in his memories.
Junya always focuses on wardrobe workhorses like button-down shirts, Bermudas, bicycle shorts, biker jackets, trench coats, and leggings. The former Comme des Garcons protégé wisely keeps deconstruction to a minimum. The frequent use of togas and caftans conjures memories of Halston. As does Junya’s inspired usage of sequins.
Instead of the embellishments looking garish, the overall effect is light, comfortable, and sporty. One can imagine wearing many of these pieces for both day and evening, lounging on the sofa, hosting a socially distant party, heading out for a walk, or in the future, attending a gala. Simply brilliant!