Chanel couture: Meditating on muses and museums
Chanel’s latest haute couture collection, staged inside the Palais Galliera on a cloudy Tuesday morning in Paris, was a novel meditation in la mode on muses and museums.
The Musee Galliera, one of the half dozen greatest fashion museums on the planet, also happens to be an architectural pearl, and lasting tribute to its owner, Duchess Galliera. Born into a noble family in Genoa, she married into a great wealth, and became a noted philanthropist, socialite and art collector.
So much of this Chanel collection was a modernist homage to the duchess's favorite artworks, and the Galliera’s fashion archives. The museum owns over 70,000 works, including clothes of Marie-Antoinette, Empress Josephine and Audrey Hepburn, along with extensive collections from great French houses like Dior, Jacques Fath, Balmain, Givenchy, Poiret, Saint Laurent and Chanel itself.
The cast marched out of the towering interior doorway with soaring cut-stone columns and down the main stairway in truly elegant, embroidered tweed suits, skirts cut primly at the knee; and very classy, embroidered paisley metallic-hued tops. Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard also whipped up superb to the ankle tulle skirts; and ravishing high-collar frock coats in pink jacquards.
Viard also played skilfully with the brand’s DNA, revamping the classic Chanel four-pocket jackets into a redingote of shiny tweed, paired with a longer skirt with pockets, and completed with just a black bra underneath. Risqué but definitely not rude, and an example of the more youthful spirit Viard has brought to Chanel.
Finished with edgy aristocratic hairstyles – a chignon topped by posh-punk corn rows, and presented with humor. One had to love the pink silk empire-waist dress, especially as it was worn with bloomers that peeked out below the hem.
Just as the Galliera’s architecture allies Renaissance designs, Belle Epoque lines and late-19th-century meta-construction techniques, the collection married different eras and epochs. The building’s underframe of steel was by the company of Gustave Eiffel, whose legendary tower can be seen from the villa’s garden. Recalled by black-ribbon bands in several looks.
“Muse, museum, mode. We often sing about the museums, but not enough about the muses. Perhaps because we meet them rarely. But when we do have that chance,” wrote Viard cryptically in the show program, placed on each guest’s seat. The Galliera is currently hosting the hit exhibition, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, which covers her early days opening her first hat store in pre-World War One Deauville; the invention of the Little Black Dress in the Roaring Twenties and the development of the world’s most famous perfume, Chanel No 5.
Presented in the open air in two shows, each for just 100 guests, the collection was also a striking expression of rare craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Chanel’s Paraffection division recently opened an important new center named 19M on the northeastern edge of Paris at Porte Pantin, grouping – and in many ways saving – a unique French heritage; its fashion specialists, who create embroidery, plissé fabrics, feather finishes, luxury gloves, shoes and hats. Like today’s stunning white plissé petal-shaped top, over a fabulous long marabou feather skirt that was the epitome of artistic and classy elegance. Which, of course, is the key DNA of Chanel.
In a word, veritable couture from Chanel, in an era when the arrival of so many new couturiers to Paris in recent years has meant that there has been a tad too much experimentation in couture, and not enough grace and refinement.
Like the perfectly cut wedding dress, with which all couture collections climax. In this case a devilishly simple coral silk gown with full shoulders, worn with a pink veil and small top hat. The bride turning at the finale, on the steps of the Galliera to toss her bouquet over her shoulder. Where the lucky recipient was US InStyle editrix, downtown Laura Brown, raising the biggest cheer of the whole season so far in Paris.
FYI – the Aussie editor got engaged to her longtime boyfriend in late 2019.
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