What Happened To Chanel?

The Karl Lagerfeld era is clearly and indisputably over 


Frankly, we are very surprised—horribly so isn’t stretching it. This photo of Gigi Hadid isn’t real, we tell ourselves. That is possible. This can’t be a Chanel show, that’s possible too. Not with her looking like she might benefit from a serum from the company’s Sublimage line, not with her in a top that looks like the countless auntie blouses that OG continues to sell with considerable delight and regularity and the shocking shorts that could have come from some school girl’s indifferent PT kit, and not with the chain belt that, sadly, looks like an afterthought just as she was about to go out onto the the runway. Why does Ms Hadid not communicate an image consistent with what, up till now, is luxury fashion? An SOTD reader quipped, “it’s a bad-face day”.

Chanel; this is Chanel, we remind ourselves. As much as fashion is about change, we can’t say for certain that all change merit blandishments. In the current climate of inclusive fashion, this could be charged as “shaming”—bland platitude as this may be. We are no longer allowed to say that a collection is unattractive—even ‘ugly’ is not what it used to mean. Yet, the Chanel of today is, to us, not a beacon of the greatness it had been under the stewardship of two influential taste-makers. If Gigi Hadid can’t save an outfit, even from a house known to have kick started the modernisation of women’s fashion in the 20th century, what hope is there for the rest of us, especially we who want nothing to do with carrying a torch for carrying a torch’s sake?

Chanel SS 2020 G1.jpg

Chanel SS 2020 G2.jpg

With her first RTW outing, there is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with what Ms Viard has done. She’s merely playing the same tune, without the musicality of her predecessor, without his interpretive flair and I-don’t-care cheekiness. As Chanel is Chanel, a commercial line not obliged to sync with the rest of the trend-generating business of fashion, Ms Viard can continue to churn out unremarkable clothes without the brand suffering any aesthetical deficit. Obsequious designs may sell, but can a less forceful creative head push Chanel further ahead without suffering the fate that befell other houses that had lost their visionary designers?

To be sure, the house still has its fabrics: the tweeds that it is known for is characteristically gorgeous (its chromatic variations quite endless), but it is what Ms Viard does with them that leaves little to be desired. The thing is, without the tweeds, these garments are nothing special. Nothing. Broadening the lapels and lowering the cleavage of the classic suit, which are now mostly build around the abbreviated one-piece, do not enhance the wardrobe already packed with countless variations. As stated in the press release, Ms Viard’s approach is juvenescent (“A youthful breeze of liberty blows….”), we don’t consider adding shorter hemlines—in the form of blogshop fave, the romper—caters to the youth the way Coco Chanel did after World War I, with a silhouette that suggested ease, the unencumbered and the sportif.

Chanel SS 2020 G3

There is a sense that Ms Viard urgently needed to, like some women who take over the creative director role from men at other houses, feminise the overall Chanel ideal although, ironically, the brand was known for its simple little black dress that, when once featured in Vogue in 1926, was captioned “garçonne” (little boy). In fact, Coco Chanel herself was known to style herself in a tomboyish, pants-wearing manner, drawing inspiration from sailors and fishermen. Conversely and, perhaps, deliberately, Ms Viard amplifies the feminine flourishes: the Pierrot collar, its Peter Pan cousin, petite bows, the tiered skirt, more ruffles that you’d ever need, the puffed sleeve, the pouf skirt (that even Kaia Gerber looks foolish in). In the mix, even the odd granny sweater!

It is possible that Ms Viard has to design pieces to cater to women of a certain age whose taste if described as fine would be excess. They have the financial means to buy and their money has made Chanel one of the most profitable, privately-owned, fashion businesses in the world. All understood, but must these separates appear on the catwalk? Could they not be discreetly introduced in the store? Perhaps even more curious: why do some of the evening and cocktail dresses share similar silhouettes with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior? Is this indication that the aesthetics of women’s wear are heading in a direction that is escaping us? It seems that Ms Viard is happy to not have to better what her predecessor did. For as long as she won’t rock La Pausa (the ship once docked in the Grand Palais, not Coco’s villa on the French Riviera! By the way, we should add that, this season, the roof top is no pedestal!) and is able to make Chanel recognisable, with all the codes in tact and the wearability untouched, the brand would be able to live on and on. And on.

Photos: vogue.com/Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com