What is Chanel channeling?
A fashion collection may be conceived six months or so earlier, but at the time of its showing, it is hard not to put it in the context of what is happening around us. When the general mood reflects a troubled world, where, in one corner, a war rages, however upbeat the clothes are, they would just look unconvincingly optimistic. Chanel’s autumn/winter 2022 collection (not the models) tries to project a certain joie, but it falls flat under the weight of one of its own ‘codes’: the tweed. So enamoured with this fabric Virginie Viard is that the entire show venue—the temporary exhibition hall Grand Palais Éphémère in the greenspace Champ de Mars—is done up in tweed. Unsurprisingly, the collection is an unsubtle, effort-lite homage to this cloth that was once associated with menswear until Coco Chanel rattled the status quo in the mid-1920s.
The house calls it “a luminous tribute to the landscape of the River Tweed so dear to Gabrielle Chanel”. A natural stream, River Tweed (also Tweed Water)— however beloved to Coco—is not, in fact, directly connected to the history of the woolen fabric. As the story goes, it was an accidental name. In 1826, in the town of Hawick, a label on a shipment of the wool to London read “tweel”—the word the Scots used for twill (one of the weaves of the fabric; the other plain). It was misread and confused with the name of Scotland’s famed river, and the moniker stuck. Tweed, according to some lexicographers, is also an old Brittonic word meaning “border”, which makes sense as the river flows through the Anglo-Scottish border, also known as the Borders region.
Any mention of ‘border’ these days, unfortunately connects us to territorial security (or insecurity?) and conflict—in particular, the one now seen in Ukraine. Sure, Chanel’s colourful tweeds this season does not bring to mind the besieged nation (Ms Viard told the press she’s inspired by London in the ’60s), but the aesthetical sum seems to point to the dress preference of certain women of means of the attacker state. While tweed is a symbol of Scottish culture, it is also a show of immense wealth—the Chanel tweed jacket a veritable status symbol. That in itself does not stir much thought until one sees in the designs that Ms Viard has dreamed up for those undeniably sumptuous tweeds. Hard as we tried, we could not decipher who this collection is for other than the unquestioning die-hards and the paid muses. Could Chanel still be thinking of the wives (or mistresses?) of oligarchs, even when the company has stood alongside other French brands to pause their retail operations in Russia?
The platitude that Ms Viard is increasingly tacking Chanel to is hardly unnoticeable. Her designs appear to seduce the purchasing might of those with money but not taste, with power but not influence. Compounding that, the pieces are inexplicably frumpy! And, suppressing the urge for a rude modifier, boring. Apart from the tweed jackets, coats and dresses in relaxed shapes that would appeal to grannies (but truly those for whom brand name and celebrity endorsement could easily supersede brilliant design), there are those curious cardigans that could have been swiped from a Salvation Army. Or, that pink sweater with appliques and scarf borrowed from a GUM department store sales girl! Sure, an attempt is made to style them young, but even denim shorts and knit leg warmers under Wellingtons can’t distance the clothes from any pile marked stodgy.
Screen grab (top) and photos: Chanel