Do They Go Anywhere?

Chanel continues to churn out “iconic” jackets that are “beautiful”. It that really this much Virginie Viard can produce?

She said it at last, although it did take a while. Suzy Menkes posted on Instagram after the Chanel autumn/winter 2022 couture show: “the word I felt while watching models lined-up on an upper gallery seemed just plain ‘dull’.” So useful and apt that word was that Ms Menkes applied it twice, both in a single post, in one paragraph. That was double the dullness. For a near-octogenarian to suggest that a constantly-lauded brand produced a collection that caused boredom was quite something (eye-opening?) when she had previously quite adored the label, even after Karl Lagerfeld was no more. But Ms Menkes is not saying something new. For many seasons now, Chanel has not reversed the feelings of those still unimpressed. Reacting to Ms Menkes’s comments, which included noting the “smell of horses” of the venue (equestrian school Étrier de Paris), one commentator wrote, “No magic spark, nothing to ignite the imagination. Expertly crafted, dull indeed.”

Virginie Viard, as we have observed, has taken the path well trodden, even trotted, since the demise of Mr Lagerfeld. Why trek new trail when the old and familiar is more level for walks, and hence safer? As with any way beaten by heavy foot traffic, the course is smooth and will not impede the continuing of an outing that was never creatively fraught to begin with. It is possible Ms Viard never sought excitement. She is not a risk taker. She is comfortable with merely continuing. Or, as we like to say, coasting. She has acquired her momentum. There is no need to change the gait. Why gallop when you can trot? She is happy with her rhythm, staying on the first level of the training scale. Or, from the horse’s mouth: “My approach to work has always been rather simple and pragmatic, but more than ever, I feel truthfulness and a realness will be leading me going forward (Vogue, April 2020)”. She is okay with dull. So are many Chanel customers.

But dull, as with ugly, is not necessarily a bad thing. There are—more and more, and more—no negatives in fashion. They are just clothes, to be worn, not hung on the wall to be admired. As long as it fits, it is good to go. Dull is immensely wearable. In all likelihood, Ms Viard is guided by the economics of fashion, to keep Chanel ahead of the quickly-catching-up Dior in the sales stake. For as long as they appeal to women with no fashion aspiration but wealth, or taste-weak and stylist-dependent actresses, auntie-becoming influencers, and editors who just swoon at the sight of tweed, they are on a safe path, and Ms Viard can continue to amble along, happily and unprovocatively. So she’ll continue with her modest styles of straight-shouldered jackets, frumpy blouses, mid-calf skirts, and the occasional va-va-voom gown (this season, in puke-green). At the show, you won’t be jolted out of your placid enjoyment if you are not going to be shocked.

But Ms Viard tries to astonish and her idea of surprise—in pairings, for example—is bringing together “tweed and flou with a boyish allure”, as Chanel later described on their Facebook page, possibly alluding to the moderately masculine style Coco Chanel herself adopted in the 1920s. Femininity is, however, the core of Chanel, and now under Ms Viard, extreme femininity: “Swathes of floating white tulle”, went the proud announcement. One dress, perhaps, sums up this couture season for them—the last outfit, a white (or off-white), ankle-gracing dress described by many on social media as a “wedding gown”. Chanel touts it as “embodying the intricate lightness” of their couture. The bustier number is in chiffon with a bodice of criss-crossed, pleated panels, left to hang over the skirt that was gathered at the waist. The dress is completed with a crepe shawl— embroidered (of course) with flowers and on its end trimmed with fringing. It is possibly “intricate”, but is the sum effect special? Does the bow atop the model’s head make it more so? There are those who insist that haute couture is “never how it looks; it’s about how it’s made”. The sad thing is, in some cases, despite the work—all done by hand and consisting of many, many hours, we are constantly reminded—the end result is just nothing—nothing to look at, nothing to shout about, and nothing to remember them by.

Screen shot (top) : Chanel/Facebook. Photos: Chanel

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