Camellia Crazy At Chanel

They went big on the bloom, in more ways than one. GWPs out of control

It is not surprising that Virginie Viard turned to the bloom so closely linked to the maison to set the tone for her latest collection. The camellia is, according to the brand, “eternal code of Chanel”. When the time comes (and it does), you turn to the fleuron forever because it is easy and convenient: it’s always there. As it turned out, this is the centennial year of the use of the 16-petal camellia at the house of Chanel. Time to celebrate, but rather than imagine the camellia as, say, a whole bodice, Ms Viard used it as a motif for fabrics and as ornamentation other than brooches or hair clips. The employment is undeniably classic, which is easily euphemism for stodgy. Or, unimaginative. One supposedly novel use of the camellia was to place white blooms in different sizes on black knitted tops (frumpy round-neck cardigans), like random polka-dots! The result was, at best (and regrettably), juvenile.

In contrast, the show was minimal and sleek. It was staged at the Grand Palais Ephémère, the temporary exhibition space (in the park Champ de Mars), erected to stand in for the Grand Palais, practically Chanel’s show home, which is under renovation, in preparation for next year’s Olympics. The set up was simple, but monumental: a really long runway with two circuses on which each, a trio of gigantic camellias sat, front-facing. A black-and-white moving image of Chanel’s “ambassador”, the Japanese actress Nana Komatsu (who attended), was projected on the uncoloured flowers—the petals seemed to be in motion. For the finale, those camellias were lit in red, a striking patina, no doubt. But when the clothes appeared in a row, they had, sadly, less the dramatic impact than the set. In fact, this, to us, was the funniest Chanel collection of recent memory.

Humorous because, well, the outfits were comical. We were not expecting Ms Viard to do anything that might be considered inventive or clever. Boucle jackets with asymmetric hems, for her, could be considered advanced. Some critics have said that she does not vary from a handful of silhouettes. We struggled to count even that many. So it was down to the extraneous to make a giggle-inducing difference. This season, there were the marabou puffs on a vest that looked like pockets and more of them all over a black pullover and skirt. The feathers were even used to trace the outline of Chanel’s resident flower and applied, oversized, all over a sweater! By themselves, the individual pieces of the collection might just be a tad okay if not for the styling. Ingenious meant a gilet over a coat-dress, cardigan with knit shorts, sweaters with lace biker tights (there were many more shorts, in fact)! A cropped jacket was teamed with a pair of knickerbockers. A romper, well-loved garment no doubt, had bloomers for legs. Ms Viard has been partial to styling with a frumpish persuasion, but this season, she went big with it.

And, of course, more camellias! There were leather leis on the lapels of a leather trench, posies for pockets or beaded (single) blooms, 3-D cutouts on a T-shirt, as single petal that dotted a gilet, and repeated patterns (in a grid) for fabrics that were as beguiling as bus flooring. The blooms were woven into the knits, stitched decoratively on a jacket, studded on a denim pantsuit, stitched together like yo-yo quilts, sequined on fabrics already with camellia prints. They framed a neckline so that it looked like a necklace was worn and dot cuffs as if they were giant links. They came as buttons (of course) and as bags, too, but some, oddly, in the shape of balls. They replaced the double-C clasps (or perhaps covered them) on flaps, were edged-out on sheer gloves, and finely patterned on boots. Jelak yet? The sum probably exceeded the quota that, elsewhere, would be considered judicious use. Surely every house limits the profusion of such “codes”? If the camellia was not a cliché before, it sure is now.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Chanel

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