Chanel haute couture spring/summer 2021

“I knew we couldn’t organise a big show, that we would have to invent something

“I knew we couldn’t organise a big show, that we would have to invent something else, so I came up with the idea of a small cortège that would come down the stairs of the Grand Palais and pass beneath arches of flowers — like a family celebration, a wedding,” explained Virginie Viard of her SS21 haute couture collection for Chanel. Ah, weddings! Family gatherings! Whereas once we may have dreaded them, today they couldn’t feel like more of a utopian fantasy — not unlike couture itself. Except this was no typical wedding, it was one with a Monégasque princess and Lily-Rose Depp in the pewters, a banging garage soundtrack (South Londoner Burial’s Chemz) and guests in va-va-voom dancing dresses, surprisingly butch waistcoat-and-trouser combos, morning-after sunglasses, and midriffs peeping out from abbreviated bouclé tweed jackets. You would be forgiven for wondering if it was less church bells and fascinators, more … Chanel rave?

That may be wishful thinking, but the Chanel couture collection was a mash-up of the Cocoisms beloved by women of all generations: purposeful wide-leg trousers, delicate lace and organza dresses, and exquisitely ornate handmade floral embellishments that put Mother Nature to shame. Since stepping into the role of the late Karl Lagerfeld in 2019, Virginie has been quietly honing her modern vision of Chanel, and it is resolutely pared back in the style of Coco Chanel herself, the woman who told us to take the last thing we put on off; that luxury is the opposite of vulgarity, not poverty; that fashions fade, but style is eternal. Under Virginie’s watchful eye, layers have been lightened, excess dialled back, and a subversive, subtle bourgeois sensibility has been paired with borrowed-from-the-boys pragmatism. Haute couture is arguably the jewel in the Chanel crown, a chance to showcase the dazzling work of the French house’s robust ateliers and legendary workshops. And there couldn’t be a more romantic setting for it than a wedding at a time when so many lovelorn couples have had to put their own on pause.

But weddings are really just parties in disguise. The bride in question appeared to have just stepped out of a sepia-tinted 1920s photo, her trailing veil and ecru satin crêpe gown embroidered with strass and pearl butterflies by Maison Lesage — but her guests came to dance. There were flamenco flounces of pink crêpe georgette, petticoats bouncing along to the electro beats, and clean-lined, sugared-almond tweed suits that couldn’t be further away from mother-of-the-bride. Many of the looks even came in black, like a sequinned minidress with polka-dotted organza bustle or a dark chiffon hoop-skirted dress, its pussy-bow halter neck floating across bare shoulders and a wisp of a sheer bodice fastened by a gold Chanel chain. Both were worn with sunglasses and fishnets. Who were these wedding crashers? The groom’s (or bride’s) fabulously-attired bitter exes, perhaps.

Here was lightness and joie de vivre at a time we need it most. At the start of the show, the models emerged from the grand staircase at the Grand Palais en masse, walking alongside each other through the flower arches and confetti-strewn catwalk like a joyous wedding parade — the beauty of which is not lost at a time when so many of us are in isolation, unable to be fabulously turned out surrounded by our posses. “I love big family reunions, when the generations all come together,” added Virginie. “It’s so warm. There’s this spirit at Chanel today. Because Chanel is also like a family.” A white horse even made an appearance with the final look, reiterating the notion that this was couture in all its fairy-tale glory. In the dreamy world of Chanel, there is always a happy ending — and that’s the ultimate real-life fantasy for right now.

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