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Jul 7, 2020
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Chanel haute couture evokes the glory days of Le Palace

Jul 7, 2020

Talk about a concise couture concept. Chanel unveiled its latest haute couture collection at noon on Tuesday, in an online format. It took the shape of a snappy and stylish video that referenced the legendary Paris nightclub Le Palace, in a clip that lasted a mere one minute and 22 seconds.

Model Adut Akech for Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2020-2021 - Chanel - Chanel

Shot with considerable panache by noted Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson, the film was the shortest by far for the Paris season, which this July is an entirely digital fashion week with 33 couture houses listed on the official calendar.

“The collection… is distinguished by a desire for opulence, brilliance and sophistication. I had in mind the heads of eccentric princesses, the type of women that Karl Lagerfeld like to accompany to soirées in the Palace,” said Chanel couturier Virginie Viard in a cover note.

Jansson’s video smartly captured the mood of those halcyon nights at the famed club; with its wild-themed, fancy dress parties which attracted a crazy blend of jet setters, whether gay, straight, rich and poor – and scores of designers, most notably Chanel’s late designer Lagerfeld.

The video featured essentially a mere five looks – albeit with tiny glimpses of other passages – all shot on just two models – opening with Dutch model Rianne van Rompaey in a dazzling, embroidered, tweed, bouclé, off-the-shoulder dress that managed to be both risqué and rock n roll. Followed by black beauty Adut Akech, who wore a bougainvillea-hued, tweed pantsuit. Van Rompaey also looked pretty astounding in an A-line dance party frock, massively embroidered in glistening beads, pearls and metallic thread carnations – all anchored by a pair of laced-up widow’s booties. Akech also made an appearance in a pearl gray taffeta frock, gathered and rouched and accompanied by a Byzantine brooch – exactly the sort favored by Mademoiselle Coco.

Model Rianne von Rompaey for Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2020-2021 - Chanel - Chanel

“I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of ‘Le Palace’ at dawn. With a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers and lots of jewelry. This collection is more inspired by Karl Lagerfeld than Gabrielle Chanel. Karl would go to Le Palace, he would accompany these very sophisticated and very dressed up women, who were very eccentric too,” added Karl’s successor Viard.

Rianne rounds off the clip with a décolleté black dress with an enormous bow, worn with a fab, high jewelry silver pendant, her hair gathered up in spiky posh punk style – in synch with the wild mood of Le Palace. All told, the clip captures the after-hours fetes at Le Palace, where Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Roland Barthes and Jean-Paul Goude all rubbed shoulders and Grace Jones sang La Vie en Rose in dry ice perched on a Harley Davidson.

The theme also marked a major change in direction from Viard’s last couture show in January, which referenced Coco’s early education in an austere convent in remote Aubazine.

“I like working like this, going in the opposite direction of what I did last time. I wanted complexity, sophistication,” stressed Viard, who termed this season’s overall mood as “ultra-rock romanticism”.

However, precisely because it was a video, it was hard to appreciate the sheer skill of the house’s embroidery partners, such as Lesage and Montex, or the contributions of Lemarié and Goossens, who embellished the tweeds in sequins, strass and stones. That sort of craftsmanship demands a live catwalk show, which Chanel plans to return to during the next Paris ready-to-wear season this autumn.

All told, the collection is made up of 30 looks – relatively small for a Chanel couture show, but still impressive given the three-month lockdown. According to the release, it apparently includes short dresses with cinched waists and corolla skirts rustling alongside long dresses with a very Grand Siècle allure “and the noble authority of heroines escaping from 19th-century tableaux.” While painted laces enriched bolero jackets and tweeds made of silver-streaked ribbon. Though none of these appeared in the mega-short video.

Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2020-2021 - Chanel - Chanel

Two days before, Chanel had teased the theme in a 29-second spot by French documentarian Loïc Prigent, which captured the house’s atelier in the final moment of preparation of this Fall-Winter 2020/21 collection. Attached to a door handle is a gilt Chanel bag whose tag line reads: Please Dare to Disturb. It opens to reveal the atelier staff at 31 rue Cambon putting the final touches to the silhouettes created by Viard. Noticeably, Viard wears a white mask throughout – the first designer to be seen in one online this season in Paris. In fact, all the staff wear masks, as they finish a fitting on moody Brazilian model Cristina Herrmann, one of a cast of four to have appeared in Chanel’s latest cruise collection video, Balade en Méditerranée.

“For me, Haute Couture is romantic by its very essence. There is so much love in each one of these silhouettes,” concluded Viard.


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