The invitation for Chanel’s cruise show was printed on a plain white card — symbolizing, perhaps, the blank page facing artistic director Virginie Viard as she prepared to write the next chapter in the history of the house that had been synonymous with Karl Lagerfeld for 36 years.
Guests arriving at the Grand Palais found a similarly low-key ambiance inside the venue. Its soaring steel-and-glass roof all but dwarfed the set, a retro train station where guests sat on wooden benches under signs bearing the names of cities that resonate in Chanel lore: Venice, Saint-Tropez, Rome or Edinburgh, among them.
An impulse kicked in to make a pun: All aboard the Chanel Express! But the space lacked the joyful effervescence of Lagerfeld’s bombastic sets, which invited guests to preen for selfies and journalists to conjure clichés about rocketships, icebergs, cruise liners or whatever phantasmagorical vision he dreamt up for the season.
Chanel Resort 2020
“It’s very minimal,” one editor soberly observed. The press kit offered the first hint of change. A booklet, printed on glossy paper, featured images shot by Karim Sadli, marking the first time since 1987 that a photographer other than Lagerfeld had lensed the collection.
In it, hints of a lighter, more streamlined take on the Chanel look established by Lagerfeld — with Viard as his trusty sidekick — over the last three decades.
Her opening look was a black cotton gabardine jacket and wide pants, worn over a smocked white shirt with a black bow and camellia adorning the neckline — a nod to the masculine-feminine aesthetic pioneered by the house’s founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who frequently plundered men’s wardrobes for inspiration.
The workwear-inspired outfits included a tobacco-colored jacket with four rows of pockets on the front — it was reminiscent of a stationmaster’s uniform, but could equally hold its own in a boardroom — and ample waxed cotton raincoats, reined in at the waist with leather-woven chain strap belts.
Next came a selection of knits: a chunky sequin-striped cardigan was worn over nothing but an oversize white men’s shirt, while a long narrow buttoned version topped a pleated-front dress shirt punctuated with a demonstrative white bow.
The white shirts were the most obvious of the Lagerfeld signatures sprinkled throughout the display. His influence could also be felt in the sporty takes on the brand’s signature tweed jacket, teamed with split leather Bermuda shorts or thigh-grazing mini skirts, and worn with monochrome ballerina flats or lace-up brogues.
Both in hemline and attitude, they spoke to a younger customer: think Lily-Rose Depp, who took in the show with her mother and fellow brand ambassador Vanessa Paradis.
Though Lagerfeld was no stranger to an ath-leisure look — despite having declared sweatpants a “sign of defeat” — he might have balked at the abundance of leggings. They came in a metallic Chanel logo or argyle prints, some paired with colorful belted tweed jackets, others with more forgiving three-quarter-length jackets and coats.
Indeed, Viard veered experimental with her trouser shapes, which included knickerbockers in tweed or paper-thin leather; white leather drawstring-waist pants with ajouré seams that split open at the knee; faddy baggy jeans printed with a pastel foliage pattern, and wide trousers with slightly curved seams.
She tried her hand at asymmetric constructions, such as a faded denim hybrid jacket and coat worn over a quilted shirt and pants. But the designer was best when she leaned more minimal, as with evening gowns in inky guipure with a circular pattern inspired by station clocks, worn with two-tone booties to nonchalantly cool effect.
Lace dresses came with graphic details: two black bows topped with white camellias perched on the shoulders of a boat-neck column in white lace shot through with gold thread, while a black lace dress was dramatically scooped away to expose a bandeau top fastened with a bow at the chest.
Others featured candy-colored prints that nodded to the Eighties — as did the triangular shoulders on a lipstick-red quilted leather trenchcoat.
Pops of neon added fizz to the accessories, which included color-blocked handbags and fanny packs, a tweed duffel bag with three quilted leather pouches, and a utility harness fitted with hip pouches. Best of all were the two-tone shoes and boots with a conical heel that seem destined to fly off store shelves.
Viard closed the show with a trio of dresses topped with Lagerfeld’s signature starched white collar. Its austere formality stood in contrast to the playful scattering of silk, tulle and rhodoid flowers on a white apron dress, and the sensuality of a black chain-trimmed version with gold buttons running down the back.
At the end of the show, an emotional Viard stepped out to take her bow, managing a quick smile for the cameras. The designer has not spoken to the press since Lagerfeld died in February at the age of 85, though it’s not hard to imagine the challenge of filling his shoes.
Guests heard loud cheers from the backstage area as they headed up a curved staircase to Le Riviera, a pop-up space modeled on Le Train Bleu, the Belle Epoque-era restaurant in the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris.
Inside, walls covered in gilded moldings and painted travel scenes towered over painstakingly decorated dining-car style booths, where waiters served a three-course lunch rinsed down with Louis Roederer Champagne.
It proved that Chanel’s power to dazzle is intact. Not that there’s anything wrong with keeping it — relatively — simple: like a great appetizer, it prepares the palate for things to come.
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