Chanel Goes ‘Rock Coco’ With Opulent Couture Collection 2020

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In a startling about-turn, Virginie Viard peppered her fall collection with ornate embellishments and subtle 18th-century references

Since succeeding Karl Lagerfeld as artistic director of Chanel last year, Virginie Viard has gently buffed the brand with her streamlined approach to the house’s codes.

Never was the changing of the guard more apparent than in her last couture show, staged on a rambling garden set inspired by the convent school at Aubazine where the young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel spent her formative years.

Which makes it all the more surprising that Viard emerged from lockdown with a couture lineup so unapologetically maximalist, it could have walked straight off an Eighties runway. Party dresses, bling and Marie-Antoinette shoes were just some of the ingredients of her presentation during the online edition of Paris Couture Week.

“It’s an eccentric girl with a touch of the Eighties. I wanted something joyful,” the designer said in a preview last week, as photographer Mikael Jansson shot models Adut Akech and Rianne Van Rompaey in an adjoining studio for the show video: a one-minute, 22-second burst of images spliced with grainy black-and-white footage.

Viard said the collection was more Lagerfeld than Coco — back in his 18th-century interior design phase. “It makes me think of images I have of him with friends before I knew him, when he would often host balls, dinner and parties. People would really dress up,” she explained.

The German couturier, who was never short of a pun, might have dubbed it Rock Coco. Think deeply textured, colorful tweeds layered with gold chains, brooches and pearls; a jacket with a smocked midriff and leg-of-mutton sleeves, or a black moiré evening dress with a plunging shawl collar with rhinestone braiding peeking out.

There was a historical feel to the ample skirts, including what would have been the traditional finale dress: a bucolic bridal creation with a pannier-width skirt and blousy sleeves, and a front panel covered in dozens of tiny pleated bibs.

Heavy, flower-shaped gold brooches set with diamanté and semiprecious stones sprouted from a collarless gray and white tweed jacket flecked with gold — the fruit of a collaboration between embroiderer Lesage and jeweler Goossens. “It feels very elegant, very posh,” Akech said. “Expensive,” she whispered as an afterthought.

The looks were accessorized with trays of high jewelry, closely watched by a security guard. “We spent three days trying on all the jewels,” Viard said gleefully. “We shot some of the looks with little tiaras. I love the little princess look.”