The eternal and international attraction of being a French girl with “the knack” has been a thread that has run through some of the major Parisian houses and their major “experiential” shows this season.
Virginie Viard, in her first ready-to-wear outing since the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, followed suit with her practical breakdown of a Chanel wardrobe for a young woman. It was up in the air in one way: on a set evoking the gray, zinc-lined rooftops of the Rue Cambon; and down to earth in another: a contemporary girl’s how-to instruction kit grounded in the heritage of Coco Chanel. Up on the roof chez Chanel, a flat-heeled procession of leggy girls set out in tweed playsuits, tiny silk shorts, garçonne coatdresses, and little bell-shaped skirts. Where Lagerfeld might’ve thrown on funny, punning accessories, Viard’s instinct was to strip back and emphasize the essentials of silhouette and tweedy Chanel textures in a relatable context—who could dare mimic his wit, after all?
She said in a press release that she’d drawn a connection between the rooftop scenery and the “atmosphere of the Nouvelle Vague”—the French New Wave cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, famous for portraying young actresses in the honest light of real life. Kristen Stewart’s new biopic of the life of Jean Seberg had gelled that idea in her mind. At one point, an echo of Seberg’s T-shirt and jeans (the actress’s classic appropriation of French working-class style in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 movie Breathless) inspired a neat casualization of a Chanel twinset as a Breton-striped cropped jacket and sweater with high-waisted cropped denims and a chain belt. On the other hand, wasn’t it Coco Chanel who thought up that combination on the Riviera in the 1920s?
What we look for in Chanel as a storied couture house is to be reminded of—and thrilled by—that sort of time-traveling relevance. The tiered, tufted layers of the plays on tweed (the inimitable magic of the in-house textile department) that appeared among all the flouncy skirts Viard sent out did that as well. Ditto a couple of Chanel mini coat dresses, one with a silver sequined flip of a skirt, the other tailored, navy, with silk ruffles on the collar and pockets.
At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to belong to the ranks of the Chanel It girls? When a tweed-suited girl with a hat jumped up from the audience and jauntily swung her quilted Chanel bag in step with the models, plenty in the audience thought she was a preplanned punch line to the show. Not at all. It was a prank by 28-year-old French YouTuber and comedian Marie Benoliel. The security guards didn’t like it, and the models soon realized she was an imposter. But then again, she was perfectly dressed, and everyone in the auditorium laughed along with her. You couldn’t help thinking how Karl Lagerfeld would’ve been amused, because isn’t that the essence of what Chanel girl actually wants to be today—chic and a lot of fun?