With the dawn of a new era at Chanel–that of artistic director of the fashion collections Virginie Viard–the maison has nonetheless hinted that certain things will remain the same. The Chanel sets, ephemeral wonders be it an iceberg, an English garden, a rocket, will continue to appear as spectacular as ever even after the passing of Karl Lagerfeld. For Chanel Couture Fall 2019, a two-floor circular mock-library was erected. With this serene set, filled with leather-bound tomes, wingchairs, and coffee tables, Viard seemed to say that she too, like Lagerfeld with his studio lined with some 300,000 books (“It’s an illness, I’m not afraid to admit it […]), is a bibliophile; her tastes dive deep into classic literature, philosophy, and the study of art. It was also an invitation to the house’s couture guests to became acquainted or reacquainted with some of the world’s greatest minds. If couture is savoir-faire, it is above all savoir.
“Books are my best friends,” Gabrielle Chanel once said to writer Paul Morand. Indeed literary characters open the doors to dream worlds. For her debut couture show, Virginie Viard interpreted an intellectual woman, a young Chanel surrounded by her friends Racine, Molière, Rousseau, Bousset, Stendhal, Rilke, and Baudelaire. “If today you open a history of our literature, you should find there the name of a new classical author: Coco Chanel. Chanel does not write with paper and ink, but with material, with forms and colors,” wrote Roland Barthers in 1967.
Viard, who worked alongside Lagerfeld for nearly thirty years, offered a marriage of literature and fashion. In front of guests, including Academy Award winning actors Margot Cottilard and Margot Robbie, Viard presented a couture collection with several gripping chapters. The codes of Chanel were most evident in the color palette, mainly black and white presented on long fitted coat jackets that grazed the floor. These eventually transformed into punchy colors—red, fuchsia, orange—and silhouettes shortened into mini skirts while jackets became wider, with shoulders jutting out. Then, to some gasps in the audience, the skirts got longer again, but also fuller, supported by crinoline skirts. The final chapter focused on fluidity and elegant leisure, “everything I like about the Chanel allure,” said Viard. Accents like bows, pockets, and belts underlined curves and graphic panels. Meanwhile, patent leather loafers and shoes with bows offered both a masculine touch and a prettiness to the otherwise strict chausseur. A multitude of fabrics—velvet, tweed, wool chiffon, organza, textured lace, and feathers and embroideries—highlighted the richness of the house and the luxury conscious woman who wears them. The closing look, a pale pink satin robe felt carefree and delicately feminine. Viard’s first fantasy story for a fantasy life.