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Kristen Stewart, Chanel’s Virginie Viard, and Inez van Lamsweerde Dive into the Spirit of the French House

Chanel’s spring 2023 codes are rife with meaning and intention. Actress Kristen Stewart, photographer Inez van Lamsweerde, and Chanel designer Virginie Viard debate the je ne sais quoi of the French maison.

Kristen Stewart stars in the Chanel Spring 2023 collection film, first screened at the Paris Fashion Week show. Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

American actress Kristen Stewart, the star of Twilight, Spencer, and Café Society, among other box office hits, became an official ambassador of the maison Chanel a decade ago. She has since attended shows, dinners, given interviews, and of course, worn the clothes handcrafted in Paris and adored the world over. When the award-winning actress caught the eye of Karl Lagerfeld, he often photographed her campaigns himself. With the passing of the torch to Virginie Viard, the Chanel creative director since 2019, Stewart remains in the spotlight, with Viard recently amplifying her creative role. Stewart wrote the text used to narrate the Spring 2023 collection film, first screened at its Paris Fashion Week show. “Our identities are these life-long, evolving projects … It’s no longer important to know who you are or even what you want. I think it’s important to burn down your very best yesterday – every day – so that you can start again,” she wrote. The black-and-white film was made by the Dutch duo and Chanel faithfuls Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. The couple, who lensed Vogue Arabia’s debut cover starring Gigi Hadid in March 2017, have worked together since 1986 and have photographed the likes of Clint Eastwood, Julianne Moore, and Madonna. Here, Stewart, Viard, and Van Lamsweerde unite again, seeing into their respective crafts; and in the process, they penetrate the spirit of the French house.

The black-and-white film featured narration written by Kristen Stewart. Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Inez van Lamsweerde: The starting point this season was the allure of Chanel. It’s difficult to explain what this is. It brings together Gabrielle Chanel’s body language, her iconic creations, as well as her apartment, friends, ideas … Kristen’s body language can really be related to Gabrielle Chanel: the way she stands, sits, walks. She’s almost a natural reference to Gabrielle Chanel’s iconic pictures and films. She embodies it perfectly.

Virginie Viard: French film director Olivier Assayas writes that Chanel allowed Kristen to open all the doors and find herself. I’m happy about that because it’s how I feel too. It’s important to me that models like the clothes they wear and with Kristen even more so, especially since she’s not playing a role, she really is her.

Kristen Stewart: Virginie is an authentic spirit and therefore so is her art. She has a mode of expression that she is able to funnel into what she creates that is her … and also all of us. I think allure is reciprocal. You get as much as you put into something. With Virginie, the human connection, the curiosity, the allure is unending, it’s boundless. Chanel doesn’t impose a fantasy. It encourages you to deepen your reality. Aspire to take up space. It’s so helpful to feel grounded by a chosen aesthetic, one you feel chosen by: clothing that bolsters you in environments that feel flimsy or insubstantial – or even ones that feel intimidating – is essential. Wearing Chanel has always imbued me with a feeling of capability.

Stewart with Virginie Viard, Chanel creative director. Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Van Lamsweerde: At the beginning, two things stood out, perfectly embodied by Kristen. The first thing was a quote by Gabrielle Chanel from 1961. Its bottom line is: once you wear something and you feel so comfortable and so at ease with a sense of style, you can actually forget about trying to look good, overcome any confidence issues or hurdles because they are solved by the clothing …

Stewart: Unpacking that quote is interesting because it’s an eloquent and historical explanation of how long the road to self really is. How many years it has taken us to find ourselves exactly where we are. Where we are allowed to just be. Which is a product of our progressive pulling away from the binds of patriarchy. Her words resonate. I’m grateful for the ones who came before us. A true elegance I suppose, is something you feel when you’re at ease with who you are … but that this self is not fixed and allowed to change. I feel this hard-earned allowance … and therefore a willingness to really interact with the world around us. As the world revolves … knowing who you are does the same. It evolves.

Van Lamsweerde: The second thing that stood out was this idea of masculinity and femininity existing together in all of us. It is expressed in all of Gabrielle Chanel’s creations. There is no difference between both, a constant duality and non-definition. This is what sets Chanel apart. And the never-overt sexiness that comes from that. And Kristen is the natural embodiment of all these elements. You play with the masculine and the feminine, consciously, or not.

Stewart: Beauty is two dimensional, it is cultural, it’s not very interesting. Art isn’t meant to be beautiful, it’s meant to mean something, to make you feel something. It’s not a simple thing to learn how to stop imagining the experience of others while exhibiting what should be honest and natural to you. What ultimately is the most alluring thing about anyone … their commitment to self. The exploration of desire. That is contagious. You are only ever as valuable as you value yourself. The power of suggestion is strong. I want a lot. I am easily lured. A nature that craves isn’t beholden to aesthetic. Your allure is self generative, cyclical, fed by the lives and the world around you. Bouncing off each other and toward a universal truth and one-ness that is the beauty of art … love … life.

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Van Lamsweerde: The collection’s images translate these two ideas of ease and masculine-feminine as well as the spirit of Gabrielle Chanel into moments with Kristen in Paris. She wrote a text that we used as a narration for the film. It’s about this idea of constantly reinventing yourself. Starting new each day, and the freedom that is related to the masculine and feminine intertwined.

Viard: There is also something very nouvelle vague about Kristen that I really like. I can imagine her in an Agnès Varda film. We share a number of references, notably in French cinema. When I look at the photos taken by Inez & Vinoodh, for example in the brasserie, it’s like being in a Claude Sautet film with Romy Schneider.

Van Lamsweerde: We also looked at Alain Resnais’ film Last Year at Marienbad, which fits so well with the world of Chanel. The intensity of the actress Delphine Seyrig dressed by Gabrielle Chanel in that movie expresses these ideas of masculine and feminine with the way her hair is styled, her body positions. In the press kit film, there’s a discrepancy between the voice-over and what we see in the movie, which is kind of surreal. For example Kristen is coming out of a cinema, where she would be expected to answer some very basic questions like “What are you wearing?”, “Can you talk about your shoes?”, and yet she is asked a very deep question by the interviewer. So it’s all about this idea of living to your full potential.

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Viard: Yes, Last Year at Marienbad is one of the references of this collection. We find it in several Chanel collections, as is Kristen too, but we don’t necessarily say so. Everything comes to life when we accessorize the looks. At that point, I don’t think about Marienbad anymore, it has to be in the now.

Van Lamsweerde: With her collections, Virginie is pushing Chanel into the future while also being embedded in the past. Putting it all together, you see where it comes from and where it’s going. It’s a linear progression. Time doesn’t exist. In Last Year at Marienbad the voice-over is constantly reminding her what happened a year ago. Time is a human invention. The decor of this show is circular: it relates to the cycle, there is a full-circle moment where the past and the future come together.

Stewart: I loved the shoot because it felt like we stepped out of time and into an adjacent, shared reality. Like dreaming and not being able to articulate that dream in the light of day but knowing we all share that unknowable space. As a performer, to inhabit a tone rather than a narrative is limitlessly personal. There was no plot in our film but there was so much momentum. Friction. Atmosphere. With something suggestive and undefined, as long as the environment exists and the artists are present, you can go deeper, you can project your own thoughts, your own memories … you can be a part of it. Be a part of each other.

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Viard: I also adore working with Inez & Vinoodh. I trust you completely and I have no secrets with you. I give you a lot of freedom and I tell you everything I think. You are more than a photographic duo, it’s a whole universe – the scenography, the films – that we create together. I’ve always loved your world. We understand each other so well. You are always listening, looking out for the tiniest detail. I give you a reference and you send me hundreds of photos. You love Chanel, the clothes, the bags, the jewelry … It’s very natural. That’s what I like about Inez & Vinoodh, talking about all of that.

Van Lamsweerde: Chanel allows you to be your full self. Clothes – the right ones – can really change the perspective you have of yourself and how you want to present to the world. And there’s something about this letting go, this idea of, “Okay, I can be who I want to be now because of what I’m wearing. I feel good. It’s letting me be who I am. It’s letting me live my life.” And I personally feel that was Gabrielle Chanel’s intention …

Viard: Gabrielle Chanel was a true genius. She created things that didn’t exist, and that was her whole life, that was another era. Without her and Karl, none of this would ever exist: the links between Chanel and cinema, this unique relationship with Kristen, this freedom of creation. I’ve known Chanel for 30 years and today I can let myself go towards something else that’s more about the order of feelings, emotions. I like everything about Chanel, Gabrielle, Karl, I can take what I like from it. For me, Chanel is always like treasure. I love dressing women, I like them feeling good.

Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

Compiled by Caterina Minthe

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