Chanel's Couture shines at Paris Opera despite designer's exit

Chanel Dazzles Paris Opera with Couture, Even Without a Designer
Chanel paid tribute to the ateliers of the “petites mains."
Chanel paid tribute to the ateliers of the “petites mains." Photo | AP

PARIS: The show must go on, with aplomb. Chanel’s latest couture display Tuesday was a finely executed collection channeling theatricality.

Few Parisian fashion houses can fill the Paris Opera and gain applause from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and other luminaries without even having a designer. It's a testament to Chanel’s enduring power and its world-renowned atelier following Virginie Viard's abrupt exit on June 5.

Here are some highlights of the fall couture displays:

Chanel's opulence

Guests clutching Chanel opera glasses got happily lost as they explored marble staircases to find a stage in the Opera’s outer corridors, filled with red velvet opera boxes designed by French movie director Christophe Honoré. The stage was set with silhouettes evoking the opera and its heyday: dramatic capes, puffed sleeves and richly embroidered pieces.

The designs’ gleam rivaled only that of the sumptuous 19th-century atrium itself, with shimmering buttons and brilliant threads reflecting the light.

There were moments of drama, with guests reaching for their cameras (being too close for the opera glasses) to capture a black gown with puff sleeves whose feathers, beading and ribbons gleamed provocatively.

This season, there was a welcome move to less accessorizing, a departure from the hallmark of former designer Viard. The focus was on the garments themselves, highlighting the intricate craftsmanship and luxurious materials. Feathers, tassels, embroidered flowers, precious braids, lacquered jersey, supple tweeds, silky velvet, illusion tulle, taffeta, and duchesse satin adorned myriad looks befitting the venue.

Although the necklines were a standout feature—scooped or raised mini-turtle necks—alongside banded, accented shoulders or busts, the collection as a whole had a slightly disparate feel that sometimes seemed to lack a singular aesthetic anchor.

Chanel paid tribute to the ateliers of the “petites mains," or the dozens of artisans who work in six ateliers a stone’s throw from the venue.

Photo | AP

Without Viard

For a house that prides itself on perfect image execution, the news that arrived in the middle of the night felt less than polished. Chanel faced its first major event Tuesday without its creative director, who abruptly left after over 30 years with the brand. The announcement was highly unorthodox, just weeks before the couture show.

Later, it emerged that the French couturier would be absent even from her final couture display, with her team stepping in to take charge.

Viard succeeded Karl Lagerfeld upon his death in 2019 and was his closest collaborator for decades. She had overseen record sales for Chanel, reaching a reported $19.7 billion last year. Ready-to-wear sales reportedly increased 23 percent during her tenure.

Yet in the fickle world of fashion, strong sales are not always enough. Viard’s tenure was dogged by controversy, most recently with criticism of her collections, including a poorly received mid-season show in Marseille. Viard faced backlash for runway shows that critics said lacked the grandiose flair defining Lagerfeld’s era, and she often received critiques for underwhelming design choices.

Though her appointment was initially seen as temporary, she was only the third creative director in Chanel’s over 100-year history after Lagerfeld and, of course, legendary founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

The fashion world speculates on her successor. Names like Hedi Slimane, Marine Serre and Simon Porte Jacquemus circulate, suggesting potential shifts in Chanel’s creative direction.

Photo | AP

Armani Prive’s pearl romance

To nostalgic jazz music, 89-year-old fashion veteran Giorgio Armani returned to his touchstones of the Art Deco period — the 1920s and ’30s — and romance for a slow-burning and brightly gleaming couture display at the Palais de Tokyo. It was called “Pearls.”

Models donned berets in a show that glowed not only with pearls but also with velvets, silk chiffons and tulle, and ended in froths of sparkle. The meticulous craftsmanship, with embellishments like sequins, crystals and rhinestone embroideries, gave Armani's pieces a luminous, ethereal quality for fall that dazzled the eye as it was showcased by slow-walking models. On occasion, Armani was victim to his romantic spirit when he veered into the literal, such as one diamond-encrusted beret.

But tailoring — a design cornerstone for Armani, who cut his cloth in menswear — was a powerful theme in the show. A black angular jacket captured the collection theme perfectly, with its curved, graphic-lined lapel gleaming with myriad pearls adorning the shoulders.

Armani is often linked to the word “timeless” and praised for his ability to create pieces that remain stylish and relevant across decades. This strength reassures the audience, but while always beautiful, the pieces on display Tuesday sometimes lacked the surprise seen in other couture shows this season.

What remains relevant is the Italian runway icon’s enduring influence on the fashion and entertainment industries, as seen by the swath of top editors and stars such as Cate Blanchett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Naomie Harris and Eva Green, who lined the front row. So iconic, in fact, th at there was a new adjective for him revealed in the show notes — “Armanian.”

Photo | AP

Mabille’s toast to glamour

Bubbles are never far away from the effervescent couturier Alexis Mabille. Guests sipped champagne, with champagne-filled ice buckets even on the runway in a celebration of luxurious excess.

Unfurling, undressing, and plays on corsetry were on the drinks menu this season, starting with an opening number featuring a gleaming bustier that resembled an opening flower. The intimacy and ritual of getting dressed is a theme that pervades Mabille's work.

Varied looks sometimes surprised guests, such as a Bob Mackie-style feathered headdress that out-Cher-ed Cher. The extravagant piece had an almost equestrian flourish and was a real feat of couture execution, showcasing Mabille’s flair for Hollywood-inspired glamour.

A golden bullet creation, and a gleaming metallic power cape with an armor-like bustier, gave the collection a lot of attitude, if not always coherence. Mabille’s collections often embrace a wide array of silhouettes and themes, sometimes leading to a lack of unified narrative. However, the diversity is also part of his charm.

De Vilmorin’s witchy wonderland

Charles de Vilmorin, the 27-year-old wunderkind of the Parisian couture scene, has once again proven his mettle with a spellbinding show that merged experimental silhouettes, dark musings, and eye-catching color palettes. Known for his vibrant use of color, de Vilmorin’s palette often evokes the sumptuousness of Christian Lacroix’s 1980s work, making him one of the most buzzed-about couturiers in Paris today.

On Tuesday, the audience was transported to a gothic dreamscape where Anna Cleveland emerged as a bewitching figure, trapped in a black straight-jacket gown that screamed both asylum and Tim Burton. De Vilmorin, known for grappling with the pressures of creation and the lofty expectations of the fashion world, channeled these tensions into his collection.

Another ‘straight-jacket’ gown appeared adorned with massive black and red plumes, like a satanic phoenix rising from the ashes. The storytelling that followed was nothing short of a sartorial saga. A gigantic rat scurried down the runway, followed by a model donning an oversized witch’s hat with a fringe of hair.

Adding to the darkly whimsical narrative was a nobleman figure, clad in a crisply wrinkled white bow shirt tied with whimsical flair. This juxtaposition of elegance and dishevelment was pure De Vilmorin. The show’s crescendo was a color-blocked blue and red chiffon Renaissance gown, a nod to historical opulence with a contemporary twist.

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