The late, great photographer Bill Cunningham, whose work snapping candid shots of stylish people created its own sub-genre of modern cultural anthropology, once remarked: “Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life.” In these days of isolation, confinement and uncertainty, where the mood is reflective and sombre and dressing up has all but been reduced to loungewear, or at most a smart top thrown hurriedly over pyjama bottoms in order to appear decent in video calls, the world of luxury fashion stoically soldiers on.
Drawing upon its skills in craftsmanship, an eye for detail and a vision of a world more refined and gentle than the one in which we presently dwell, fashion continues to offer a lifeline of beauty and creative genius, transporting all those who need it, or deign to peek into a realm of sheer sartorial magic. It is not easy to articulate the transformative powers of style but if we were to paraphrase Cunningham, who likened fashion to armour, perhaps the recent show held by the great Parisian maison Chanel, undoubtedly keeper of the fashion industry’s most powerful arsenals, offered proof positive that, in this era of unprecedented living, the eyes are all we need to go someplace special.
Virginie Viard, Chanel creative director
Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, who has managed the creative direction for music bands Depeche Mode and U2 for over three decades
Spring-Summer 2021 Haute Couture
The Grand Palais, the iconic Beaux-Arts exhibition hall in Paris’ 8th arrondissement. This grand edifice, with its imposing classical stone façade and Art Nouveau ironwork by artists and sculptors such as Paul Gasq, Raoul Verlet and Alfred Boucher, was inaugurated in 1900 and has always been the favoured site for many of the maison’s shows, manifesting its creative vision in the soaring space, like its SS13 show — which evoked a Mediterranean beachside forest complete with chirping birds — and AW10 and its ode to the zodiac, complete with a giant gold lion sculpture, a nod, of course, to Leo. Chanel has also generously pledged €25 million out of the €466 million budgeted for the Grand Palais’ three-year renovation by France’s Ministry of Culture, scheduled from 2021 to 2024.
If weddings usually bring a tear to your eye, you will be weeping here. The recent couture show is palpably evocative in its beauty and stunning setting of a countryside wedding — all floral arches and gilded chairs. If you can imagine being invited to a ritzy yet rustic celebration at an iconic location (we are thinking the grounds of the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat or any place similar along the Cote d’Azur), accompanied by a soundtrack that spans Depeche Mode’s Strangelove to The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, we dare you not to be equally moved. The clothes were no less glorious — tiered sundresses, bohemian-inspired flounces and petticoats, waistcoats, big ballerina tulle skirts and more, each one a tribute to the intricacy and masterful handwork of Chanel’s artisan partners, including embroidery, lace and feathers by legendary names like Cécile Henri, Montex and Emmanuelle Vernoux.
Fashion show regulars would appreciate the departure from tradition as Viard reversed the order and sent all 32 models down the curved stairs of the Grand Palais as the show began, making for a visually-sumptuous start. If you remember the scene of a girl on horseback at the Pré Catalan in Leslie Caron’s classic film, Gigi, or the iconic image of Bianca Jagger astride a steed inside Studio 54, you would appreciate Viard’s own tribute to the bride who came out riding side-saddle atop an equally beautiful white horse, resplendent in a Lesage-embroidered ivory satin skirt dress. And like with all weddings, the “guest list” included friends and ambassadors of the maison, such as Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Vanessa Paradis and daughter Lily-Rose Depp as well as Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco. Also considering it was a Corona-era “wedding”, Chanel thoughtfully seated each of them well-according to Covid protocols.
This article first appeared on Feb 8, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.