It was Coco herself who said fashion reflects the world we live in. But while much of fashion week holds up a mirror to the current era of roiling controversy and outrage – at Schiaparelli, a foam lion’s head worn by Kylie Jenner provoked social media fury from distressed animal lovers, until the president of Peta rode unexpectedly to couture’s rescue by saying the look “celebrates lion’s beauty” – Chanel is the quiet eye of the storm.
Virginie Viard, who replaced the great showman Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel four years ago, has introduced an understated mood here. The animals of Coco’s elegant Paris apartment – where marble lions stood guard alongside pairs of carved wooden deer, and a lucky gold frog took pride of place on a coffee table – were the theme for her latest haute couture show.
In contrast to Schiaparelli’s Instagram-bait of Kardashians and faux-taxidermy, the Trojan camels, stags and birds at Chanel were abstract plywood sculptures by artist Xavier Veilhan, and the models who emerged from them wore demure glitter tweed suits. Drama came with a light touch, in circus-master top hats and bow ties worn as chokers.
Nonetheless, Chanel will have the lion’s share of the spotlight this year. A major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York honouring the career of Lagerfeld, who spent four decades at Chanel, will be followed by a major retrospective of Coco herself at the V&A in London later this year. Backstage before the show, Chanel’s president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, said he had “seen the layout of the Met exhibition – it is fantastic. I worked with Karl for many years, and he was forever talking about the latest Met show. He really loved the museum.”
Pavlovsky was also waiting to discover which of Chanel’s red carpet ambassadors would receive Oscar nominations. Last year was a successful award season for Chanel, who dressed best actress nominees Kristen Stewart and Penélope Cruz.
“We have fantastic actors who can help talk about our brand, so anytime when we can help them to be at their best is very important for us,” Pavlovsky said. “We try to position ourselves as a supportive partner – it is a case of whatever they want, when they want it.”
Chanel’s relationship with Hollywood began in 1931, when Gabrielle Chanel was invited by movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, who sent a welcoming party that included Greta Garbo to meet her from her train.
Chanel will stage a major Cruise catwalk show in Los Angeles in May, one week after the Met Gala launches the Lagerfeld exhibition. “In New York, we celebrate 40 years of Karl – and then we head straight to LA to show a new collection and talk about the future. It will be a busy week for everyone, especially with [the coronation of] Charles III in between. But you cannot be Chanel just by staying in an apartment on the first floor of the 1st arrondissement of Paris.”
In September, the V&A will showcase “the modern style of an era when star designers, of who Mademoiselle Chanel was one, defined so much of modern fashion”, said Pavlovsky. “For me, there is no contradiction between the past and future of Chanel.”