Cathy Horyn Paris Fashion Week Review: Chanel

From left to right: Alexandre Blanc, Chanel, Stella McCartney. Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy

From left to right: Alexandre Blanc, Chanel, Stella McCartney.
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Alexandre Blanc, Chanel, and Stella McCartney

Today’s Chanel show seemed to be two shows running simultaneously. There was the show on the runway — a raised catwalk as in the 1980s, flanked by photographers — and the one that the photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and her partner Vinoodh Matadin were shooting at the end of the runway. A nearby video camera seemed to be trained on them, and I noticed they were making eye contact with the models and seemingly calling to them and even giving some a thumbs-up.

Inez and Vinoodh, as they’re known in the industry, shoot Chanel’s campaigns. They took the giant portraits of models that greeted guests as they entered the show space, a black tent near Les Invalides, and the one across the back of the runway. So in all likelihood, they were creating a film using a quintessential image — the raised catwalk. Basically, they were hoisting a flag that said, “Chanel is about fashion.”

Chanel.
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

The models, in turn, were playing a part. They were friskier, smiling, walking in the manner of girls of yore, though a few had trouble making it look natural, since almost no model today walks with the hip swing of a young Naomi Campbell or a Marpessa Hennink.

Still, the main event — the spring collection of Virginie Viard — was the news. It represented a lighter Chanel, and a welcomed shift for Viard, whose clothes have tended to look heavy — bulky jacket shoulders, too many layers, and a kind of cliché French cool-girl styling. This time, the opening looks were bathing suits, some with black tulle skirts, followed by cropped logo tank tops and biker shorts. Not new for Chanel, but maybe right for the moment. Viard’s suits, in metallic-flecked black bouclé and a spree of Easter-egg hues, also looked lighter on the body. There were cute shift dresses in a wire-hinged grid of squares — bouclé and possibly denim — that nicely mimicked Chanel quilting. And Viard made a blown-up pattern (possibly of an Art Nouveau butterfly) do double duty, for sporty looks and chiffon evening styles. If there was a flaw in this otherwise engaging show, it was an excess of logos.

Alexandre Blanc.
Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre Blanc

It’s been a strange season, with big luxury brands trying to return to “normal” — holding arena-style shows loaded with celebrities — and others going populist in the street, and with more simplified clothes. So maybe that’s why designers who went their own way stood apart. One is the designer Alexandre Blanc, who started his label a little more than two years ago, after returning to Paris from a stint in New York at Oscar de la Renta. Blanc quickly laid down a silhouette marked by a waist, an open neckline, and soft shoulders. He also created his own quirky prints.

This season, when I visited him at the Palais de Tokyo, where he showed a film and a selection of his clothes, I was surprised and delighted to see a more casual, rustic attitude. The same quality, the same shapes — but now Blanc had added pajamas in an abstract print (shown with a trench in off-white linen/silk shantung), a geometric-print minidress, and some lovely, full-sleeved tops in hand-printed silk, the palette in seaside tones of pale yellow, clay, pink, deep red, and beige. All in all, it was more relaxed and special.

When I asked Blanc about the difference, he paused and said, “I have a very good friend from Oscar de la Renta, who was very close to Oscar, and he told me, ‘Alex, it’s a shame, because sometimes you are doing more personal work for Oscar than for your own brand. How come?’ It’s so difficult to expose yourself. I’m not a specialist of Instagram, I’m not a specialist in communication. It’s taken me five seasons to get here.”

Giambattista Valli.
Photo: Courtesy of Giambattista Valli

Giambattista Valli stayed on course, but nonetheless his antennae picked up the lighter attitude. It has been amazing to see how few designers in Paris and Milan truly embraced spring and summer clothes. You’d think they were designing for a bunker, between the bleak layers and heavy boots. Not Valli. The key motifs in his lovely collection were gardens, the dainty patterns on porcelain, and the beach — registered with sheer dresses and skirts whose base was a swimsuit, or could be one. For every frilled bandeau top, he countered with a mini-coat, a shift, or, better still, a beautiful sleeveless shirt in white cotton with a built-in knot in the front, worn with a porcelain-pink ruffled skirt slit high on one leg.

Stella McCartney.
Photo: Courtesy of Stella McCartney

Not long ago, in the Paris Opera, Stella McCartney splashed videos on the walls of fornicating wild animals. At another show, she gave out free saplings. So on Monday, in the domed room of an Oscar Niemeyer–designed building, when a voice on the sound system intoned, “Mushrooms are the future,” nobody could be surprised. The voice belonged to Paul Stamets, an American mycologist who appeared in the 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi. McCartney was introducing a new, limited-edition bag made from lab-grown mushrooms. “It’s incredible technology,” she said of a process that’s been in development for years, adding that it “really is the future of fashion.”

But from the first look — a lime-green jersey dress with cutouts, shown with a billowy parachute coat in spearmint — the show marked a broader change for McCartney. The clothes looked lighter and less complicated, both in construction and attitude. The move aligns with other labels this season. “After such a period of transition,” she said, “I wanted to try to project what the future could be for the House of Stella — a lightness of touch, a slightly more tender approach.” The clothes backed up that statement. Her signature pantsuits looked breezier. There were crocheted tunics with balloon pants, T-shirt dresses and tops with ruching, and toile de jour prints of — zoom in — mushrooms.

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