Back at the turn of the ’90s, as listeners to the podcast In Vogue: The 1990s will discover, the supermodels came bounding down the high raised runways exuding joie de vivre as they twirled and vamped for the photographers who had jostled for prime position, not only in the mosh pit at the end of the runway, but all along its length. (The front row seats were still prized in fashion’s hierarchy, but generally gave one a fantastic view of the back of a photographer, or a supermodel’s nostrils).
“I used to love the sound of flashbulbs going off at the shows in the ’80s,” designer Virginie Viard recalled in today’s Chanel show notes. “I wanted to recapture that emotion.” So this season Viard attempted to channel that energy and joy in a collection that not only referenced the era in the clothes, staging and accessories (purses shaped like N°5 bottles; piratically flared Louis heels), but even the soundtrack too: witness George Michael’s anthemic Freedom! ’90—in a contemporary cover version by Christine and the Queens—getting the models in the party spirit.
While the Grand Palais, scene of so many elaborately staged Chanel spectaculars, undergoes an epic renovation (generously underwritten by Chanel), this collection was presented in a temporary space, set up in the shadow of the Invalides, that allowed Viard to recapture the memory of the shows she had thrilled to when she was a fashion neophyte.
At the end of the raised runway, for instance, the photography duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, now deeply enmeshed in the Chanel world, played old school show photographers snapping the models who stopped to pose and preen for them and seemed to be having the time of their lives, flashing smiles and flicking hair rather than assuming the habitual look of sulky disdain. Inez and Vinoodh also provided the playful videos (presented in an ante room before entering the show space), that depicted the stars of Chanel’s model cabal—among them Lily-Rose Depp, Alma Jodorowsky, Rebecca Dayan and Quannah Chasinghorse—turning the camera on them. Photography, after all, is in the DNA of the brand.
The show also opened a la Karl Lagerfeld—who sent shockwaves when he put Chanel branded underwear as outerwear on the runway for Spring 1993—with a black and white sequence of briefs, swimsuits and sports bras, occasionally veiled in spangled black net pants or shown with above the knee skirts. During an accessories fitting a couple of days before the show, Viard pointed out the crochet effects she had worked on with the braid company Bacus, and the spin on the bright spring pastel tweed suits—think of Chanel-clad Naomi, Linda, Carla, shot by Steven Meisel for Vogue, March 1994—that she had given the twist of a longer skirt or jacket flap in back, suggesting a traditional tailcoat.
“Karl was always doing fake jeans,” Viard recalled, shuddering at the memory. “In the ’90s they always seemed to be with pink tweed—ugh! For me it was horrible then, but now j’adore!”
Her own reimagined denim propositions this season included a pretty, summery deckchair ticking stripe cut into stiff little 1960s-looking dresses with bold bands of black sequins, creating the trompe l’oeil illusion of a classic Chanel cardigan suit; or charcoal denim wafted with a butterfly print. Those butterfly wings were amplified as prints on drifting chiffon pieces that swirled as the girls twirled, providing another charming throwback to a fashion moment that celebrated the happiness the fashion flock is feeling in a season of cautious reemergence and optimism.