After Karl, Chanel Keeps Close to Home

PARIS — The festive holiday lights of Paris sparkled from store fronts and Christmas garlands, arched over roads and the Eiffel Tower, twinkled over the River Seine and through an inky black sky.

It was the eve of an indefinite national strike in France. The public walkout was expected to be the country’s biggest demonstration in over twenty five years.

For Chanel, however, it was business as usual. The French luxury fashion house was celebrating its latest Métiers d’Art collection, the first under new creative director Virginie Viard.

Now in its 18th year, the Métiers d’Art is an annual presentation by Chanel of the intricate craftsmanship of the specialist ateliers the company has bought over the years to preserve and nurture for their know-how; from embroiderers and feather makers to pleaters and milliners. Previously, it has been a traveling spectacular of sorts, unveiled in Dallas, Hamburg, Rome and, last year, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That Eygptian-themed extravaganza was the last Métiers d’Art line designed by Karl Lagerfeld, who died two months later.

Ms. Viard, who took the creative helm of Chanel days after his death, is the first woman to run the house since Coco Chanel. She now has a lot to live up to and, so far, has been playing it relatively safe — that includes, for her fourth solo collection, the return to Paris and the return to the Grand Palais, Chanel’s usual runway show haunt. Plus ça change, and all that.

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Credit…Francois Durand/Getty Images
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Credit…Francois Durand/Getty Images

The idea of homecoming was a recurring theme of the evening; a reminder that though the directors in the wings had recently changed, the story and vision of Chanel would remain the same. Acknowledging the importance of continuing Chanel’s tradition of cinematic-style blockbuster runway shows, Ms. Viard had collaborated with Sofia Coppola, the Oscar-winning movie director (and a former teenage studio intern at Chanel), to codesign a set full of familiar scenes.

After making their way through doors lined with Christmas trees decorated with white camellias, almost 1,000 show-goers (including Kristen Stewart, Penélope Cruz and Lily-Rose Depp) walked into an opulent series of salon rooms created to resemble Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment with coromandel lacquered screens and gilded chairs. From there, they stepped into a runway show space that mimicked Chanel’s historic 31 Rue Cambon store, complete with its famous grand mirrored staircase. Giant chandeliers descended, the lights dimmed, and down the stairs came the models, showcasing a collection called, well, 31 Rue Cambon.

Also a wee bit of freshness. An opening series of signature black bouclé tweed skirt suits, coats and blazers were given bold 1980s-style shoulders and bejeweled collars and cuffs, loosely belted with silk ribbons or gold chains and worn with modest-heeled Mary Jane shoes. A certain streetwise femininity was visible in a spliced black and white jacket and pencil skirt worn open with cascading jewels on a naked chest; a clutch of terrific gold knitted and buttoned jumpsuits; and a black bomber jacket covered with silky flower petals and teamed with glittering pants. A flimsy halter baby-doll dress, tie-dye T-shirts, bare midriffs and belly chains in a tequila sunrise palette, however, seemed to get lost in translation.

It was, in the end, the classic pieces that showcased the art of the ateliers that made the biggest statement: a beautiful sheer cape embroidered with sequined gold wheat sheaves, for example, or feather covered cocktail dresses. Such showstopping pieces come with equally eye-watering price tags.

For some, such opulent scenes might have jarred with the social unrest that brewed outside the gilded doors. But for others, the Métiers d’Art provided a fleeting moment of fantasy and creativity. After all, fashion is as French as going on strike.

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