Couture Day Two: Chanel and Dior’s Haute Loses Heat


PARIS — A handful of designers notwithstanding, the fashion industry’s lack of engagement with the horrors unfolding before our eyes will follow it to its grave. So hat’s off to the ever-prescient Michel Gaubert for the opening gambit of his soundtrack for the Chanel show on Tuesday morning. He resurrected an obscure 1969 track called “Sympathy” by Rare Bird, whose sonorous vocalist intoned the following lyrics: “Half the world hates the other half, and half the world has all the food, and half the world lies down and quietly starves ‘cause there’s not enough love to go round.”

It was an audacious entrée to an haute couture show, especially at this moment, and especially for this show which celebrated a level of glittering luxury that hasn’t really been part of Chanel’s repertoire under the creative directorship of Virginie Viard. Her abrupt departure after 38 years with the brand is still shrouded in mystery, and on Tuesday, everyone was towing the company line. Viard had nothing to do with this collection, design duties were handled by an entity called the Fashion Creation Studio.

Assuming this was a placeholder collection until the next creative director fronts up, the studio did a good job of honouring the location – the Palais Garnier, the legendary home of the most famous phantom in the opera world – with a collection that had the requisite amount of drama and theatricality. The show opened with Vittoria Ceretti striding through the opera house’s shadowy corridors like a highwaywoman in a sweeping black taffeta cape. Many capes followed, in feathers or knit or more taffeta, in a peachy pink. But the drama was balanced by sensible tweed suits with box-pleated skirts, and equally sober coat dresses. Granted, they were bedazzled with sequins and, in one significant instance, little metallic bows, but still, they highlighted the fact that Chanel’s audience, as evidenced by at least three-quarters of Tuesday’s audience, has a very specific notion of what Chanel means to them. And it’s defined enough to suggest this is one brand that is essentially creative director-proof.

Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)

The show notes seemed to acknowledge as much when they emphasised the staying power of the couture ateliers “where some 150 people work in six ateliers at 31 rue Cambon next to the Chanel Fashion Creation Studio.” God help the hire who tries to mess with that, unless he/she is a master coder. Because codes are ultimately what Chanel is about. There is a history (today, a tutu, as a reminder that Chanel designed for the ballet in the 1920s) and there is a vocabulary of that history honed by the Lagerfeld years: the sparkly tweeds, a principal-boy black corduroy tux, the sleeveless shift with a Klimt-like encrustation of gold sequins and beads, a showgirl tassel on a skirt. A wink to the overdone, in other words. Virginie Viard never got that quite right.

When the models disappeared at the end of the show, and the lights went out, and the sound of spectral footsteps echoed through the darkness, I thought for a moment it might be Virginie making an appearance as the Phantom. But no, it was just The Bride, Angelina Kendall in a fantasy bridal gown, with ruffles, full sleeves and a train.

That is one couture trope which would never engage Maria Grazia Chiuri. In her couture show for Dior on Monday, she was, as usual, illuminating the exigencies of feminism, this time through the lens of sport. Chiuri was captivated by an exhibition at the Louvre which looked at the heroic fantasies of antiquity that prevailed until the 19th century, when competitive sport was off limits to women. Chiuri has also always loved the classical peplos silhouette. She showed it at its purest in this collection. That gave her a tight focus: body, clothes, performance. She found a contemporary co-relative in the work of American artist Faith Ringgold whose L.A. Subway Commission Mosaics were recreated for the walls of Chiuri’s showspace by the ateliers of the Chanakya School of Craft in India, which has been an invaluable resource for Dior. In this case, however, Ringgold’s hyper-coloured, hyper-energetic images of Black athletes in action were an overwhelmingly incongruous backdrop for Chiuri’s pallid collection.

Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)

It’s not the first time the designer’s ideal and execution have been at odds, however much it always starts so well, here with the transition between a traditional structured wardrobe and the easier knitwear-based outfits of the 1920s. Chiuri liked the experimental notion of using sporty jersey where couture would have usually called for chiffon or georgette. Instead of the traditional corset, she introduced tanks or bodysuits. They ended up lustrously beaded, feathered or embroidered.

But, as she herself acknowledged, these were the kind of experiments she was used to conducting in ready-to-wear. The stark white peplos had all the casual charm of an elongated t-shirt. What looked like a carpet was swept up as a shawl. And then a long line of pale permutations of what goddesses might wear on Olympus, accessorised with sandals they would surely recognise. It’s a shame it didn’t feel Olympian.

Chanel Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture

Dior Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture



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