Chanel celebrates craft and cardigans

PARIS – Few Chanel customers have ever ventured to the industrial fringes of the 19th arrondissement in northeast Paris. But on December 7th they found themselves in the icy December fog on Place Skanderberg, just outside the Périphérique ring road, waiting for the brand’s annual Métiers d’Art show to begin.

Delivered by a fleet of Mercedes, dressed in bouclé down to the smallest detail and adorned with pearls, many wore necklaces with small golden scissors dangling from them. They had come with the invitation: part allusion to founder Gabrielle Chanel’s habit of wearing scissors on a ribbon around her neck, part peace offer for customers who complained about having to drive 30 minutes from central Paris.

The reason: Le19M, location of the show and new home of the eleven couture workshops that Chanel began to acquire in 1985, gold, feathers, sequins, rhinestones, silk, cashmere, leather and 600 artisans who were busy transforming raw materials into magic all of which were presented on the catwalk.

First, however, there was a tour of the workshops, which was partly led by the Spanish choreographer Blanca Li. “Without Amour we wouldn’t have the profession,” remarked Ms. Li when she introduced Maison Lesage, the embroidery specialist, and turned on her white patent leather heels.

Later, Inès de La Fressange, the former face of Chanel, appeared on-brand in a black Chanel jacket made of bouclé with gold chain trimmings on the pockets and a fashionable 15 minutes late.

Covid-19 protocols (two shows limited to 300 people each; guests asked to have a PCR or antigen test, wear masks, and prove their vaccination status within 24 hours of the show) weren’t the show’s only potential weakness. There was also the recent advent calendar-related social media storm.

Nevertheless, Vanessa Paradis was there and caught up with Sofia Coppola. Singer Sébastien Tellier spoke to aspiring Franco-Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei. And Pharrell Williams was talking to Charlotte Casiraghi.

With 2 degrees Celsius it was too cold for champagne. Instead, mugs of hot mint tea from Mariages Frère, the upscale French tea company, were passed around while guests mingled under outdoor heaters in the tree-lined courtyard while Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard took a cigarette break with some of the models before the show. Hopped on by a tense producer, she replied: “No stress! I am a professional.”

A cautious one at that. Gone were the Salzburg palaces from the 18th century, the New York museums, the Scottish castles from the 15th century, the Métiers shows under the late designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Instead, the show took place in a long, glass-enclosed gallery with polished concrete floors and concrete benches overlooking the courtyard. Models poured in from the central courtyard and paused at the automatic glass doors before walking down the catwalk.

The drama came thanks to the 1980s-style decoration: no button without jewelry, no waist without a Chanel logo belt, no ear without a chandelier, no neck without pearl necklaces, Byzantine pendants and Coco-related charms.

House signature bouclé jackets were loosely cut, cut long to graze either the knee or the ankle. A black rib-knit tweed bomber jacket has been embroidered with the Chanel logo in a graffiti font highlighted in small beads and bright, rainbow-colored rhinestones. A jacket, partially obscured by a huge, fluffy cardigan, looked like it was made of broken metallic glass, until you looked more closely and saw that it was embroidered with graphic sequin sprays. Oh, and there was a pale blue, acid-washed jeans with an elastic waistband and a little ruffle on the hem.

Cardigans were the star of the show, kept casual and paired with tightly woven, sequined mini dresses and tweed skirt suits. Chanel’s logo was ubiquitous: hand-sewn onto knitwear, engraved on multi-strand necklaces, dangling from chain belts, traced with diamonds and draped over cuffs and embossed on beaded Mary Janes.

Finally, the looks are loosened up, in the form of a sheer black tulle skirt with feathers and pearls, paired with a slim black cardigan, and a casual dress with a black and white bouclé top that is pepped up with a touch of crystals at the waist and on the cuffs. That was around the time platinum-haired Korean-American model Soo Joo swapped the catwalk for a concrete platform to serenade the crowd better than Ether, their musical alter ego.

Dinner was planned for the evening at Montparnasse Brasserie La Coupole, once a Man Ray and Josephine Baker favorite, but there would be no afterparty. This week, France closed all nightclubs for four weeks in response to the new Omicron variant. With the hibernation on the cards, cardigans suddenly seemed a lot more appropriate at the couture level.


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